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Best VR Headsets for [2021]

Best VR Headsets for [2021]

Here we explain what to look for when purchasing a VR headset, along with a list of the best PC, console, smartphone, and standalone VR headsets currently available.

The year 2018 has been a great year for VR, with capable headsets such as the HTC Vive Pro 2 and HP Reverb G2 available for purchase, and the Oculus Quest 2 has many excited about the future of VR. More importantly, the price of VR headsets has begun to drop, making it more accessible than ever.

However, there are now more VR headsets on the market than ever before, making it difficult to decide which one to buy in 2021.

Tech Advisor has tested all the popular VR headsets and here’s what to look out for when choosing a headset, along with our recommendations for the best headsets on the market right now.

Best Overall
Oculus Quest 2
Oculus Quest 2
  • Can be used for PC VR
  • Great standalone performance
  • Well priced
Editors Choice
HTC Vive Cosmos
HTC Vive Cosmos
  • Modular design
  • accurate tracking
  • Comfortable fit
Best Budget
HTC Vive Pro 2
HTC Vive Pro 2
  • SteamVR compatibility
  • 5K display
  • No screen-door effect

Top 10 Best VR Headsets for [2021]

1. Oculus Quest 2 – Best Overall

Oculus Quest 2 - Best Overall

The Oculus Quest 2 is without a doubt the best VR headset you can buy. Like the original, the Quest 2 boasts standalone functionality and inside-out tracking, albeit in a smaller form factor this time around. 

Quest 2 has the best display of any VR headset in our chart. At nearly 2K per eye, this is the most detailed display in our chart. The entry-level price has actually dropped compared to the first-generation Quest. In addition to Snapdragon XR2, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 Platform offers a significant performance improvement that will improve the performance of standalone apps and games.

You can also connect your Quest 2 to your PC and play PC-exclusive VR titles like Half-Life: Alyx with Oculus Link. No other VR headset can match the hybrid functionality of this headset.

Pros
  • Can be used for PC VR
  • Great standalone performance
  • Well priced
Cons
  • No Bluetooth support
  • Facebook account needed
  • Spotty hand-tracking

2. HTC Vive Cosmos – Modular PC VR

HTC Vive Cosmos

The Vive Cosmos isn’t the cheapest VR headset currently available to consumers. But, the modular nature makes the Cosmos range unique, and it’s why it costs a little more too.

The Cosmos owners, rather than having to purchase an entirely new headset when HTC unveils new technology, can simply buy a new faceplate and attach it to their existing headset, saving them a lot of money down the road.

Although the Cosmos’ six cameras provide decent tracking for low- to mid-intensity VR games, the camera tracking isn’t perfect and the loss of tracking in fast-paced VR titles can be frustrating.

Here’s where the Cosmos Elite comes into play: for a little extra, you can get a Cosmos with true 1:1 SteamVR tracking, but at the cost of long setup times and using first-gen Vive wands. 

Pros
  • Modular design
  • accurate tracking
  • Comfortable fit
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Needs a high-end PC
  • Not the highest resolution


3. HTC Vive Pro 2 – Most Detailed VR Display

HTC Vive Pro 2

The HTC Vive Pro 2 might appear the perfect VR headset, including the highest-resolution display of any headset now, a 120-degree field of view, and a 120Hz refresh rate, but its execution doesn’t quite measure up.

As a result, the pixel-packed display adds new life to much-loved VR games. It also eliminates screen door effects – it really is an impressive panel.

There is an issue with the strangely rectangular FOV, with the 120-degree FOV referring to the horizontal FOV only. When compared to the likes of the Valve Index, some VR experiences feel a bit claustrophobic. 

It is also the same when it comes to general design, so the Vive Pro 2 is just as heavy and uncomfortable to use as its predecessor, and it is the same with the Vive Pro 2 wands as well, which remain virtually unchanged from 2016. 

It’s also extremely expensive compared to most headsets in our chart, so it’s only for the most dedicated VR fans who can overlook some of the older design choices made by the Vive Pro 2. 

Pros
  • SteamVR compatibility
  • 5K display
  • No screen-door effect
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • Weirdly shaped FOV
  • Chunky, outdated controllers

4. HP Reverb G2 – High Resolution at a Good Price

HP Reverb G2

HP Reverb G2’s 4K display won’t quite compete with the HTC Vive Pro 2’s 5K display, but it still offers better textures, better visual clarity, and a wider 114-degree field of view than HTC’s headset.

With inside-out tracking, there’s no need for external base stations, unlike SteamVR-powered options, although unlike Oculus, the Reverb G2 won’t work well in small rooms. 

This problematic nature extends beyond tracking; the Reverb G2 does not play well with AMD-powered PCs, and the Windows Mixed Reality platform it uses falls short of SteamVR and Oculus, with glitches and crashes.

The Reverb G2 is still a great option if you really want the high resolution, but we suggest steering clear if you use an AMD PC. 

Pros
  • Inside-out tracking
  • 4K Display
  • Great sound
Cons
  • Small visual sweet spot
  • Issues with AMD PCs
  • Performance bugs

5. Oculus Rift S – Affordable PC VR

Oculus Rift S

It was a while later that the Oculus Rift S caught up with the original. It boasts a lot of improvements over the original Oculus Rift and fixes most of the complaints without raising the price. The Rift S is comfortable, boasts high-end optics (albeit bested by the Quest 2) and like a growing number of headsets, offers inside-out tracking that completely eliminates the need for external sensors.

Though it lacks built-in headphones and uses a single display instead of dual displays, it offers a fixed IPD of 63.5mm.

Additionally, Oculus plans to discontinue the Rift S line sometime in 2021, making it a much less tempting option than it once was.

Pros
  • Works well on PC
  • Inside-out tracking
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Low resolution
  • Single LCD display
  • Soon to be discontinued

6. PlayStation VR – Perfect for PS4 Gamers

PlayStation VR

It’s interesting to note that the PlayStation VR headset is the only VR headset available for console gamers – Microsoft offers the Oculus Rift S, but it’s not VR capable. Sony’s virtual reality offering features a 5.7in OLED display that’ll provide gamers with low persistence and, consequently, less motion blur when being used.

It also offers ultra-low latency (18ms) and a 120Hz refresh rate, which is better than the 90Hz rate on the Oculus Rift S and HTC Vive. Accordingly, beautiful 120fps gameplay is theoretically possible, although we’re not sure the PS4 (or PS4 Pro) could handle it.

Sony also appears to have thought of this, and provides an additional box (smaller than the PS4) that handles much of the graphics processing. It can also be used with Sony’s (failed) Move controllers, bringing new life to the old controllers.

Tracking is basic; it uses a PlayStation Camera, and the area you can move around in is small – the smallest of the ‘big three’ VR headsets. Designed for sit-down VR experiences, and it does it well. 

Pros
  • Console-powered VR
  • Exclusive library of games
Cons
  • Basic tracking
  • Motion controllers are badly designed
  • Low-res

7. Valve Index VR

Valve Index

This Valve VR headset is an excellent upgrade over its predecessors. We found it has a crisp display that runs fairly well even with older GPUs, a wider field of view, a higher refresh rate and Valve’s ‘knuckle’ controllers, which can track the movement of every finger. 

It is a major upgrade to the HTC Vive and runs much smoother than the Vive Pro, a powerful VR headset that did not deliver on its promise of high-end, room-scale VR. It is not without its snags, however. Our testing showed that setting it up is difficult, updates can cause connection issues, and there are often errors. 

It is a very good VR headset if you can look past those issues. We were able to use it for longer periods without discomfort thanks to the higher-resolution screen and better refresh rate, and the Index Controllers are a big improvement over the ones that ship with the Vive.

We believe this is the best VR headset for 2021 and our top pick for PC owners, however the Valve Index can sometimes be hard to find since manufacturing slowed down during the pandemic.

Pros
  • Widest field of view
  • Knuckle’ controllers great for tracking
Cons
  • Requires a high-end GPU
  • Still expensive compared to competition

8. Pimax Vision 8K X

Pimax Vision 8K X

Piimax’s Vision 8K X is the best VR headset if you want the ultimate HMD and the best graphics card to support it. The headset has a horizontal field of view of 170 degrees and a maximum resolution of 3840 x 2160 per eye, which is the highest resolution of any headset we have ever tested. The result was fantastic image quality without any screen door effect. 

While you don’t get OLED-level blacks, you do get vivid colors with sharp, detailed edges. When the resolution was reduced to 2560 x 1440, the image looked more washed out and less sharp, but the clarity remained high when compared to other HMDs we’ve tested.

With multiple settings available and a high price, the Vision 8K X HMD is a complex HMD best suited to VR enthusiasts. If you want to hit the headset’s maximum refresh rate of 90 Hz, you’ll need an RTX 3000-series GPU, which is hard to find and expensive.

Pros
  • Excellent clarity at full resolution
  • Wide FOV
Cons
  • Poor clarity at reduced resolutions
  • Requires RTX 3000 or better for 90 Hz

9. HTC Vive Focus 3

HTC Vive Focus 3

We have tested all types of VR headsets, and the HTC Vive Focus 3 is the best headset we have tested that isn’t tethered to any PC. Sadly, it’s geared toward businesses, and it’s price confirms the niche. But it’s still an impressive HMD, delivering the greatest FOV we’ve ever seen in a standalone headset, plus high resolution. It’s an example of the direction we’d like to see consumer-facing VR headsets go. 

Quality of life features include a Micro SD slot for cards up to 2TB, a replaceable battery, and even water-resistant fabrics. The 1.7 pound weight is well-balanced, so wearing it for a long training session isn’t a hassle. 

Vive Focus 3 uses a Snapdragon XR2 (Snapdragon 865) SoC with 8GB of RAM and 90 Hz refresh rate. In spite of the fact that it’s not intended for gaming, we played a mobile game on it, and it looked just as good as when playing on the Quest 2, but with a much wider field of view. The Vive Focus 3 offers comfortable, feature-rich performance when it comes to business and training apps. 

Pros
  • Widest FOV in a standalone headset
  • Well-balanced weight
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Mediocre controller ergonomics

VR Headset Buying Guide

So, if you’re looking for a VR headset, what should you consider?

VR-headset-buying-guide-

1. Mobile, PC or standalone?

One of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a VR headset is how you plan on powering it. There are three types of VR headset on the market at the moment; smartphone-powered, PC-powered or standalone, with the latter being a relatively new option for prospective VR users.

In order to provide a mobile VR experience, a mobile VR headset requires a smartphone for the display, internals, tracking, and everything else necessary. Most people think of this headset as being a beginner’s VR headset; it gives you access to a limited range of experiences, 360-degree videos, and basic games, but does not provide much interaction with virtual environments.

Standalone VR is the next step. In other words, these are standalone VR headsets that don’t require a smartphone or PC to operate. Oculus Quest 2 is on par with PC-powered headsets, and it can also be used as a PC VR headset. 

Generally, PC-powered VR headsets are the most powerful and feature high-end games and VR experiences with incredibly accurate location-based tracking and advanced controllers. What’s the catch? These headsets are usually the most expensive and require a powerful PC to run.

2. Controllers

Even though it may not seem like it, controllers play a vital role when choosing a VR headset. That’s because the controllers vary depending on the system, with some offering true 1:1 positional tracking while others don’t. Controllers are your gateway into the virtual world, allowing you to reach out and interact with the environment, so you want them to be as accurate and comfortable as possible.

VR headsets like the Vive Cosmos Elite provide great controllers with true 1:1 positioning, while inside-out tracking like that offered by the Rift S, Quest 2 and standard HP Reverb G2 is less precise. PlayStation VR headsets offer basic positional tracking, but they’re not as accurate as Oculus’ and HTC’s.

3. Tracking

Another important aspect of virtual reality is tracking, in general. Mobile VR headsets only offer 3DoF, compared to 6DoF on offer by more premium headsets. 3DoF means that you’ll be able to stand in place, look around, up and down, but any movement forwards, backwards, up or down won’t be tracked.Six degrees of freedom, on the other hand, can track your location within a physical space. With the Rift S, Quest 2, and Vive Cosmos, you can physically move around virtual worlds, bend down, and pick up items from the ground.

4. Resolution, refresh rate and FOV

Before purchasing any VR headset, it’s a good idea to check out the resolution and refresh rate, since both are crucial for a good VR experience. The resolution is fairly self-explanatory: the higher the resolution, the better quality the images produced by the display will be. It’ll mean crisper edges and easy-to-read text, and a generally more premium VR experience.

However, the resolution doesn’t matter if the refresh rate is slow. Several tests were conducted to determine the ideal refresh rate to combat the motion sickness experienced by early VR users. Generally, 90Hz is the minimum requirement for fast-paced VR, though you can get away with 70Hz if the app or game isn’t particularly intense.

Any refresh rate below 60Hz, however, will cause motion sickness as the display takes too long to refresh when you move, creating lag. Most mainstream VR headsets offer at least 90Hz, so you don’t have to worry, but it’s something to consider if you’re considering non-branded VR headsets.

Lastly, the field of view, or FOV as it’s commonly known, is a measure of how immersive the VR headset is. A VR headset should provide a field of view between 100- and 120-degrees, which seems to be the market cap (for the moment anyway). Human eyes have a FOV of around 220 degrees.  

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Conclusion

The best VR headset for you will depend on what your needs are. If you want the most immersive experience, then go with a tethered option like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. However, if portability is more important to you than graphical fidelity and immersion, then an affordable phone-based solution like Google Daydream View may be better suited for you. Whatever your choice of device (or devices) might be, it’s clear that the future of virtual reality is brighter than ever before!


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