HP ReverbSource: Windows Central

Best VR Headsets Windows Central 2020

The VR industry is growing steadily, and while your system choices were limited just a few years ago, there are now many options available. A quick search for VR headsets brings up quite a few options, and it's easy to get lost wading through the different hardware and ecosystems. Whether you're looking for a PC-based experience, a standalone experience, or a budget system that still delivers stellar VR, we've put together a collection of the best VR hardware, as well as some guidance on choosing the system that will deliver you the most joy.

Best PC-Based VR: Valve Index

We're starting with the best of the best in terms of hardware and overall experience. If you have the budget and don't mind being tethered to a powerful PC (expensive in its own right), buy Valve's Index. That's all there is to the short story, and any VR enthusiasts should get the most out of this head-mounted display (HMD) and motion controllers. Recommended PC specs include at least a dual-core processor (CPU) with hyperthreading, 8GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD RX 480. DisplayPort and USB-A 3.0 or later are also required.

Valve's Index, released in June 2019, is a premium system inside and out. It uses dual LCD displays — one for each eye — with a combined 2880x1600 resolution, able to reach a 144Hz refresh rate in experimental mode. The Index can more commonly hit 120Hz, which is still impressive. The higher the refresh rate the smoother visuals inside the HMD will be, decreasing the chance of feeling ill or suffering from motion sickness. Keep in mind that pushing high framerates requires powerful (and expensive) PC hardware.

The Index is built to accommodate the needs of as many people as possible. Eye relief and interpupillary distance (IPD) are both physically adjustable. The lenses have a flatter design, allowing them to sit closer to the eye, which allows for a wider field-of-view (FOV). If you've tried VR in the past and have felt like you're looking into a tunnel, the Index aims to eliminate the effect with a maximum FOV of about 130 degrees. Each pixel has three subpixels (which is 50% more than the original Vive that Valve developed alongside HTC), which cuts down on the grid known as screen-door effect (SDE) that you can sometimes see over a VR image.

Wearing a monitor strapped to your face doesn't exactly sound comfortable, but the Index is equipped with multiple adjustable points so you can get as perfect a fit as possible. The face gasket is easily removable for quick cleaning, and the main headband is padded. Each band has an attached headphone that sort of hangs down near the ear to deliver immersive audio, and the headset includes built-in microphones.

A display with high resolution, refresh rate, and FOV combined with a set of advanced motion controllers and precision tracking make the Valve Index a top pick for anyone with the PC capable of powering it.

Index motion controllers, also known as "Knuckles" controllers, are the best available, rivaling what Oculus has done with the latest-gen Touch. A strap lets you attach each controller to your hand, allowing you to completely let go and not have it fall away. This works with grip input that tracks each finger, allowing for a realistic and natural input. How you move your hands in real life is almost completely translated into VR.

Tracking for the HMD and controllers is handled by two base stations using SteamVR 2.0 tracking. The Index isn't as portable as headsets with inside-out tracking, but you should find that precision is spot on. While the Index can be used sitting and standing, the base stations allow for a 360-degree room-scale experience that can reach up to 19 feet (six meters) diagonally. With four base stations, that area can almost double in size. You get a full six degrees of freedom (6DoF) from the Index, meaning you can move naturally in space and have your actions translate into VR.

As for content, you'll have immediate access to hundreds of VR titles available on Steam. Oculus indeed has some intriguing exclusives, but there are third-party options to get them running on Index. As a bonus, you won't have to deal with Facebook (owner of Oculus) encroaching on your VR space. You can buy a full Index system, complete with HMD, controllers, and two base stations, for about $999. You can also break things up and buy each piece separately, which helps cut down costs for those who already have some compatible hardware, like original Vive base stations. An Index headset alone costs about $499.

Pros:

  • Impressive display aimed to work for most people
  • Natural and realistic hand tracking
  • Comfortable fit with plenty of padding
  • Precision motion tracking with SteamVR 2.0 base stations
  • Don't need to deal with Facebook

Cons:

  • VR cost is on top of PC cost
  • Not very portable
  • Some might prefer OLED over LCD

Best PC-Based VR

Valve Index

Best option if you have the budget

Couple a powerful gaming PC with the Valve Index for a high-quality VR experience.

Best Standalone VR: Oculus Quest

Oculus Quest and TouchSource: Windows Central

Oculus seems to have an ever-growing collection of VR headsets for sale, though none is more versatile than the Quest. If you'd like a stellar VR experience without relying on a PC or phone to power it, this should be at the top of your list. You can enjoy the Quest on the go thanks to a built-in battery that lasts about two and a half hours on a charge, and you don't need to worry about cables running back to your PC for the standalone experience.

The Quest HMD has everything it needs to run built right in, including a Snapdragon 835 CPU. There are two versions available, one with 64GB and one with 128GB of storage. If you hate re-downloading games and worrying about having enough space, we recommend shelling out the extra money for the larger storage.

The Quest can now optionally be used with a PC thanks to the release of Oculus Link software. Connect a USB cable back to your PC, and your Quest essentially becomes an Oculus Rift with access to all Rift games. As a solo unit, the Quest still has a ton of content to enjoy.

Like the Index, the Quest has two displays, each with a 1440x1600 resolution for a combined 2880x1600. Instead of LCD technology, it uses OLED, which some prefer thanks to deeper contrast. Maximum FOV is about 95 degrees and the refresh rate is considerably lower at 72Hz, translating to not quite as smooth of a picture compared to the Index. One complaint many users have about the Oculus Rift S is the lack of physical IPD adjustment dial. The Quest fixes the issue and ultimately offers comfort for a wider range of users.

The Oculus Quest makes it easy to enjoy VR without the hassle of external sensors or cables running back to a PC. Everything you need to have fun is built right in.

There is no need for extra headphones either when wearing the Quest, though you can connect them if you find the built-in audio solution isn't up to par. Sound is emitted from the bands that hold the Quest onto your head, and it does a good job of delivering positional audio. You can hear what's going on around you, but it's still immersive.

Instead of relying on any sort of external hardware for motion tracking, the Quest has four sensors (one less than the Rift S) built into the headset. This system, known as Oculus Insight, scans the room around you extremely quickly to find your position in it. You get full 6DoF movement and a room-scale experience, just like PC-based VR. The Guardian system — a customizable grid that keeps you from bumping into furniture — goes up to about 25 square feet.

Oculus Touch controllersSource: Windows Central

Second-gen Touch controllers are included with the Quest. They're comfortable to hold (you must keep a grip on them as they don't fasten on), and you get some hand presence to help interact with the virtual world. A grip button on each controller can be released to simulate letting go, and your index finger and thumb are tracked. You can give a thumbs up and point with ease.

The Oculus Quest's versatility is proving quite popular, and you might have a tough time tracking down the model you prefer, whether 64GB of 128GB. Keep in mind the Quest should start at about $399 if you're looking to buy from anywhere other than Oculus.

Pros:

  • No need for a high-performance PC
  • High-res display with physical IPD adjustments
  • Can operate as a Rift headset thanks to Oculus Link
  • Touch controllers are comfortable
  • Portable design with no need for external sensors

Cons:

  • Maximum 72Hz refresh rate
  • Popularity means models are often sold out
  • Tracking not as precise as other options

Best Standalone VR

Oculus Quest

Ditch the cables and take VR with you

If you'd like a standalone VR headset that offers a high-end experience with 6DoF, the Quest makes a great choice.

Best Windows Mixed Reality: HP Reverb

Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) is Microsoft's foray into the VR world. The "Mixed Reality" part is a bit of a misnomer, as headsets like the HP Reverb offer the same full VR experience as other PC-based systems. There are many WMR games and apps available from the Microsoft Store, and plenty of titles available through SteamVR are also compatible. Just don't expect full compatibility on the scale we see with the Rift S, Quest, and Index.

A small sidenote: other WMR systems, like Samsung's HMD Odyssey+, are in the same boat as the Reverb in terms of compatibility and motion controllers. The Odyssey+ is a high-end HMD with knockout display and premium, comfortable build, but it doesn't match up to what HP has done with the Reverb. However, Samsung's HMD is considerably less expensive at about $299. If you like the idea of WMR and want to save money, it'll make a great pick.

Reverb tracking is handled from the inside out with two built-in sensors, and you get a full 6DoF and room-scale abilities. You are tethered back to a PC with DisplayPort 1.3 and USB 3.0 (or better), and HP recommends at least having an NVIDIA GTX 1080 or AMD Pro WX 8200 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and an Intel Core i7 or Xeon E3-1240 CPU. That high-resolution display requires some beefy hardware to run smooth.

HP Reverb Windows Mixed Reality headsetSource: Windows Central

One of the biggest drawbacks of WMR, at least compared to the latest PC-based VR from other manufacturers, is its motion controllers. Yes, they get the job done, but they're relatively basic. You get a grip button, trigger, and touchpad with a joystick, but the same level of hand presence you get from Touch or Knuckles. Tracking is also, in our experience, significantly more prone to glitching, no doubt because of the fewer cameras built into the headset and no external tracking.

HP's Reverb is the right choice for anyone who wants the best display setup. A 4320x2160 combined resolution is absolutely stunning, but make sure you have a PC that can hit a comfortable framerate.

If you want the best WMR headset in terms of raw specs, HP nailed the 2019 Reverb, building on a comparatively basic HMD it released in 2017. It has dual 2.9-inch LCD displays with a combined 4320x2160 resolution and still manages to hit a 90Hz refresh rate with powerful PC hardware. If you value a clear, high-res picture without SDE or god rays, you'll likely find your best option is the Reverb. The refresh rate does take a bit of a hit, maxing out at 90Hz, but the maximum FOV is quite wide at 114 degrees.

The Reverb uses a strap system similar to the original Rift CV1, with Velcro adjustments on the side straps and top strap. It's comfortable to wear thanks to a lightweight build (just 500 grams) and a padded face gasket. Unfortunately, IPD adjustments are handled at the software level, so anyone outside of the set adjustable range will likely experience discomfort. Headphones hang down off the side straps, offering up immersive audio. They can be removed, allowing you to use your own audio solution if preferred.

Pros:

  • Whopping 4320x2160 combined resolution
  • Maximum 114-degree FOV and 90Hz refresh rate
  • Lightweight build that remains comfortable
  • Built-in (removable) headphones

Cons:

  • Motion controllers are inferior
  • WMR isn't always compatible with SteamVR games
  • Reverb price is relatively high
  • IPD adjustments handled with software

Best Windows Mixed Reality

HP Reverb

The best WMR display out there

If you want to get in on Microsoft's VR vision, the HP Reverb will deliver the best-looking picture.

Best Console VR: PlayStation VR

PlayStation VRSource: Windows Central

When it comes to VR powered by a console — in this case, the PlayStation 4 (PS4) — you only have one choice in PlayStation VR (PSVR). A full system includes the HMD, PS Camera, and two PlayStation Move controllers, though you can skip the Move controllers and simply use a DualShock 4 controller in many instances. There are also several accessories, like the PSVR Aim controller, that can boost your experience with certain games.

First released in 2016 and re-released in 2017 with some minor hardware updates, the PSVR is certainly starting to show its age. However, the relatively low price and the fact that many people already own a PS4 make it an attractive option. There's a large game library waiting to be played, and you can even connect the PSVR to a PC for some advanced tinkering.

The PSVR has a 5.7-inch OLED display with a 1920x1080 resolution. This seems low, but each pixel has three subpixels that make the image appear much clearer than you might imagine. It was one of the first VR HMDs that cut down drastically on SDE. Depending on the game you're playing, the display is capable of either a 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rate for a smooth experience. The maximum FOV is about 100 degrees. Unfortunately, there is no physical IPD adjustment, but you can tweak it with software. Eye relief is adjustable, making it easier for those with prescription frames to use them with the HMD.

If you already own a PlayStation 4 and want to see what VR is all about without breaking the bank, the PSVR will be a great fit.

Movement is tracked by the PS Camera, so you mostly have to face it directly while in PSVR. The HMD, Move controllers, and DualShock 4 controller have lights on them that are seen by the camera, so it's best used in a room with low natural light. If you want spot-on tracking the PSVR will likely cause some frustration, and it's not cut out for a full room-scale experience. However, it does deliver 6DoF and you can sit or stand while playing.

The Move controllers, very dated at this point, are also a letdown. While they will let you get your hands into VR games, they're quite basic in that they offer no finger presence or even a joystick for movement. They get the job done, but they just don't compare to more advanced options from Valve and Oculus.

PSVR is a system that's easily enjoyed with friends. It's comfortable and easy to put on and take off, and it's designed so that the VR experience can be watched on TV by others not wearing the HMD. It's great at parties, but there are also plenty of games and experiences that will leave the solo gamer satisfied.

Pros:

  • Low-cost way to enjoy VR with 6DoF
  • Lots of great content available
  • Comfortable to wear for extended periods
  • Others around you can watch your experience on TV
  • Hardly any SDE

Cons:

  • PlayStation Move controllers are often frustrating
  • Not a full room-scale experience
  • Tracking can be spotty in bright rooms

Best Console VR

PlayStation VR

Affordable VR for team PlayStation

PSVR delivers a satisfying VR experience for those with a PS4, and the price can't be beaten.

Best PC Value: Oculus Rift S

Oculus Rift SSource: Windows Central

The Oculus Rift S is the successor to the Rift CV1, bringing a redesign in terms of use and build. You still need to connect the Rift S to a PC that meets certain specs — at least a 6th Gen Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti or AMD RX 470 — but you no longer have to worry about setting up external sensors for motion tracking. The Rift S uses Oculus Insight, made up of five sensors built into the headset. Like the Quest, the Rift S scans your surroundings and combines it with data from the HMD's gyroscope and accelerometer to identify your position in space.

Second-gen Touch controllers are also included, delivering some hand presence for grip, thumb, and index finger and an overall comfortable feel. You can plug the Rift S into your PC, set up the software, pair your Touch controllers, and start enjoying VR without fussing with any extra hardware.

Display technology involves a single LCD display with a 2560x1440 resolution and an 80Hz refresh rate. The picture looks great thanks to higher pixel density compared to the original Rift, and SDE is almost non-existent. God rays, the beams of light sometimes visible in VR, are also cut down thanks to the lens shape, and you get a modest 115-degree maximum FOV. Unfortunately, IPD adjustments are handled at a software level due to there not being a separate display for each eye. If your eyes are further apart than the adjustable distance, you will likely experience some discomfort while playing.

The Rift S is a quality PC-based VR system that gives you access to Oculus exclusives as well as SteamVR content.

The HMD is extremely comfortable, with a padded halo headband and tightness dial on the back. It's easy to slip on and start playing without a lot of effort, and the strap that runs along the top keeps the display from slipping down onto your nose. Like the Quest, audio is built into the side straps without any visible hardware hanging down. It's immersive and it lets you still hear what's going on around you, but you can plug in your own headphones if you prefer.

You get 6DoF here with full room-scale support. You can use the Rift S sitting down, standing, or moving about a play area that's essentially limited by the tether back to your PC. And thanks to this being an Oculus product, you get access to a ton of great exclusives with no need for third-party workarounds. It also works with SteamVR, so you get the best of both worlds.

Valve's Index might be our top pick for PC-based VR, but the elevated price puts it out of reach for a lot of people. If you'd like to take advantage of your powerful PC without breaking the bank, the Rift S makes a lot of sense.

Pros:

  • Inside-out tracking with no need for extra hardware
  • Access to Oculus and SteamVR content
  • Relatively affordable price
  • Comfortable build and immersive audio
  • Clear display with 115-degree FOV

Cons:

  • No physical IPD adjustment
  • Hand tracking sometimes spotty
  • Requires a PC and tether

Best PC Value

Oculus Rift S

Premium PC-based VR at a competitive price

If you already own a high-performance PC, the Oculus Rift S is a relatively affordable way to enjoy premium VR.

Best Mobility: Oculus Go

Oculus GoSource: Windows Central

If you love the idea of a mobile VR headset that doesn't require you strapping your phone inside some plastic (and the occasional overheating issues that come with it), the Oculus Go is likely for you. It won't deliver the same level of immersive gaming as the more powerful headsets in this collection, but it's ideal for watching TV and movies and enjoying some lighter gaming. The initial setup does require an app on either Android or iOS, but from there it's capable of running on its own.

The Oculus Go, like the Quest, has everything it needs to run built right inside, including a Snapdragon 821 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. There's plenty of content available from the accessible Oculus Store, though you'll need a Wi-Fi connection to get online. Watching videos and going about lighter tasks usually sees the battery last upwards of four hours — more than enough time to watch a movie or two on a long trip — or about 2.5 hours if you're gaming.

It has a 5.5-inch LCD display with a 1280x1440 resolution per eye, coming out to a 2560x1440 combined resolution. Refresh rate hits a maximum 72Hz, with 60Hz reserved for titles that require more power to run. FOV is quite close to the original Rift CV1, with about 95 degrees. Altogether it delivers a satisfying experience, though SDE seems to be more prominent than in higher-end options. Unfortunately, there is no physical way to adjust IPD, and eye relief is also fixed.

The headset is comfortable to wear, and audio follows the Oculus trend of being immersive without actually having any visible hardware. It comes from the band on either side of the head and allows the user to still hear what's going on around them.

The Go incorporates a single motion controller with a touchpad, trigger, and two buttons. Like the headset, it doesn't offer the same level of immersion, but it gets the job done. Think of it more like an interactive pointer than a natural way to get your hands into a virtual world. With all things considered, the Go is a great choice for those who aren't interested in dabbling in VR without spending a ton of money on the headset and any supporting hardware.

Pros:

  • Best for video watching and some light gaming
  • Very attractive price
  • Premium build and comfortable to wear
  • Battery lasts about 2.5 hours while gaming

Cons:

  • No support for 6DoF
  • One motion controller only
  • Not ideal for heavy gaming
  • No physical IPD adjustments

Best Mobility

Oculus Go

Great headset for casual VR use

The Oculus Go isn't going to deliver a high-end VR experience, but it's ideal for watching movies and light gaming.

Choosing PC, console, or standalone VR

One of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether or not you want to go with PC-based VR, standalone VR, or console VR.

If you already have a powerful gaming PC capable of delivering a smooth VR experience, a Valve Index, Oculus Rift S, or an HP Reverb is no doubt quite attractive. We've used all kinds of VR systems, and those working with a PC seem to deliver the best overall experience in terms of performance, customization, and content to enjoy. If you don't have a PC, though, the extra cost is no doubt a huge shadow looming over the buying process.

That's where the Oculus Quest comes in. It's a standalone VR system capable of delivering a room-scale experience with no need for a tether back to a PC. It comes with the same second-gen Touch controllers you get with a Rift S, and much of the same content is available. For those who don't want to completely remove the option of PC-based VR, Oculus Link software is available to essentially turn the Quest into a Rift with nothing but an extra USB cable. For a lightweight travel companion, there's also the Oculus Go. It's not comparable to the Quest in terms of freedom — it's capped at 3DoF and comes with a relatively simple controller — but it's easy to pack up and take with you while traveling.

And if you have a PlayStation 4 sitting around, PSVR is no doubt quite attractive. It's relatively affordable and there's a ton of content available. The ability to play on the TV what's being seen inside the HMD makes it a great tool for get-togethers, and while the tracking and freedom of movement don't compare to PC VR or the Quest, it's still a great way to enjoy VR without the elevated cost.

External or internal tracking?

Oculus Rift S sensorSource: Windows Central

This decision applies to PC-based VR, and it's a rather important one. The now-discontinued HTC Vive and Oculus Rift CV1 systems were among the first externally-tracked VR experiences many people got their hands on, and precision tracking was a key selling feature. The same holds for the externally-tracked Valve Index.

The Rift S, which moved to Oculus Insight built-in tracking, generally does a great job of keeping track of your position, and the same is true for WMR headsets that also rely on inside-out tracking. You'll no doubt experience motion controllers losing their place more often on these options, but ultimately they're still going to work as intended.

For most people, internal tracking does a good enough job. Yes, you'll likely see more hiccups than with an externally tracked system, but the convenience (and lower cost) of no extra hardware is a huge boon. Enthusiasts or anyone who wants the absolute best VR experience, though, will no doubt opt instead for external tracking.

Can you live with 3DoF?

Rift S and Go controllersSource: Windows Central

Jumping into VR, moving around naturally in a space, and seeing it translate into a virtual world is something to behold. PC-based VR and the Oculus Quest deliver this type of experience, where you can move forward and backward, left and right, and up and down (hence six degrees of freedom). All of this movement, combined with the possibility of room-scale tracking, opens up a lot of content. The PSVR is close behind, delivering 6DoF but not quite a room-scale experience due to the limitations of the single PS Camera. You can move about in all directions, but you can't stop facing the front of the room.

The Oculus Go is the only VR system in this roundup that offers 3DoF, though it's what you'll get from most mobile systems. It uses one motion controller and lets users essentially look around without being able to move about in space. It's still an impressive piece of hardware, but the games and apps are comparatively limited due to the hardware. The Go is great for casual VR users who don't want to spend a lot of money, and it's great for traveling and watching movies. However, for full-fledged VR, you'll want a system with 6DoF.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Cale Hunt is a staff writer at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on PC, laptop, and accessory coverage, as well as the emerging world of VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

Sean Endicott is an app enthusiast even though he used Windows Phone for years. He's on an eternal quest to convert every element of his home into something he can control from his phone. Oh, yeah. He's also fanatic about VR, especially the Oculus Quest.

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