Only a few years ago, when the Oculus Rift first stepped on the scene, it seemed like VR was just another fad, a pastime activity for tech enthusiasts with deep pockets that would fade into obscurity as soon as the novelty wore off. The truth, however, couldn’t be more different!
The popularity of VR exploded soon after, with big names like Sony, HTC, Valve, HP, and Google to name a few investing in VR technology, bringing it to PCs, consoles, smartphones, and even developing standalone VR headsets.
These days VR technology isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, VR games keep getting better and more immersive, and the gear ever-more affordable, so if you’re looking to dip your toes into virtual reality worlds you’ve come to the right place.
Here are the best VR headsets that you can get in 2021.
|VR Headset||Type||Resolution||Refresh Rate|
As you can see in the table above, we’ve 5 of the absolute best Virtual Reality headsets on the market right now. We’ve included both untethered and tethered VR headsets.
Oculus Quest 2 (64GB)
Display Technology: LED
Display Resolution: 1440×1584
Display Refresh Rate: 120Hz
- Can connect to a PC
- Great controllers
- Requires a working Facebook account
- Flimsy head strap
First up we have the Oculus Quest 2. This is a relatively new headset from Facebook that has replaced both the original Oculus Quest and the Oculus Rift S, and with good reason.
Namely, the Quest 2 is quite a bit more powerful than both of the aforementioned headsets and is able to operate independently from any external device. As such, it is a more mainstream VR headset designed to meet the needs of those who wish to experience VR gaming but don’t have a PC powerful enough to run games in VR.
That said, it can be connected to a PC which will allow you to access Steam’s VR library and an ever wider selection of games.
Though it’s a standalone headset, the Oculus Quest is no joke – it boasts a serious 1440×1584 LED display and after a recent update it now supports 120Hz resolution. It has improved Oculus Touch controllers, 6GB of memory, and access to your entire library of games in case you already own an older Oculus headset.
The Oculus Quest 2 comes in two variants, the 64GB model and the 256GB model that is $100 more expensive. This is a nice option to have, but a better way to spend that money would be to get a sturdier head strap because the cloth strap that comes in the box is inconvenient at best and will make the rather lightweight headset feel heavier than it really is.
Now, while this is an objectively amazing VR headset it also comes with a few downsides.
First of all, there’s the sub-optimal audio. While it’s not exactly horrible, don’t expect it to eliminate all ambient noise. This is easily fixable by simply plugging in your earphones and using them instead, but it is a downside nonetheless.
The second and a bit more complicated issue is the fact that in order to use the device you have to have an active Facebook account with your real name that you need to connect to the Quest 2 before being able to use it. For most people, this will not be an issue, but for some, it can present an insurmountable obstacle which is why we suggest looking more into this matter if you are interested in buying the Quest 2.
Sony PlayStation VR
Display Technology: OLED
Display Resolution: 1920×1080
Display Refresh Rate: 120Hz
- Compatible with PS4 and PS5
- Access to an exclusive library of games
- PC support only via third-party software
- Controllers and camera sold separately
Up next, we have the first console VR headset – PlayStation VR. It boasts a recognizable black and white design with signature blue lights, it is quite affordable, and it is still not ready for retirement. You might consider using it even if you don’t own a PlayStation 4 or 5.
The PSVR is hardly a proper example of a cutting-edge VR headset, seeing as it was released in 2016 and designed to work with a console.
That said, it has a high-quality OLED display with a refresh rate of 120 Hz. On the other hand, since it’s a 1080p display, it doesn’t look nearly as good as the newer headsets.
However, the PSVR is not without merits. First of all, it’s quite affordable by VR headset standards and it offers excellent performance albeit at a lower resolution than most modern headsets.
Second, it gives you the chance to play numerous fantastic games such as Resident Evil 7, Hitman 1, 2, and 3, Iron Man VR, Batman: Arkham VR, Doom 3, and many more. Third, it’s compatible with the PS5, all you need to do is request a new camera adapter from Sony (don’t worry, it’s free).
On top of all that, although it will require a little fumbling with third-party software, the headset can also be used with a PC. So not only do you get access to a still-expanding library of PlayStation-exclusive games, but you can also hook it up to a PlayStation 5, and, given some effort, even to your PC. Not a bad deal.
It should also be noted, though, that motion controllers don’t come bundled with the headset, and neither does the camera, which is required for motion tracking. However, there are bundles available, which include not only these accessories, but also some VR games.
Overall, we feel that the PSVR holds up quite well in 2021. Still, although it can be made to work with a PC, we wouldn’t recommend it as the primary choice for anyone who doesn’t own a PS4 or PS5.
- 2160×2160 resolution per-eye
- Fantastic performance
- Phenomenal audio
- Sub-par controllers
Next up, we have quite an exciting product, the HP Reverb G2. This is a headset developed in collaboration with both Microsoft and Valve and that alone makes it worth checking out.
Both hardware and software-wise the Reverb G2 is fantastic. It comes with two controllers with AA batteries, a 5m long cable with both a DisplayPort and a USB Type C connector, a power adapter, and USB C to USB A/DisplayPort to DisplayPort Mini adapters just in case.
Just keep in mind that is a PC headset and to use you will need some pretty powerful hardware.
The HP Reverb G2 is the first 4K VR headset. Needless to say, this makes the visuals absolutely stunning and more life-like than anything you’ve ever tried before, including the Valve Index. Similarly, it has fantastic audio that will help transport you into the world of your VR game of choice.
The headset itself is probably the most well-optimized on the market. You won’t come across any software-based issues, no screen-door effect, there should be no nausea or dizziness, the headset is quite comfortable and easy to position properly on the head, and you can also adjust the IPD as well as game with your glasses on if you need to.
To top it off, it works perfectly with both Windows and Steam making it extremely easy to set up and start playing.
However, no matter how good it is, no product is without a flaw. Namely, the Reverb G2 controllers are disappointing. The haptic feedback is quite weak, the batteries last barely a week, and worst of all, controller tracking is less than satisfactory.
In games that don’t require controllers, this obviously isn’t a problem, and it’s only mildly annoying in single-player games, but if you want to play competitive multiplayer games this will cause you quite a headache.
The good news is that the Valve Index controllers can actually be used with the HP Reverb G2, so if you already own a Valve Index you will have a blast gaming on this headset. The bad news is that you need Valve Index controllers to be able to have a blast with this headset.
In other words, even though the Reverb G2 is not that expensive by VR headset standards, it will cost you more than the Index if you want to be able to use it to its full potential and pair it up with Index’s controllers.
HTC Vive Cosmos Elite
Display Technology: LCD
Display Resolution: 2880×1700
Display Refresh Rate: 90Hz
- Excellent motion tracking
- Great display
- Superb audio
- Hefty price tag
- No thumbsticks
Moving on, we have the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. This is a more expensive version of the original HTC Vive Cosmos mainly because it uses base stations making motion tracking much more accurate and allowing you to play without the slightest issue even in poorly lit environments.
The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is a PC VR headset, it bears quite a hefty price tag, and it will require some powerful components to get the best VR experience.
So, what makes the Vive Pro stand out, and does it justify its considerable price tag?
Well, first of all, as we said, it’s a lighthouse-based headset that allows for much better motion tracking and a smoother gaming experience. A thing to consider is that you will need a fairly large room to use it to its full capabilities. The recommended playing field is 3×3 meters, but in case you don’t have this much space, you can also choose the ‘standing’ option to use it without moving around.
Furthermore, it has a 1440×1700 per-eye resolution and superb audio with the option to plug in your own headset. It also gives you the ability to easily flip up the visor to see what’s happening around you if you need to do so, and it allows for comfortable gaming with glasses on.
The headset comes with the original Vive controllers, and not the HTC Vive Cosmos controllers, which is a little strange, but the controllers are mostly good and they come with rechargeable batteries which is a plus in our eyes. The only gripe we have about them is that it’s difficult to perform actions that require high accuracy and don’t have thumbsticks.
There are a few things about this headset that can be considered downsides. One is that this is a tethered headset which means that, depending on the game, you can get tangled or trip on the cable. And the second is that the two LCD screens don’t quite fill up your vision fully, which can detract from the immersion.
That said, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is a phenomenal VR headset, and, while it can’t compete with the Reverb G2 in terms of visuals, it’s an overall more balanced option due to its decent controllers. It can also be a good choice for those who want superior motion tracking but aren’t quite ready to invest in the Valve Index.
- Amazing visuals and audio
- Fantastic controllers
- No motion sickness
- Wide viewing angles
- Hefty price tag
Finally, we get to what is probably the best VR headset for PC gaming at the moment – the Valve Index. Not only does it look great, with a sleek futuristic design, but it also offers an amazing display, and probably the best tracking available in VR at the moment.
So what exactly makes this the best VR headset on the market?
Well, besides the fact that it has some of the best visuals and arguably the best audio system, it’s the only headset that offers an experimental 144Hz option, it comes with base stations, has fantastic motion tracking, and the largest playing area of 5×5 meters.
Furthermore, it’s the only VR headset that allows you to adjust the distance between your eyes and the lenses in addition to the IPD, it’s comfortable, has a cushy face shield, no screen-door effect, and a much more immersive gaming experience thanks to the wider viewing angles than the Cosmos Elite.
The reason we’re comparing it to the Cosmos Elite is due to their similar price tag, which is far from justified, especially considering the quality of the controllers that come with these two headsets.
Namely, while the controllers that come with the Cosmos Elite are fine, the Knuckles that come with the Valve Index are a superb and innovative piece of technology.
The Knuckles allow you to slide them onto your knuckles and game without having to hold the controllers at all. Moreover, they offer fantastic individual finger tracking and are the only controllers of this type on the market.
Since they are so different than anything else that’s available those who have used different VR headsets in the past should expect a short adjustment period, but this has no right to be considered a downside because, in the end, it’s absolutely worth it.
One final thing to note is that if you already have the original Vive you can simply slide the new base stations on the old mounting brackets and you’ll be good to go, or you can even use the old Vive base stations instead. This will reduce the price of the Valve Index, but won’t make much of a difference in gaming if you’re using a smaller space because the only significant differences are the wider viewing angles on the new base stations.
Conclusion: The Best VR Headset For 2021
All in all, it was challenging to pick the single best VR headset for 2021, since the market is getting quite diverse, with more contenders than ever before.
When the high-end is concerned, the Valve Index is the obvious choice. While it may not have the out-of-this-world visuals that the Reverb does, everything else about it is superior to every other headset currently available in every way. This, of course, includes the price.
And finally, when it comes to VR gaming on a budget, the Oculus Quest 2 casts a wide net. It is relatively inexpensive and offers customers great value for their money, not to mention that it’s standalone and you don’t need to have a great PC to enjoy it.
But these are only our picks. Every VR headset listed here has its own merits and shortcomings compared to other models, so as long as you keep your personal preferences and the headset’s capabilities in mind, any of them could suit your needs!
How To Choose The Right VR Headset
In the article above you’ve seen five of the best VR headset options at the moment and found out about their advantages and disadvantages. But before making your final choice, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of the most important parameters to consider when picking the best VR headset for you.
Standalone vs PC VR
It may seem obvious, but the main difference between standalone and PC VR headsets is that the standalone ones, as the word says, contain their own processor, memory, graphics, battery, etc. In other words, they have everything you need to enjoy VR anytime and anywhere without being chained to your PC, or a certain room, or to even own a PC for that matter.
If you wanted to, you could easily take your headset to your friend’s house and have a group VR gaming session.
On the other hand, the PC VR headsets require not only a powerful PC but also quite a bit of fumbling around with the setup, especially if the headset uses base stations to track your movements. This will not only require a hefty initial investment into a decent PC but also limit you to only one room or area that you can use for gaming. If you wanted to move, you’d have to disassemble your entire setup and reassemble it in a different location.
That being said, PC VR headsets will give you better performance and a much more visually stunning and immersive gameplay, at least for now.
Tethered vs Untethered (Wired vs Wireless)
People sometimes confuse tethered and untethered with standalone and PC headsets, and the other way around. To make things a little clearer, think of it as kind of a “all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs” situation. While all standalone headsets are also untethered, meaning that they don’t require a cable to function, PC VR headsets can be either.
These days, most PC VR headsets do require a cable to function, but companies are taking steps to enable wireless use for them, and one of the headsets listed above, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite already has a Wi-Fi adapter available for purchase that seems to be working great.
This is fantastic news as cables can be a real nightmare sometimes. They can either be too short as is the case with the Sony PlayStation VR or cause you to trip or get tangled, which is never fun.
LCD vs OLED
The two most common types of display used in VR headsets are LCD and OLED. Generally speaking, you will be fine whichever one you choose, but both have some advantages and disadvantages worth mentioning.
LCDs tend to have higher latency than OLED displays and slightly more “washed out” colors. On the other hand, they give you a sharper image due to them having more subpixels per pixel (3 in LEDs and 2 in OLED).
While there isn’t exactly a right and wrong option here, most high-end VR headsets sport LCDs nowadays simply because a sharper picture also means greater immersion, less motion sickness, and reduced screen door effect.
Just as with monitors, the resolution determines how clear and crisp your display is, the higher, the better. A higher resolution will make the image less pixelated and more life-like increasing immersion and significantly reducing or altogether eliminating motion sickness in combination with high refresh rates.
Most VR headsets these days aim for a 1440×1600 resolution, but there are some exceptions such as the HP Reverb G2 with a 2160×2160 resolution per eye making this the first 4K VR headset.
Another important factor to consider is the refresh rate. The refresh rate usually goes hand in hand with the resolution. Normally, the higher the resolution, the higher the refresh rate too.
As the name says, the refresh rate determines how fast the image refreshes itself. Think of it as flipbook animation. The faster you flip the pages, the smoother and more fluid the movements appear, the slower you do it, the choppier and laggier it is. It’s the same with the refresh rate on a VR headset.
That said, even if your headset has a high refresh rate, such as the Valve Index, for example, keep in mind that you will also need a very powerful PC to continuously sustain that rate. Generally speaking anything below 90Hz on a VR headset is considered sub-par.
Field of View
Field of view is essentially how tall and wide the image you see is. Decent headsets should have a viewing angle of around 100⁰ or more. This will make sure that you don’t see black lines where the display ends in your peripheral vision, or at the very least make them much less noticeable, and it will make your VR experience all the more impressive.
Out of the VR headsets mentioned in the article, the Valve Index has the widest viewing angle of 120-130⁰.
Finally, there are two types of motion tracking, or positional tracking: internal and external. This refers to where the motion sensors are placed.
Headsets with internal tracking have cameras on the headset itself and rely solely on them to track your movement and position.
On the other hand, headsets with external tracking rely on base stations you set up at opposing sides of the room to track your movements. These are often used in combination with headset cameras and offer much more precise tracking with fewer latency issues.
Hopefully, we’ve managed to clear up some misunderstandings and answer questions you’ve had regarding important features for VR headsets.
In most cases there is no better or worse choice, it simply depends on what is more suitable to your budget, needs, and gaming style. But at least now you should have a better idea of how your ideal headset looks like.
That said, the five VR headsets listed in this article really are the very best the market currently has to offer so if you’re looking to dive into VR one of these days, know each of them is excellent in its own way.
One final suggestion we can offer is that it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the games that will be available to you with each headset. After all, having a fantastic headset, but not being able to play the games you want would cause you more headaches than having a slightly weaker headset that has the ability to run all your favorite titles.