https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3diuHPtmFQ

Only a few years ago, when Oculus Rift first appeared, it seemed like VR was just going to be a passing fad, a pastime activity for deep-pocketed tech enthusiasts, and then fade away into obscurity as soon as the novelty wore off.

The truth, however, couldn’t be more different!

The popularity of VR had exploded recently, with big names like Sony, Google, HTC, and others investing in their own VR technology, bringing it closer to PCs, consoles, and smartphones alike.

We will devote this guide to the best VR headsets that you can buy in 2018, those intended for casual entertainment and hardcore gaming alike.

TypeVR HeadsetDisplay TechnologyDisplay resolutionDisplay refresh rate 
Smartphone VR Google Cardboard (Editor’s Pick)Smartphone-dependentSmartphone-dependentSmartphone-dependent
Google Daydream ViewOLED*1080p*60Hz*
Samsung Gear VRSmartphone-dependentSmartphone-dependentSmartphone-dependent
Gaming VROculus RiftOLED2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye)90Hz
HTC Vive (Editor’s Pick)OLED2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye)90Hz
Sony PlayStation VROLED1920x1080 (960x1080 per eye)90/120Hz

Values indicated by an asterisk (*) are specifications that are required from the smartphone – it is not included in the headset itself.

Smartphone VR

Smartphone VR, or mobile VR, constitutes VR headsets which use a smartphone as a processing and display unit. These headsets are quite a bit lower-priced than the more high-profile ones that might come to mind whenever someone mentions virtual reality, mainly because a lot less tech goes into them due to the aforementioned reliance on phones.

Google Cardboard

best virtual reality headset

About the VR Headset

If any company on this list needs no introduction, then it is definitely this one. Today, Google is essentially the front page of the Internet, seeing as it is the most dominant search engine in the majority of the world. But of course, Google has heavy investments in numerous other areas of the IT industry, including their Android operating system and, by extension, smartphones.

The company was quick to release the Cardboard VR Headset that would be compatible with any smartphone, and when “Google” is taken out of the product’s name, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Yes, Google Cardboard is literally a VR headset made of cardboard.

So, how does it work? It uses two lenses placed in front of the user’s eyes which, when combined with certain apps, allow you to perceive what your phone is displaying in an immersive and responsive 3D environment. It also comes with NFC built-in, allowing for near-instantaneous VR app activation as soon as the phone is placed in the headset.

Features

  • Simple, affordable, and effective design – Cardboard’s primary strength lies in its simplicity, as described above. This makes it the cheapest VR headset ever made, and it actually works surprisingly well.
  • Controls – Another very innovative way that Google has enabled you to control the headset is by installing a circular magnet on the side. This simple piece of metal interacts with your phone’s magnetometer to simulate a button.
  • Universal smartphone support – Any phone can be used with Google Cardboard, as long as it physically fits and runs on either Android 4.1, iOS 8.0, or higher.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxAj2lyX4oU

Downsides

  • Can get uncomfortable – Needless to say, cardboard is not the most pleasant material to have stuck to your face for prolonged periods of time.
  • Limited interaction – Seeing as it lacks a fully functional controller and relies solely on a magnetic “button”, Cardboard cannot play the same games that other VR headsets can.

Final Remarks

To put it plainly, Google Cardboard is actually quite ingenious. It takes this very basic, dirt-cheap concept and turns it into a viable VR solution that actually works surprisingly well – far better than what you’d expect from a VR headset made out of literal cardboard.

But of course, it doesn’t have all the functionality of a “real” VR headset, as its purpose is mostly that of a tech demo for people who want to see what all the VR commotion is about. That said, it is little more than a fun pastime activity that will inevitably get old after a while.

What We Loved

  • Ridiculously cheap
  • Works surprisingly well

What We Didn’t Like

  • Not very comfortable
  • No controller

Google Daydream View

best vr headset 2018

About the VR Headset

Daydream View is a very similar solution to Google Cardboard, utilizing the same technology based on stereoscopic 3D generated via a smartphone app and glass lenses. However, while the latter is intended more as a technology demonstration, Daydream View is there for those who would want a more reliable and flexible smartphone VR headset.

As seen above, Daydream View has an exterior made of a highly durable fabric which comes in white, gray, and red. Furthermore, the inside of the headset is covered with extensive padding meant to make the headset more comfortable to wear, especially during longer sessions.

Features

  • Controls – The headset comes with a compact remote that seemingly has it all: a touchpad, Home button, contextual App button, volume buttons, and most importantly – motion detection.
  • Compatibility – The Daydream View is a bit more limited than the Cardboard in terms of supported phones. It requires that a phone has a 1080p OLED screen that can refresh at 60Hz, and that it runs on Android 7.0 Nougat or any subsequent version.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fb9cqBzY5w

Downsides

  • High hardware requirements – It is nothing new that VR is demanding for hardware, but it is particularly bad news for a lot of users that Daydream View requires an OLED display in order to function properly. The fact that it also requires a 1080p resolution is not such a big deal since that is the standard even for mid-range phones now, but keep in mind that the vast majority of phones – including many flagships – still use IPS LCD instead of OLED.

Final Remarks

Naturally, the Daydream View performs much better than its cardboard sibling – it has better picture quality, does a good job of sealing out light, and it needn’t be pointed out just how much more comfortable it is. But, unfortunately, unless you have a high-end phone with an OLED display that runs on Android 7.0+, Daydream View will not seem quite appealing to you.

What We Loved

  • Clean and minimal design
  • Good image quality
  • Durable and portable

What We Didn’t Like

  • Requires OLED display and Android 7.0

Samsung Gear VR

best vr headsets

About the VR Headset

Samsung is one of the biggest Android smartphone manufacturers, their Galaxy S series being among the first and most popular flagship phones running on the said operating system. As such, it is no wonder that the Korean tech giant had decided to launch their own VR headset.

The Samsung Gear VR is quite similar to Google’s Daydream View, although it is a noticeably sleeker and more high-profile solution. Unlike its Google counterpart, the Samsung Gear VR leans more towards a rectangular exterior design and chooses plastic over fabric.

Features

  • Controls – The headset has an inconspicuous touchpad, as well as Home and Back keys placed on the right-hand side. Furthermore, it also comes with a very good controller which, in addition to the aforementioned functions, includes volume buttons and a single trigger.
  • Compatibility – The Samsung Gear VR headset is listed as officially compatible with the following Galaxy phones: S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Note 5, S7, S7 Edge, S8, S8+, and Note 8. However, users have reported that it can indeed work with other models that can physically fit the headset – assuming that they’re running Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher.
  • Oculus Store – The Samsung Gear VR was developed with the help of Oculus and it uses their store instead of the default Google Play Store. This ultimately gives users more advanced games than what is available at the Play Store.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRML7k_ve_I

Downsides

  • Only supports Samsung phones – One of the biggest drawbacks to the Samsung Gear VR is that it is only officially compatible with a limited selection of Samsung phones. Granted, the Daydream View has high hardware requirements, but it is not limited solely to Google’s own phone models.
  • Slightly more expensive than Daydream View – It should also be pointed out that Samsung Gear VR is the most expensive mobile VR headset out there, although this is still overshadowed by its superb selection of content.

Final Remarks

In the end, there’s no doubt that Samsung Gear VR is a well-built, top-quality mobile VR headset. And with the extensive Oculus library of VR-tailored apps and games, it makes a much more appealing choice than Google’s Daydream View – for Samsung users, that is.

What We Loved

  • Clean and minimal design
  • Well-built and responsive controller
  • Large number of VR apps and games to choose from

What We Didn’t Like

  • Only officially compatible with some Samsung phones
  • Priciest mobile VR headset

Gaming VR

And here, we come to the “good stuff”. What we have here dubbed the gaming VR headsets are what some consider to be the “true” VR headsets – high-tech products designed to fully immerse you in digital worlds in a way that you never knew you could experience before, complete with integrated display technology and advanced controls.

Oculus Rift

vr headset

About the VR Headset

The one that started it all! The Rift is a VR headset, made by Oculus, was a crowdfunded project which raised over 2 million dollars on Kickstarter and opened the door to a new world of VR gaming.

The Rift VR headset sports a modern and minimal matte black exterior with an integrated 2K OLED display, along with a range of accessories designed to enhance the overall VR experience.

Features

  • Display – The Rift’s display uses OLED technology, as mentioned above, and is split into two separate screens – one 1080×1200 display for each eye, making for a total resolution of 2160×1200 pixels. Furthermore, it also uses a Samsung-developed PenTile technology to generate a layer of subpixels which then serve to generate a cleaner and sharper image.
  • Controllers – The primary means of controlling Oculus Rift content is with Oculus Touch controllers. These come equipped with two face buttons, an analog stick, a small touchpad, a trigger, and grip button each. Furthermore, it only officially supports the official Xbox One controller and can also work with other controllers, but some extra setup will be required.
  • Oculus Sensor – For room-scale motion tracking, the headset uses the official Oculus Sensor which functions similarly to the original Wii motion controls – by tracking infra-red light.
  • Detachable Headphones – The Oculus Rift comes complete with detachable headphones. Not only are these capable of competing with most gaming headphones/headsets in terms of sound quality, but Oculus is also selling optional earphones separately. These improve noise isolation and add an extra layer of immersion which is somewhat lacking with the standard on-ear headphones.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRnt0Thw35E

Downsides

  • SteamVR not officially supported – There is no doubt that Steam is the biggest and most popular PC game store and platform. That said, you probably already have an extensive Steam library with a number of VR and non-VR games you are itching to try out with the Rift. But, unfortunately, SteamVR and the Rift are not fully compatible. Granted, you will be able to run the Rift with SteamVR, but there is no guarantee that every game will be stable and work properly.

Final Remarks

All in all, the Oculus Rift is very cost-effective today, especially because it now ships bundled with two motions controllers and two sensors, although you may need a third sensor for fully accurate 360-degree motion tracking. On the downside, the Rift is not yet fully compatible with SteamVR, making it much less appealing than the HTC Vive for Steam users i.e. the majority of PC gamers.

What We Loved

  • High-quality build
  • Advanced motion controls
  • Bundled with most accessories

What We Didn’t Like

  • Doesn’t fully support SteamVR

HTC Vive

htc vive

About the VR Headset

Many were surprised to see HTC – a company specializing in smartphones – release the most advanced VR headset to date: the HTC Vive. However, Vive is a product of collaboration between HTC and Valve, and is sometimes referred to as “Steam VR”.

The Vive comes with a matte black exterior, much like the Oculus Rift, but unlike its primary competitor, it opts for a more futuristic and detail-heavy look instead of the clean and minimal design of the Rift. The display is pretty much identical to that of the Rift, both in terms of technology and resolution.

Features

  • Display – As suggested in the previous paragraph, the Vive has two OLED displays, with 1080×1200 pixels per eye. It also uses PenTile technology to introduce subpixels and improve image fidelity.
  • Controllers – The Vive controllers are a bit bulkier than those of the Oculus Rift, but they differ in that they employ a highly functional trackpad instead of analog sticks and have much more accurate motion detection.
  • Base stations – Unlike the cylindrical Rift sensors, the HTC base stations take the form of a small and compact cube that is very flexible in terms of placement. More importantly, they have proven to be more accurate.
  • Accessories – HTC offers a number of accessories, significantly more than Oculus. This includes basic replacement parts, as well as a number of functionality-oriented accessories on the way. Among these are an improved headstrap with headphones, the unique Vive Tracker, and more.
  • SteamVR – The HTC Vive is designed to function with SteamVR games but can also play regular Steam games which are automatically adapted to VR via Steam’s Theater mode. Furthermore, the majority of the Oculus Rift library can be made compatible with the help of third-party software.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GZi1qa2yN0

Downsides

  • Expensive – The headset’s price has dropped significantly since its launch, but it still remains the most expensive VR headset to date, especially if you decide to get it bundled with additional accessories apart from just the motion controllers.

Final Remarks

Ultimately, the Vive and the Rift are on relatively even terms today, especially since HTC revised its headset to be as light as the Rift and, by extension, more comfortable. When it comes to picking one over the other, it will mostly come down to which platform you prefer – and even then, both can work with either Oculus or Steam games, although you will have to rely on third-party software in order to fully use both platforms.

What We Loved

  • Top-quality build with futuristic design
  • Best motion controls out of all current VR headsets
  • Plenty of additional accessories
  • Fully compatible with Steam and SteamVR games

What We Didn’t Like

  • Most expensive VR headset on the market

Sony PlayStation VR

psvr

About the VR Headset

The Sony PlayStation VR is unique among gaming VR headsets in a number of ways, the most important one being that it is the first ever console-compatible VR headset. It was also the best-value VR headset for a while after its launch, but HTC and Oculus have since dropped their prices so as to remain competitive.

Unlike the predominantly dark-colored Vive and Rift, the PSVR is dominated by high-profile white highlights and blue LED lights which aren’t there just for show – but more on that later. It also has a single Full HD OLED screen, as opposed to the aforementioned competitors which have separate displays for each eye.

Features

  • Higher subpixel count – This might come across as a surprise, given the lower resolution, but PSVR is actually capable of producing sharper and cleaner images due to its higher subpixel count – 3 as opposed to the Rift’s and Vive’s 2. On top of all that, the lower overall resolution means less work for the hardware.
  • Dedicated VR processor unit – While it doesn’t contribute any extra graphics or overall processing power to the PlayStation 4, this external processor works to adapt both the video and audio output to the dynamic VR environment.
  • Camera-based motion tracking – In addition to the built-in sensors, the headset relies on the dual-lens PS Camera for more accurate motion tracking. It does this with the help of those futuristic-looking blue LED lights, with the camera tracking their movement and position.
  • Several types of motion controls – In addition to the DualShock 4, PSVR can be used either with the Sony Motion controllers or with the more recent Aim controller.
  • Compatible with any PS4 console – The PlayStation 4 Pro may have taken the spotlight recently due to its beefed-up GPU, but it is not the only version of Sony’s flagship console that supports VR. Both the original and the Slim variants of the PS4 fully support PSVR, although the Pro will still offer enhanced graphics.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXqQs7oMwmg

Downsides

  • Limited PC compatibility – As is almost always the case with Sony (or at least the PlayStation) products, they tend to only be fully compatible with the platform that Sony launched them for. This also applies to PSVR, as it can only work on PC with the help of third-party software, which is hardly an ideal solution.
  • Not bundled with all the accessories – While the headset itself may be the cheapest one out there, keep in mind that the package doesn’t include all the accessories i.e. the PS Camera, Motion, or Aim controllers. With that potential extra expense taken into account, PSVR can actually end up being quite pricey.

Final Remarks

Needless to say, PlayStation VR is the only real choice for those who want to experience VR on their console. However, due to a lack of official support, getting PSVR to work properly with your PC can be a tedious process. But in terms of pure performance, it does not lag behind its Oculus and HTC competitors.

What We Loved

  • Beautiful futuristic black-and-white design
  • Very high image clarity
  • Quite affordable if you already have the extra accessories

What We Didn’t Like

  • Requires third-party software to work on PC
  • You may need to buy some accessories separately

Finding the Best VR Headset for You

When it comes to picking the ideal headset for your needs, you should consider both your budget and what you will be using the headset for.

Your System

virtual reality headset

Before even considering getting a VR headset, you should make sure that your phone or PC can actually offer reasonable performance in a VR environment.

For smartphones, each manufacturer lists supported phone models and the minimum required OS version. When it comes to PC gaming, we recommend the following:

  • CPU: Intel i5 6th generation or higher/AMD Ryzen 5 or higher
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB or higher/ AMD Radeon RX 480 or higher
  • RAM: 8GB or higher
  • Motherboard: 3 or more USB 3.0 ports
  • OS: Windows 7 64-bit SP1 or higher

Keep in mind that the official minimum/recommended specifications may differ, supporting even some older generations of GPUs and CPUs. However, due to technological gaps, the aged hardware delivers VR performance evidently inferior to that of its up-to-date successors.

That said, we would advise upgrading your PC before delving into VR. This is because VR headsets are bound to get cheaper and more advanced, so it’s better to get a truly VR-worthy gaming machine before investing in the headset itself.

And finally, there is the matter of PlayStation VR. As we have previously stated, every version of the PS4 will support PSVR, provided the firmware is up to date. However, the PS4 Pro will offer some graphical improvements on top of the regular PSVR experience.

Content

virtual reality

As previously stated, different VR headsets don’t differ only in terms of hardware and the technology they utilize, but also in terms of content. What we mean by “content” here is all the applications and games designed specifically with virtual reality in mind.

For mobile VR headsets, you would be getting your content either from the Google Play Store or the Oculus Store. The primary difference between the two comes down to the fact that the Oculus Store currently has more content and more complex games, but that is likely to change in the future.

As for PC gaming VR headsets, you once again have the Oculus Store, as well as the Steam Store. The former has a handful of exclusive games, but the majority of their titles are also available on Steam. What’s more, Steam also supports VR for various titles which weren’t designed specifically for VR.

The Conclusion

So, when push comes to shove, what’s our take on what the best VR headset is?

Best Mobile VR Headset – Google Cardboard

google cardboard

This might seem like a surprising choice, but it is well justified for two reasons:

  1. It is compatible with most phones, which can’t be said for the other ones on the list.
  2. It is the best-value mobile VR headset. Truth be told, we don’t think that investing 100$ in mobile VR is a smart move, both because modern smartphones don’t have the hardware required to offer a truly immersive VR experience. They are usually only good for some light entertainment, thus making the Cardboard the most cost-effective solution.

Best Gaming VR Headset – HTC Vive

best gaming vr headset

As you may have already concluded, all the gaming VR headsets currently available are relatively on par with each other in terms of technology and hardware. That said, your choice will depend entirely on your platform of choice.

However, we have decided to go give the medal to the Vive, but it won only by a split hair. This is mainly due to its superb motion controls and full SteamVR compatibility.

On the other hand, the Oculus Rift would be a better choice for those not using Steam due to the vast library of content available on the Oculus Store, while the PlayStation VR will obviously be the only real choice for PlayStation 4 owners.

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