Best VR Headset of 2021
|Price||$300 List||$300 List||$899 List|
$899 at Amazon
|$999 List||$500 List|
$455.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Versatile, easy to use, very immersive||Exceptional image quality, super comfortable, very user-friendly||Highly interactive, very immersive, easy to use||Very immersive, highly interactive||Exceptionally visually immersive, very user friendly, highly interactive|
|Cons||Could be a little more comfortable||Tether can be finicky||Could be more comfortable, can be hard to set up||Not the most comfortable, could be easier to set up||Not super comfortable, only works with PlayStation|
|Bottom Line||If you are searching for the best of the best when it comes to VR, we think this product is hard to beat||Featuring excellent image quality, user-friendliness, and comfort, we think it's hard to go wrong with this top-notch tethered model||For those experienced VR aficionados seeking an incredibly immersive experience, this top-tier headset is sure to please||The Index has some great features for the VR enthusiast but probably isn't the best headset for most people||The PlayStation VR is a fantastic introduction to VR gaming, provided you already own a PS4 or later|
|Rating Categories||Oculus Quest 2||Oculus Rift S||HTC Vive Cosmos Elite||Valve Index||PlayStation VR|
|Visual Immersiveness (20%)|
|User Friendliness (15%)|
|Ease Of Setup (10%)|
|Specs||Oculus Quest 2||Oculus Rift S||HTC Vive Cosmos Elite||Valve Index||PlayStation VR|
|Phones that fit||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Adjustable Lenses||Slight IPD||Only side to side||Only side to side||Only side to side||No, need to move the headset around|
|Sound||Integrated||Integrated||Integrated||Integrated||Headphone Jack or TV|
|Available Controllers / Remotes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Field of View||92||110||110||130||100|
|Refresh Rate||72Hz, 80Hz, 90Hz||80Hz||90Hz||120Hz (Up to 144Hz in Experimental Mode]||120Hz, 90Hz|
|Room For Glasses?||Glasses get pressed against the face||Presses, even with glasses spacer||Glasses get pressed against the face||Glasses get pressed against the face||- Fits fine with glasses, but lets in a lot more light|
Best Overall VR Headset
Oculus Quest 2
If you're on the hunt for a premium headset that doesn't need to be tethered to a PC, our top recommendation is the Oculus Quest 2. This VR headset offers a top-tier interactive and highly immersive virtual reality experience. It's intuitive and easy to use, and the motion tracking is by far some of the best we've seen. To top it off, the Quest 2 is one of the most versatile options out there because you can use the included tether to attach to a PC which greatly expands the available VR experiences.
We had very few gripes with Oculus Quest 2. It does have a slightly tighter fit than some other models we tested, so it doesn't receive top marks in terms of comfort. It can be somewhat difficult to wear glasses with this headset on, even with the included insert. However, we think this is a fairly minor flaw, and we can't stress enough how much we recommend this product. It's one of our absolute favorites, and we think it's the perfect option for anyone who wants a hassle-free standalone headset.
Read review: Oculus Quest 2
Best Tethered VR Headset
Oculus Rift S
The most comfortable VR headset goes to the Oculus Rift S, but comfort is far from its only positive attribute. This headset provides an exceptional immersive experience with fantastic image quality. The VR content is highly interactive, and the inside-out tracking system of this model eliminates the need for any external sensors, making for a much more convenient and user-friendly experience. Of the premium headsets, it has one of the fastest and simplest setup processes and is comfortable enough to wear for marathon sessions, all while costing considerably less than some of the other top-of-the-line products.
There are a few drawbacks to the Oculus Rift S, but we think most users will find them easy to overlook. Its refresh rate is slightly lower than some previous models and the inside-out tracking system tends to lose controller position much more frequently than headsets that employ external sensors. This is particularly an issue when moving a controller behind your back. We also had to add some strain relieving cable stays to ensure the tether kept a solid connection. Despite the minor flaws, we believe the Oculus Rift S provides an exemplary VR experience and we highly recommend it.
Read review: Oculus Rift S
Best Smartphone Headset
If the higher-end tethered and standalone headsets are out of your price range, consider checking out the Merge VR. This ergonomic and comfortable smartphone-based headset is very intuitive and easy to use. If you're just beginning a foray into VR, this is a great place to start. Its foam construction also makes it a bit more forgiving if you accidentally drop it. Due to its durability and simplicity, the Merge device is an excellent option for young gamers.
Some smartphones are not compatible with the Merge VR, so you'll need to double-check to make sure that yours is. You also won't have as much interactivity or visual immersion since you are limited to the screen resolution and processing power of your mobile device. Although there aren't hand controllers, this is still a great bargain option for beginners with a little more than the tightest of budgets but aren't quite ready to invest in a top-tier option.
Read review: Merge VR
Best on the Tightest of Budgets
If you want to try out VR while spending the least amount of money possible, the obvious choice is the Google Cardboard. This headset is a simple cardboard frame for your smartphone and lenses. Its minimalist design provides a surprisingly good viewing experience. There is a single button to press to activate the touchscreen on your phone.
This product can't compete with the top models that cost hundreds more. We wish it had a strap to secure the Google Cardboard to your head; since cardboard isn't the most comfortable material to hold against your face. It's also quite tiring to hold it in place the entire time you are using it. The single-button interface limits the amount of interaction with your virtual environment, making the Cardboard more of a VR viewer. Taking these flaws into consideration, we recommend the Google Cardboard for someone who's not necessarily a tech expert but wants to give VR a try on the cheap.
Read review: Google Cardboard
Best for VR Enthusiasts
HTC Vive Cosmos Elite
Our recommendation for those seeking premium image quality and an extremely interactive environment is the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. This premium headset earned some of the highest scores ever in our image quality and interactiveness metrics. It did a phenomenal job of tracking the position of the hand controllers and where we were looking while wearing the headset. It has a very sharp image and a wide field of view while exhibiting very little noticeable screen-door effect in our tests.
Most of our testers felt that the fit was quite snug. If your own pair of glasses, this headset isn't very comfortable to wear for long periods. We also noticed our faces tended to get sweaty after even short sessions. Compared to some of the other products we tested, it can take a little more time to get it properly focused and adjusted. Despite that, we think the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is one of the best you can get and is a great option for any VR enthusiast on the hunt for a premium headset.
Read review: HTC Vive Cosmos Elite
Why You Should Trust Us?
Here at TechGearLab, we bought all of the VR systems in this review at retail prices — just like you might. We don't ever accept any free or sample products from manufacturers. Our lead tester, Austin Palmer, has been playing video games for nearly 3 decades. He has played many generations, if not all, of the major platforms, even some of the more obscure, including the Nintendo Virtual Boy and the Tiger Electronics R-Zone that somewhat resemble VR headsets. Austin is also very adept at PC gaming, always engaging in the most difficult end game content available, consistently reaching leaderboards, or completing games 100%.
We set up a dedicated room just for our VR testing and spent hundreds of hours testing and playing games with the different VR systems. We specifically graded each headset in 25 different side-by-side tests to determine the scores and convened a panel of judges to try each headset to get a better opinion of how the lenses worked for different people and the fit on different faces.
Related: How We Tested VR Headsets
Analysis and Test Results
We grouped our tests into five weighted testing metrics — Visual Immersiveness, Comfort, User Friendliness, Ease of Setup, and Interactiveness, as well as discussing the value of each headset when you compare their cost to their performance.
Related: Buying Advice for VR Headsets
There are a few different classes of VR headsets that span an enormous range of prices. The priciest models are tethered headsets like the Vive Cosmos Elite and Valve Index. These headsets alone are expensive, but when you also consider the cost of the powerful PC required to use them, the overall price can easily double. However, tethered headsets are much better than mobile models in terms of interactiveness and visual immersiveness. The Oculus Quest 2 splits the difference, costing considerably less than the top tethered models and requiring no additional hardware, making it a much more attractive choice.
If you are determined to try out VR but have a minimal budget, then the Merge VR or the Google Cardboard are good options. Both of these products are essentially just holders for your smartphone and are the cheapest way to try out VR. The Merge VR is a little more expensive but can be strapped into place, making it significantly more comfortable than the Google Cardboard, which you must hold in place.
Our Interactiveness metric is the most significant of our testing process, responsible for 35% of the final score for each VR headset. In this rating metric, we focused on how easy and intuitive each product makes it to interact with your virtual environment. Specifically, we looked at each headset's interface, the accuracy of the motion tracking — both of the headset and the hand controllers, if the headset had any — and if there are any limitations on where you can use each product, such as limited sensor coverage or the length of the tether.
The Valve Index and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite displayed phenomenal performance when it came to creating an interactive experience. The Valve Index uses a very comfortable and ergonomic set of controllers called the Valve Knuckles.
The Valve Index offers 6-DOF (Degrees of Freedom), and its stock sensor configuration can easily cover an area larger than you can reach with the tether. It relies on outside-in tracking, using a series of external sensors — either mounted on the wall or a tripod. We had almost no issues with these sensors losing track of our position — even when we turned completely around and were facing away from the sensors. We found the Valve Index to be exceptionally accurate when it came to the position of the hand controllers.
The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite performs almost the same as the Valve Index. It has very comfortable and easy to hold controllers that the sensors tracked practically perfectly. It is also a 6-DOF headset with an impressively large area that can be tracked by its sensors.
Just behind the top performers is the Oculus Quest 2 in this metric. This headset comes with two handheld controllers, with only power and volume adjust buttons on the headset itself. This headset has 4 wide-angle cameras for an inside-out sensor system, which can accommodate a play area of up to 25' x 25', with a 6.5' x 6.5' area being the recommended size.
Overall, we were very impressed with the motion tracking of the Quest 2 and found it to be very accurate. The headset almost always followed our gaze perfectly, and we never had any noticeable issues with it. We also were very impressed with the hand controllers. Even when holding them out of view of the camera, we found them very adept at mirroring our movements on screen. We even turned off the ambient lighting and found that the controller's motions were still tracked without issue.
Next, the Oculus Rift S and the PlayStation VR (PSVR) all scored well regarding interactiveness. The Oculus Rift S utilizes an inside-out tracking system, so there is no need for any external sensors. This also means that you have an exceptionally large play area at your disposal.
The Rift S uses the Oculus Touch controllers, which are great but don't seem quite as natural to hold as the Valve Knuckles or Vive Controllers. The motion tracking accuracy for the hand controllers is pretty good, but the Oculus Rift S controllers seemed to lose their position more frequently than the Valve Index or Vive Cosmos Elite. We also had a few issues with the Oculus Rift S losing the connection and blacking out the screen if there was any pressure put on the tether, but some strategically placed cable ties easily remedied this problem.
Even though there are no buttons or touchpads on the headset itself, the PSVR headset using the PlayStation Move controller system was also exceptionally easy to interact with.
We found that the PSVR had some limitations with sensor coverage, only adequately covering a space about 7' in front of the camera. Stepping any further back would cause the screen to blackout — something a few of our testers encountered when backing up rapidly from a shark in one of the underwater VR experiences. This model also had the most limited motion tracking of all of the tethered headsets, struggling to track you if you turned around while using the Move controllers.
We also noticed that it was a little finicky at tracking the position of the Move controllers. The controller position would occasionally shift slightly in-game even if there had been no movement. There were also a non-trivial number of instances when the controllers became unresponsive during our testing process.
The interactiveness of the headsets that require the insertion of a smartphone contrasts sharply and negatively, as one might expect with the severe price difference. Neither the Google Cardboard nor Merge VR has a handheld remote. Instead, they use one or two buttons on the top of the device to facilitate interaction with the touchscreen on your phone when pressed. These headsets are also limited to 3-DoF tracking, so they only monitor the direction you are looking in, not your position in the room.
Visual Immersiveness evaluated the realism of the virtual environment that each headset was able to create. To measure it, we considered overall viewing quality, the size of the field of view, image sharpness, and how well each headset sealed out ambient light.
The Oculus Rift S, the Valve Index, the Vive Cosmos Elite, the Vive Cosmos, and the Oculus Quest 2 all tied for the top score in our Visual Immersiveness metric. The Oculus Rift S, the Valve Index, and the Oculus Quest 2 all do a great job of blocking light from leaking in, either keeping the interior completely dark or, depending on the shape of your nose, letting in just a sliver of light. However, none of our judges ever found this to be enough to degrade the VR experience.
Unfortunately, we couldn't say the same about the HTC Vive Cosmos and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. These were great at blocking out light for most of our testers, but for a few of them, these headsets let in enough light that it became a distraction. For most testers, though, the immersiveness remained on par with the other top-scorers.
The Valve Index has a resolution of 1440x1600 pixels per eye and uses LCD panels that supposedly give you clearer images due to their subpixels than OLED displays. The Quest 2 has an exceptional resolution of 1832x1920 pixels per eye — even higher than the Valve Index.
The Oculus Rift S has a slightly lower resolution of 1280x1440 per eye, while the HTC Vive Cosmos and the Vive Cosmos Elite both have a slightly higher resolution of 1440x1700. These differences are very hard to discern when wearing the headset, and we think each of these products offers top-notch overall viewing quality. The Valve Index provides the widest field of view of this group, while the Oculus Quest 2 has the narrowest viewable area among them.
The PlayStation VR blocked most ambient light but, depending on your nose shape, could suffer from a slight light leak around the bridge of the nose. However, it doesn't let in enough light to be distracting. The PlayStation VR has a reduced resolution of 960x1080 per eye, but we still found it reasonably easy to read any in-game text.
Following this top group, the Google Cardboard provided an above-average showing in our Visual Immersiveness metric. The Google Cardboard lets in significantly more light than almost any other product — understandable since this headset is made from rigid cardboard rather than a more form-fitting, softer material. Still, its image was less distorted than the other mobile-dependent options we tested.
While all the headsets will feel slightly awkward and foreign at first, this feeling dissipates rapidly with the more comfortable headsets. Others, however, never cease to feel foreign on your face. They would be fine for a short experience or two, but would severely detract from the virtual reality experience if worn for long periods. To determine scores for this metric, we compared how each headset felt on your face, whether or not it made your face sweaty, and if it left sufficient room to wear glasses underneath.
The Oculus Rift S snagged the top spot for comfort. When it comes to wearing spectacles, it is quite spacious with the added feature of a visor that slides to make it easier to put on while wearing glasses. Most people didn't get overly sweaty while wearing this headset, and it doesn't seem to get as warm as the original Rift.
We found the Oculus Rift S to have more than enough padding to still be comfortable and avoid pressure points during marathon VR sessions. Unfortunately, the cable goes off to one side of the headset instead of the rear, which gives it a very awkward and asymmetric feel that we weren't fans of.
Next, the Merge VR, the Vive Cosmos, the Vive Cosmos Elite, the Oculus Quest 2, and the PlayStation VR all modest praise in our comfort test. The Merge VR and the PlayStation VR felt more comfortable to wear, with the Merge VR constructed entirely of squishy foam material. The rest of this group all have a form-fitting cushion that makes them comfortable to wear for extended periods.
The PlayStation VR leaves sufficient room for glasses to be worn, but the Merge VR, the two HTC Vive Cosmos models, and the Oculus Quest 2 are quite cramped when worn with glasses, especially with larger frames. The Quest 2 even comes with a glasses insert to help alleviate this, but we didn't find it to be all that effective.
This metric assesses the overall experience for the user while using the headset. Whether built-in or connected to external headphones, we compared the audio system of each headset, how much work it took to get the headset ready to use, whether or not it was easy to hit buttons inadvertently, and for the mobile VR platforms, whether or not you need to remove the case from your phone before use.
For their exceptionally convenient and hassle-free use, taking home the top scores out of the entire group were the Oculus Rift S and the Oculus Quest 2.
The Oculus Quest 2 proved to be the easiest to use and more user-friendly headset of any we have seen. You can use it without any extra hardware and it also includes an integrated speaker. All you need to do to get this headset going is to power it up and put it on. If you haven't used the headset in the room previously, you will also need to spend an additional minute or two defining the playable area by creating a "Guardian."
The Oculus Rift S is roughly the same as the other Oculus headsets and is ready to go as soon as it is powered up and put on, though you do need to plug in the tether each time if you don't leave it plugged in all the time. It also gives you the option of using headphones or the integrated speakers, and we never accidentally hit controls on either of these two headsets.
The Valve Index also has integrated headphones, circumventing the need to attach an external pair. Once the initial setup has been completed, it's exceptionally easy to use, only requiring you to don it in view of the sensors. However, we didn't love the head strap system on the Index. The adjustment knob is on the small side, and it takes a little bit of effort to get all the straps adjusted so the image is in focus and the headset is situated comfortably on your head. The Valve Index forgoes any controls on the headset, eliminating the possibility of accidental presses.
Ranking behind the Oculus headsets, the Vive Cosmos, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite, and the PlayStation VR all performed admirably. The PSVR has an audio port to plug in external headphones if you want the full VR experience but will also play sound through the computer or TV speakers when headphones are not connected.
The HTC Vive Cosmos and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite both have integrated headphones, making setup much easier than the others when you want to play. You can also remove them to substitute your own pair if you like. However, this only applies to its audio. We found that it took a little more effort to get these models adjusted properly on your face, struggling to get them both comfortable and focused.
Among the mobile models, the Google Cardboard and the Merge VR both fared well. Simplicity was their strength here. It is extremely easy to access the audio connector to plug in headphones when using the Cardboard, and it was only being slightly more difficult with the Merge VR. However, it is easier to install your phone in the Merge VR than the Cardboard, because you simply need to slide your phone in from the top rather than folding out the front cover.
You might have to remove your phone case to fit your phone in the Google Cardboard or Merge VR. The Cardboard fit seemed very snug, while the Merge was even more cramped.
Ease of Setup
Finishing out our review, we compared the difficulty of the initial setup for each VR system. This metric is based on how much effort it took to set up the hardware for each system and install the software, as well as what the hardware requirements are to properly run each headset.
In terms of hardware setup, the Google Cardboard, Bnext, and the Merge VR are essentially ready to go right out of the box. The lenses on the Bnext and Merge VR need to be adjusted, but that is about it. The Google Cardboard has no lens adjustment, so it is ready to go as soon as you pull it out of the box.
It is extremely easy to get all of the software for these mobile smartphone VR headsets set up, as you only have to download the correct app from wherever you typically get apps. There is no need to worry about buying additional hardware since they are also compatible with pretty much every modern smartphone.
The setup for the Oculus Quest 2 is quite minimal and our favorite among the non-mobile headsets. You do need a smartphone to download the app and create an account using a Facebook login, but that's about it.
After you put batteries in, the Oculus Rift S is pretty much ready to go right out of the box, but it did require a little bit of time to get the software up and running. You'll first need to download the Oculus software and create an account, which will then guide you through configuring and updating the firmware — if necessary — once you plug in the Oculus Rift S. However, you do need a decently powerful gaming PC to run this headset.
Of the remaining tethered headsets, the PlayStation VR is the easiest of the three to set up for the first time. It only took about 10 minutes to set up, requiring us to and plug in a handful of cables and make sure the PlayStation camera was pointed in the correct direction. The setup process prompts you through the steps and includes a quick tutorial on how to use everything. This model does have limited compatibility because it only works with a Playstation and Playstation camera. PS Move controllers are also necessary for some games.
The Valve Index is by far the most difficult to set up of all the headsets we tested, predominantly due to the need to install external sensors. The sensors need to be mounted on the wall or on top of two tripods. There is also quite a bit of time involved to set up the software and configure these products. All in all, this was a much more intensive setup process than the others and would probably be quite a struggle for users who aren't the most tech-savvy.
The HTC Vive Cosmos and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite are also some of the more difficult headsets to set up. While the HTC Vive Cosmos doesn't rely on external sensors for motion tracking, it proved to be very finicky when it came to scanning the room. It does this to prevent you from running into obstacles during play, but we had a hard time getting the HTC Vive Cosmos to cooperate. It struggled with the level of light and usually couldn't set the floor correctly. It occasionally did this process quickly, but it was very inconsistent in our tests, and most of the time took much longer than we would have liked. This headset also requires a similarly powerful PC like the other tethered headsets. The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is similar to the Valve Index because you need to install external sensors as well.
Hopefully, you have found this to be an informative and helpful analysis of the best VR products currently available and you feel ready to make your next headset purchase, whether you want a high-end VR powerhouse, a user-friendly beginner model, or a bargain option that will leave some money left over to buy some games.
— Austin Palmer and David Wise