Looking for the very latest and greatest VR headsets? After careful research and analysis, we picked out the most promising headsets to purchase and compare their performance head-to-head. We evaluated and scored practically every aspect of these products, ranking and scoring the ease of set-up and installation, their comfort, and user-friendliness, as well as the amount of required hardware each one requires to run. Additionally, we also compared the visual immersiveness and interactiveness of each headset across a wide variety of different experiences. Take a look at the complete review of the headsets below to see which one claimed the top spot, which is the best when on a budget, or which is the best for a mobile device.
The Best VR Headsets of 2018
Check Price at Amazon
$349.00 at Amazon
$349.99 at Amazon
$199 at Amazon
$394.15 at Amazon
|Pros||Highly interactive, incredibly immersive, comfortable||Very immersive, interactive, easy to use||Exceptionally visually immersive, very user friendly, highly interactive||Extremely easy to use, exceptionally user-friendly, very visually immersive||Highly interactive, incredibly easy to set-up|
|Cons||Expensive, difficult setup process||Harder to setup, not the most comfortable||Not super comfortable, only works with PlayStation||Experiences more limited than tethered headsets||Pricey, limited library of games compared to other platforms|
|Bottom Line||The Vive is the best of the best and the perfect pick for the VR enthusiast||The Rift is a great choice for someone who wants one of the top VR experiences around, but is still shopping on a budget||The PlayStation VR is a fantastic introduction to VR gaming, provided you already own a PS4||The Go is an excellent, all-around headset that makes great VR experiences available to everyone||While the 6-DOF motion tracking is quite cool, the Mirage is hampered by its high price and limited number of experiences|
|Rating Categories||HTC Vive||Oculus Rift||PlayStation VR||Oculus Go||Lenovo Mirage Solo|
|Visual Immersiveness (20%)|
|User Friendliness (15%)|
|Ease Of Setup (10%)|
|Specs||HTC Vive||Oculus Rift||PlayStation VR||Oculus Go||Lenovo Mirage Solo|
|Phones that fit||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A, but smartphone required for initial setup||N/A|
|Adjustable Lenses||Only side to side||Only side to side||No, need to move the headset around||No||No|
|Sound||Headphone Jack or PC||Integrated or PC||Headphone Jack or TV||Built-in, or headphone jack||Headphones|
Following the Oculus Go,we have added another completely standalone VR headset to our review: the Lenovo Mirage Solo. Relying on Google's Daydream VR platform, this headset delivers excellent VR experiences without all the fuss of a gaming computer or pairing it to your smartphone, even offering 6-DOF motion tracking — a rarity for an untethered headset without external motion sensors. However, it is definitely a bit on the pricey side and couldn't quite claim an award or unseat the Oculus Go. Keep reading to see exactly how the Mirage stacked up against the rest and if it is the perfect headset for you!
Best Overall VR Headset
Claiming the top spot overall, the HTC Vive is our top recommendation for someone who wants the best of the best when it comes to VR headsets. This top-of-the-line headset does an excellent job at providing a high-quality, visually immersive and interactive VR experience. It is exceptionally accurate at tracking your movement with no noticeable latency issues and a pair of VR-specific controllers allow you to easily interact with and manipulate objects in your virtual environment. There is a large library of diverse VR content you can use with the Vive, ranging from immersive documentaries, thrilling horror movies, and ridiculously fun games that all really make you feel like you are in an alternate reality and provide countless hours of entertainment.
Unfortunately, this product is definitely aimed at someone who is exceptionally tech-savvy and is a VR enthusiast. It can definitely be a bit of work to get the headset set up and connected properly to your computer and get all of the software configured properly. Speaking of your computer, the Vive has somewhat intensive minimum system requirements, meaning that you are looking at spending another $800 to $1200 on top of an already pricey VR headset if you don't already have a high-end gaming computer. However, the Vive is definitely the best of the best when it comes to VR and is well worth the price for the true VR aficionado.
Read review: HTC Vive
Best Mobile VR Headset
Earning the highest score out of any of the mobile headsets, the Oculus Go easily claimed the title of Best Mobile Headset. This standalone VR device is completely self-contained — even having built-in speakers — forgoing the need for an expensive, high-end gaming computer or a flagship smartphone to power the headset. The Go is by far the most user-friendly out of practically all of the headsets that we have tested, only requiring you to power it up and put it on before you are ready to go. It also is quite comfortable to wear and the initial setup takes less than 15 minutes, making it an approachable VR option for those that aren't terribly tech-savvy.
However, the visual immersiveness of the Go definitely can't match that of the tethered headsets, like the HTC Vive or its big brother, the Oculus Rift. The Go also isn't the most comfortable to wear with glasses, but you can order custom corrective lenses for the Go to remedy this — for a non-trivial price. Your face also tends to get quite sweaty when wearing the Go for long periods of time. Despite these few drawbacks, the Go is by far our favorite mobile VR headset and is a fantastic option for those that want to try out VR without a ton of hassle or a hefty investment.
Read review: Oculus Go
Best Bang for the Buck
Searching for all the benefits of a tethered headset, but trying to save some cash? The Oculus Rift is a close second to our top recommendation, just being a little less comfortable and interactive, but retails at significantly less. On top of that, it is even more user-friendly and easier to set up than the Vive, making it an excellent choice if you are looking to save some cash and aren't the most technical person.
We did find that the Rift is offers a slightly lower level of interactivity than the Vive, with remote controls that didn't track quite as well as the Vive's in our tests and the room sensors provided slightly less coverage, requiring an additional third sensor to match the coverage provided by the Vive's two. However, the Rift is a solid, all-around VR headset that is a great value if you can't afford the premium price of the Vive* and has only a few minor drawbacks.
Read review: Oculus Rift
Best on a Tight Budget
Hands down, the Cardboard headset by Google is the cheapest way to try out virtual reality. This simplistic headset retails for less than $20, is compatible with a wide range of smartphones, and provides a surprisingly visually immersive experience, especially given its humble appearance. It has a single button to allow you to interact with your VR experience and is one of the easiest headsets to set up and operate.
However, there are clearly going to be some concessions in a $20 headset when you compare it one that costs several hundred dollars. The Cardboard needs to be held up to your face and — made of cardboard — isn't all that comfortable to wear. You can't really interact with this device in ways close to the top headsets, as this model lacks any sort of hand controllers. Despite these not insignificant flaws, the Cardboard makes it a great option for someone who isn't necessarily a tech expert, but wants to give VR a try without breaking the bank. This all combines to earn the Google Cardboard the Best Buy award.
Read review: Google Cardboard
Best for Star Wars fans
Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges
Have you always wanted to see how you would do at fighting off the dark forces of the Empire or the First Order? The Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges finally gives you that opportunity, allowing you to take up the mantle of a Jedi Knight. This augmented reality headset is tons of fun and highly interactive with its lightsaber controller. This allows you to take part in lightsaber duels against various opponents, practice your command skills and control forces in battle, or perfect your holochess game.
Unfortunately, you are restricted to the games and experiences specifically designed for this headset, meaning that the library of available options will always be significantly more limited than what is available on the other headsets. This headset is also on the pricey side for a mobile headset, making the limited library all the more painful. However, it is a ton of fun and is definitely worth considering for the Star Wars fans out there, mainly due to the fact that getting to fight with (virtual) lightsabers is totally awesome. Period.
Read review: Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges
Analysis and Test Results
In our quest to see which headset really came out on top, we conducted tons and tons of careful research and analysis to learn all about these products, then selected the most promising headsets to buy and test side-by-side.
We did over 25 different tests and comparisons between these products, eventually dividing up our results into 5 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. Our full results are discussed below, so you can see why our award winners won and how the rest of the pack stacked up.
When it comes to VR headsets, there are two distinct types: mobile and tethered. Tethered headsets are significantly more expensive than mobile and require much more expensive additional components to run — think a $1000 gaming computer. However, these are much better than the mobile models in terms of interactiveness and visual immersiveness. If you already have a gaming computer and are shopping on a budget, then the Rift by Oculus is a great choice, usually retailing for at least a hundred dollars less than the Vive. If this is still too pricey, then you should consider a mobile headset. The Oculus Go is the best you can get when it comes to mobile headsets, being very easy to use and highly interactive.
If the price tag for the Go is giving you sticker shock, you can go with the Daydream View or the Gear VR, provided you have a compatible smartphone and save about $100. These headsets aren't quite as nice as the Go, but the differences are negligible. If you are shopping on the tightest of budgets, but are determined to try out VR, then the Google Cardboard is the way to go. Costing about $20, this is definitely the cheapest way to try out VR, essentially being a cardboard box with lenses that holds your smartphone.
Earning the most weight out of all the metrics in our test, Interactiveness accounts for 35% of the total score for each headset. To evaluate the performance of each headset in this test, we conducted three different tests. The first test was how easy it is to interact with each device, whether there were buttons or a touchpad on the device itself or if there is a handheld controller that is used. The second test was comparing the motion tracking capabilities of the headset, whether it was 3-DOF or 6-DOF sensing and how well the position of the hand controller was monitored. 3-DOF refers to a headset that only monitors where you are looking from a fixed point, while 6-DOF refers to a headset that tracks where you are looking, as well as where you move — in the space covered by the sensors. This brings us to the third test we conducted, which was the area of coverage by the sensors. The chart below shows how each headset stacked up against the rest of the pack in these tests.
Earning the highest score of the group, the HTC Vive earned a phenomenal 9 out of 10 for its unmatched performance when it came to our Interactiveness tests. This headset includes two handheld controllers specifically made for VR or can be used with a standard Xbox or PlayStation controller that is hooked up to the computer. These were very comfortable to hold — one of our favorite designs of the group.
The HTC is a 6-DOF of freedom headset, with the largest sensor coverage of any of the headsets we tested. The sensors adequately covered the entirety of our testing room, with our only real limitation being the tether when walking around.
We found the Vive to be highly accurate at tracking motion in our tests — by far the best of the entire group by a wide margin. The margin shrank when we added a third sensor to the Oculus Rift, but that increases the cost and space required significantly. The Vive relies on a pair of sensors, either mounted on the wall or on a tripod. We had almost no issues with the HTC losing track of our position, even when we turned completely around. This amazing accuracy also carried over to tracking the position of the controller, with it being the most accurate of the bunch in our tests.
Right behind the HTC, the Oculus Rift earned an 8 out of 10 for its performance when it came to interactiveness. The Rift has no button on the headset itself, but allows the use of either a pair of the Oculus Touch controllers or a standard Xbox controller. The interface is essentially equivalent to that of the HTC Vive, but we found it was in the coverage of the sensors that dropped the Rift down a point.
The area that is covered by the sensors of the Rift is extremely dependent on the number and placement of sensors. It's not great with two sensors, especially if they are both placed in the front of the room. We had a few issues with motion tracking when facing away from the sensors, putting it on par with the PlayStation VR. However, if an additional third sensor is added and placed correctly, the Rift can approach the coverage area of the HTC Vive. You also could add a fourth sensor, if you have an open USB port on the computer.
We found the accuracy of the motion tracking of the controllers to be slightly less accurate than the HTC, but significantly better than the PlayStation VR.
Next, the PlayStation VR earned the next highest score in this metric, meriting a 7 out of 10 for its performance. It was exceptionally easy to interact with this VR headset using the PlayStation Move controller system, even though there are no buttons or touchpads on the headset itself.
We did find that this model has some limitations when it came to sensor coverage, only adequately covering a space about 7' in front of the camera. Stepping any further back would cause the screen to black out — 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 found it to be a little finicky when tracking the position of the Move controllers, with the controllers slightly shifting position throughout the game. There were also a non-trivial amount of instances where the controllers were unresponsive in our testing process.
Our pair of standalone headsets came next, with the Lenovo Mirage Solo and the Oculus Go both earning a 6 out of 10 for the level of interactiveness that these headsets provide.
The Oculus Go did exceptionally well in our motion tracking tests and we found that we had to center the remote and rest it much less frequently than other mobile headsets. There are also a handful of buttons on the remote control, to allow you to further interact with your virtual environment. However, you are limited to a stationary position, like all mobile headsets.
The Lenovo Mirage is actually a 6-DOF motion tracking headset — a rarity for an untethered model without external sensors. However, we didn't really feel this made it all that much more interactive, as it only works in a limited area (10-15 sq. ft. or so) before displaying an error message and this set of functionality is only supported by a handful of VR experiences at the moment.
This headset utilizes essentially the same remote as the Google Daydream View — not our favorite with the lack of trigger button — and has some basic controls on the headset itself (volume keys and power button). Unfortunately, we found that we had to reset the controller's center quite a bit to keep it pointing in close to the right direction,
The Acer AH101 came next, earning a 5 out of 10 for its average level of interactivity. The motion tracking controllers are decent, but they weren't our favorite, with the touchpads being a little finicky to respond.
We also found the motion tracking to be somewhat flawed in our tests, with the controllers tending to jump around — much more than the PSVR.
The Star Wars: Jedi Challenges also earned a 5 out of 10. The Star Wars headset relies on an external sensor orb, allowing you to move throughout the room — something the other mobile headsets lack. You use the lightsaber as a controller and it seems relatively responsive, though the motion tracking can get a bit laggy in the most intense lightsaber fights.
The Google Daydream View and the Samsung Gear VR performing the second-best in this metric, both earning a 4 out of 10.
When it came to interacting with the headset, we found the Gear VR to have a slight edge over the Daydream View. Both of these mobile headsets have handheld remotes, but the Gear VR also has a directional touchpad and both home and back buttons on the headset itself.
The Daydream View only has a handheld remote for control. All of the mobile headsets are limited to 3-DOF, meaning you can look all around you, but they are intended for you to be sitting down or standing in a stationary position.
Both of these mobile headsets did an acceptable job at tracking the position of the handheld remote, though you did need to reset the controller center direction occasionally to align with the direction you are actually facing, as they both would tend to drift a tiny bit the longer you used the headset. This is an extremely quick process, done by simply holding down a button until the direction re-centered.
The bulk of the mobile headsets came next, with the Canbor VR, Google Cardboard, and the Merge VR all earning a 2 out of 10 for their relatively subpar performance in this metric.
The Canbor does have a handheld remote, but we found it to be significantly inferior to that of the Gear VR or Daydream View. It also had exceptionally limited functionality when paired with an iOS phone. It generally felt slow and unresponsive.
Neither the Cardboard or the Mergehave a handheld remote, instead of having one or two buttons on the top of the device that will interact with the touchscreen on your phone when pressed.
All of these headsets were the same in terms of sensor coverage, all being 3-DOF headsets that allowed you to look around in every direction, but not move around. The head tracking seemed fine on all of these, but none of these headsets tracked the position of the controller.
Finishing out the back of the pack, the Bnext VR earned a 1 out of 10 for its overall abysmal performance when it came to Interactiveness. There aren't any buttons on the handset or a handheld controller. It allows you to look around from a stationary position, but doesn't track any other motion.
Ranking behind Interactiveness in terms of significance, our Visual Immersiveness metric merited 20% of the total score. We compared how well each headset blocked out ambient light, the field of view, the sharpness of the image, as well as the overall viewing quality. The chart below shows which headsets provided the most visually striking and immersive experience and which ones were a little on the blurry side
All of the tethered headsets, as well as the Samsung Gear VR and the Daydream View, tied for the top spot in this metric, earning a 9 out of 10 for their exceptional performances. These mobile headsets held its own against the significantly more expensive tethered models, even exceeding their performance when it came to blocking out ambient light. The Gear VR completely blocked the all of the light from the room from entering the headset for the majority of our testers, while the Daydream only let in a tiny amount. The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and the PlayStation VR all blocked the majority of the light, but all three suffered from a slight light leak around the bridge of the nose. It would let in a little light, but not enough to be distracting.
However, we found that the Rift and the PlayStation VR to be the top headsets when we evaluated the resolution and sharpness. The Rift and the HTC Vive both have a resolution of 1080x1200 per eye, but the text just didn't see as sharp and crisp on the HTC. The PlayStation VR has a reduced resolution of 960x1080 per eye, but we couldn't detect any noticeable decrease in sharpness when comparing it to the Oculus Rift.
The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift did have some of the largest fields of view out of any of the headsets that we tested, measuring in at 110°. Next, the Canbor VR, Oculus Go, and the Gear VR had the next largest field of view, with just over 100°, and the Daydream following this pair. The chart below shows how the rest of the models ranked in terms of field of view.
In addition to the manufacturer specifications, we also used a test image to compare the field of view of each headset.
The three tethered headsets all have exceptional viewing quality overall, with the Gear VR and Daydream just the tiniest bit behind them.
The resolution of the display of the mobile headsets depends on what mobile phone is used, but we found the viewing quality to be fantastic when using a Samsung S8 or Google Pixel XL phone.
The Oculus Go and the Lenovo Mirage both trailed slightly behind the frontrunners, earning an 8 out of 10 when it came to their visual immersiveness.
We found the image quality on the Oculus Go to be slightly sharper than the Gear VR and the Daydream, but the overall viewing quality is about the same. These three headsets all have a similar field of view. However, the Go lets in quite a bit more ambient light, especially when worn with glasses, which dropped its overall score down by a point.
The Mirage by Lenovo has very similar overall viewing quality to the Oculus Go, but it does have a slightly wider field of view — putting it about on par with the Oculus Rift. It has a screen with identical specs to the Go, measuring in at 5.5" with a resolution of 1280x1440 per eye. However, it does an even better job at blocking out ambient light, essentially keeping all of it out and we didn't experience any frustrating video lag when using it.
Following this top group, the Google Cardboard and the Acer AH101 came next, both earning a 6 out of 10 for its above-average showing in our Visual Immersiveness metric. The Cardboard lets in significantly more light than the Daydream — understandable, since this headset is made from rigid cardboard, rather than a more form-fitting, softer material. The field of view is slightly less than the Daydream, with similar sharpness and viewing quality when using the Pixel XL.
The Acer has one of the highest resolutions out of any model that we tested at 1440 x 1440 per eye, but text still appears a little out of focus when it is near the periphery of the field of view. The field of view on this product is also a little narrower than the top headset, but the overall viewing quality is above average. The Aver also blocks most ambient light from entering the viewing area.
Next, the Lenovo Star Wars, Bnext, and the Merge VR all earned a 5 out of 10 for their somewhat mediocre performance when it came to being visually immersive.
The Star Wars headset is AR, so it purposefully lets in the ambient light to superimpose the content over your physical environment. The resolution depends on the phone, like the other mobile headsets, but we did find the narrow field of view to be a bit crippling, especially in the faster-paced lightsaber battles.
The Bnext let an abundance of light in, while the Merge actually did a fantastic job of blocking light, only rivaled by the Samsung Gear VR. The Bnext had the widest field of view out of this group of two, followed by the Merge.
The Merge had alright viewing quality, with the image being slightly zoomed in and the text is shown with some sort of small distortion. The Bnext was much worse, showing even more distortion.
Rounding out the back of the pack, the Canbor earned a 2 out of 10 for its relatively poor performance. This headset lets in about the same amount of light as the Bnext, but is very hard to adjust to correctly set the focal adjustment, causing tons of distortion to any text shown and usually ending with eye strain and a solid headache. The Canbor does have a decently wide field of view, but it's hard to overcome its abysmal viewing quality.
Ranking next in our review, our Comfort rating metric accounts for 20% of the total score. While all of the headsets will feel slightly awkward and foreign at first, this feeling dissipates rapidly with the more comfortable headsets, while other models just never really felt that comfortable. They would be fine for a short experience or two, but would severely detract from the virtual reality if worn for long periods of time. 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 there was sufficient room to wear glass. The chart below shows how each model stacked up.
Earning the top score out of all of the headsets that we tested, the Samsung Gear VR and the Daydream View are by far the most comfortable out of the entire group. The Gear VR is quite comfortable to wear — even for long periods of time, with a cushion that prevents any pressure points on your face. It also had more than enough room to wear over a pair of glasses and an adequate amount of ventilation to keep the optics from fogging up.
The latest edition of the Daydream View has plenty of room to comfortably wear glasses and overall just feels much more comfortable and form-fitting on your face. The addition of the top strap also holds the headset much more securely, making it much less likely to move out of focus in the course of your VR experience.
Following the Gear VR and the Daydream View, the Oculus Go, the HTC Vive, and the Mirage Solo all tied for the second place spot when it comes to comfort, each earning a 7 out of 10.
The Vive conforms to your face very well, but not quite as well as the Gear VR. It has about the same amount of ventilation as the Samsung Gear VR, but it has substantially less room to fit glasses into. You can wear glasses with this headset, but just barely. It has some ventilation, so you won't get excessively sweaty right off the bat, but you will definitely start to sweat if you
The Oculus Go is also very comfortable to wear and matches the contours of your face quite well. However, it is quite cramped to wear with glasses, even when using the included spacers. We also found the image sharpness degraded slightly when using this space, appearing less sharp than before. There also is an option to purchase prescription lenses for this headset — a somewhat unique trait — if you require glasses. Unfortunately, we also found that the Go doesn't have the best ventilation, meaning you are definitely in for a very sweaty face after wearing this headset for extended periods of time.
The Lenovo Mirage conforms to your face just as well as the Oculus Go, having more than enough padding to prevent any pressure points. However, it is quite a bit heavier, weighing in at 23.5 oz. compared to the 16.6 oz. of the Go. This isn't terribly noticeable at first, but we definitely felt the additional weight in our necks after using the Mirage for extended periods of time. The Mirage also doesn't have a ton of ventilation, so you for sure will get quite sweaty if you are wearing it in warm climates or for long periods of time. We did really like that there is a decent amount of space if you need to wear glasses while wearing the headset.
Next, the Merge VR, Acer AH101, and the PlayStation VR all earned a 6 out of 10 in our comfort test. The Merge VR, Acer, and the PlayStation VR felt more comfortable to wear, with the Merge VR constructed entirely of a squishy foam material, while the Acer and PlayStation VR has a form-fitting cushion that makes it comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
The PlayStation VR has sufficient room for glasses to be worn, but the Merge and Acer are quite cramped when worn with glasses, especially those with larger frames.
The Bnext and the Oculus Rift were about average in terms of comfort. The Rift is slightly above average in terms of comfort, about on par with the Daydream View. The Bnext is mediocre in terms of comfort. The Bnext is very snug, and the Rift is exceptionally tight when wearing glasses. The Bnext and the Rift are about average in terms of breathability, helping to bring some air flow in.
Next, the Google Cardboard and Star Wars: Jedi Challenges both earned a 4 out of 10, while the Canbor again rounded out the bottom of the pack with a 3 out of 10. The Google Cardboard is by far the least comfortable out of all the headsets to wear on your face, but has plenty of room for glasses and more than enough ventilation to keep the lenses from fogging up.
The Star Wars headset isn't terribly comfortable, feeling quite awkward and unbalanced to wear. It also doesn't have a ton of ventilation or space for spectacles.
The Canbor is only a little more comfortable to wear than the Cardboard, but has absolutely no room whatsoever for glasses and only has mediocre breathability.
Accounting for 15% of the total score, this metric evaluates and assesses the overall experience for the user while using the headset. We compared the audio system of each headset, whether it was built-in or if you are meant to connect external headphones, how much work it took to get the headset ready to use, whether or not you were prone to hitting buttons inadvertently, and for the mobile VR platforms, whether or not you need to remove the case from your phone before use. The following chart shows how each headset scored when it came to our User Friendliness metric.
Taking home the top score out of the entire group, the Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, and the Acer all tied for the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric.
The Go is one of the most user-friendly headsets that we have seen, being one of the first standalone headsets. This product has built-in speakers, as well as the option to easily plug in a pair of headphones for improved sound quality. All you need to do is power it up and put it on and you are all set to enter the virtual world of your choice. It has a power button and volume controls on the headset itself, but these are almost impossible to hit inadvertently.
Also, the Go is a fully-standalone headset, meaning that you don't need to insert your phone or plug it into a tether, making it much less work to get set up than almost any other headset that we have tested to date.
The Rift also has integrated headphones built in, circumventing the need to attach an external pair. This model is also exceptionally easy to use once the initial setup has been completed, only requiring you to don the headset in view of the sensors.
This model also doesn't have any buttons on the headset itself, making it impossible to hit one inadvertently.
The Acer only takes a tiny bit more work than the Rift to set up each time, requiring you to attach a set of headphones.
Ranking behind the pair of Oculus headsets and the Acer, the HTC Vive, the Mirage Solo, and the PlayStation VR all received and 8 out of 10 for their excellent performances. The Vive and the PSVR both have an audio port to plug in external headphones if you want the full VR experience, but also will play sound through the computer or TV speakers if headphones are not connected. However, we did find that the earbuds are more likely to be pulled out accidentally when using the Vive compared to the PlayStation VR.
The Mirage Solo doesn't have any built-in speakers, so you are forced to use a pair of earbuds if you want to add an audio component to your VR experience. It comes with a pair of mediocre earbuds, but you can always substitute your own if you want higher fidelity audio. Aside from that, this headset is incredibly user-friendly, making it almost impossible to accidentally press a button and takes almost no time to get set up each time you want to use it.
Similar to the Rift, both of these headsets are ready to go as soon as you put them on in view of the sensors, once the initial installation has been completed. The models both lack buttons on the headset as well, meaning there is no chance of accidentally pressing one.
Next, after the trio of top scoring tethered headsets, the Google Cardboard, Google Daydream View, Gear VR, and the Merge VR all earned a 7 out of 10 for their user-friendliness. It is extremely easy to access the audio connector to plug in headphones when using the Gear VR, Cardboard, or Daydream, with it only being slightly more difficult with the Merge. However, it is a little easier to install your phone in the Merge VR than the pair of Google headsets or the Gear VR, only requiring you to slide your phone in from the top rather than folding out the front cover.
It is a little more work to set up the Gear VR each time. Instead of simply sliding your smartphone in, there are a pair of clamps that hold the phone in and a USB-C connector that you need to attach before you can use the VR system. However, we were big fans of the focal adjustment abilities of the Gear VR, which made it one of the easiest of the mobile headsets to get focused.
There isn't really an opportunity to inadvertently hit buttons on the phone the way it is supported, but there are a very limited number of phone cases that would work with this headset, meaning that you most likely need to remove the case from your phone before using the Gear VR.
We didn't experience any issues with a button on the phone being pressed accidentally on the other headsets during our testing process, but it would appear that this is much more likely with the Daydream due to the strap covering the volume buttons on the Pixel phone, than the Cardboard or the Merge.
The Daydream does give you the most flexibility for using your phone while it is still in its case, with the Cardboard being a little tighter than the Daydream and the Merge being even tighter.
The Star Wars: Jedi Challenges finished next in this metric, meriting a 6 out of 10 for its showing. The Star Wars headset requires to plug your phone in with one of the included cables and mounts in a plastic holder to install. However, you usually didn't have to remove your case, earning this product a few extra points.
Rounding out the back of the group, the Canbor VR and the Bnext VR performed relatively poorly, earning a 3 and a 2 out of 10 for their efforts, respectively. It's not too much effort to get headphones plugged in when using the Canbor VR, but it is a solid hassle to get them hooked up when using the Bnext. It isn't great to get the Canbor set up for use. The cover folds out with clamps to hold the phone in place, but it can very easily push buttons accidentally depending on the phone. However, it is far superior to the Bnext. This headset has a holder that slides out, which then clamps in. This also makes it almost impossible to not accidentally hit buttons.
However, you usually don't have to take the case off of your phone to use these headsets. We tested with a larger, rugged case and it worked fine.
Ease of Setup
Finishing out our review, we compared the difficulty of the initial setup for each VR system. This metric accounts for the residual 10% of the overall score and 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. The chart below shows which headsets are a snap to set up for the first time, and which headsets are a total hassle.
Claiming the top spot out of the entire group, the Lenovo earned a 10 out of 10 for being ione of the easiest VR headsets to get set up, taking only a few minutes to get it going right out of the box. There isn't any additional hardware required to run this headset and the only hardware setup required is to plug in the optional earbuds and microSD card and you are all set. The software setup is similarly easy, only requiring you to connect to the wifi and pair the remote. Pairing the remote gave us a few issues, requiring us to try it a few times before we successfully got it to connect, but it still wasn't a huge hassle.
Coming in second place, the Oculus Go, Bnext, Canbor, Google Cardboard, and the Merge VR all earning a 9 out of 10 for their supremely easy initial setup.
In terms of hardware setup, the Google Cardboard, Bnext, and the Merge are essentially ready to go right out of the box. You need to adjust the lenses on the Bnext and Merge and that is about it. The Cardboard has no lens adjustment, so it is ready to go as soon as you pull it out of the box. The Canbor only requires you to add batteries to the remote and adjust the lenses and it is all set.
The Oculus Go is also ready to go right out of the box, only requiring you to add a wrist strap to the remote before you are ready to go.
The software setup on all of these headsets is a breeze, only requiring you to download whichever VR apps you want from the appropriate app store. These smartphone-based headsets are all compatible with an enormous range of smartphones, so most current phones should work without issue.
The Go is even easier to set up, allowing you to connect it directly to WiFi or set it up using a smartphone. You simply need to download the app on the phone, follow the directions, and pick your games before you are all set!
The Acer, Jedi Challenges, Google Daydream and the Samsung Gear VR ranked next, all earning an 8 out of 10 for their performance. The Daydream is ready to go right out of the box, while the Gear VR took a little more work, requiring you to put batteries in the remote and attach the head and remote strap. The software install for both of these headsets is a little more time-consuming, with the Gear VR leading you through a series of prompts to download a handful of apps. It wasn't hard, but it did take a little bit of time. The Daydream app gave us a little grief and kept crashing when we tried to enter a payment method and enable things, but eventually, it worked for us.
This pair of headsets do have somewhat limited compatibility, with the Gear VR only working with a handful of Samsung phones and the Daydream is limited to a small pool of Daydream compatible phones — pretty much the flagship phone models of a few manufacturers. You can see a full list on their website and they are adding new phones all the time, but if you haven't bought a top of the line smartphone relatively recently, you are most likely out of luck.
The Acer and the Jedi Challenges headset also only take minimal effort in terms of hardware setup. You only need to plug the Acer into the HDMI and USB ports on your computer to get it ready to go and install the batteries in the Star Wars headsets to get this pair ready to go. The software setup on the Star Wars is the same as the other mobile apps, only requiring a simple app install. The Acer is one of the easiest tethered models to get the software configured, with helpful prompts guiding you through the process.
Moving on to the remainder of the tethered headsets, the PlayStation VR is the easiest of the three to set up for the first time, earning a 7 out of 10. This model only took about 10 minutes to set up, requiring us to make sure the PlayStation camera was pointed in the correct direction and plug a handful of cable in. This model prompts you through the setup process and offers a quick tutorial on how to use it. This model does have limited compatibility, only working with a PS4 and a PlayStation Camera, while the PS Move controllers are necessary for some games.
The Oculus is the next easiest to set up, earning a 5 out of 10. It took about 45 minutes for us to get it set up. The packaging directs you to the Oculus site to download the setup and provides a handful of directions to walk you through the process. We did struggle a little to get the sensors in the right position, as it is very particular about the placement of them. It took a bit longer than the PSVR to get all of the software installed and create an Oculus account, but it wasn't necessarily harder.
Both the Oculus and the HTC require a similar, high-end gaming computer to run properly, but the Oculus benefits greatly from the addition of a third sensor.
The HTC Vive is by far the most difficult to set up of all the headsets we tested. The sensors need to be mounted on the wall or on top of two tripods. We also had to adjust significantly more settings than either the Oculus or the PlayStation VR. 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 terribly tech-savvy.
Hopefully, this has been a helpful look at the top VR headsets available on the market today. While VR is an emerging technology, there are plenty of lower cost value options that would make a good introduction, or you can fully commit to a high-end tethered system for the maximum VR experience. For more information on the full details of our testing plan, take a look at our How We Test article for a full breakdown of our exact procedures and methodologies.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer