Best VR Headset of 2021
$799.00 at Amazon
$299.00 at Amazon
$648.95 at Amazon
|Check Price at Amazon||$899 List|
$899.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Incredible tracking, fantastic visual quality, Built-in headphones||Versatile, easy to use, very immersive||Great visuals, easy to set up, fluid tracking||Very immersive, highly interactive||Highly interactive, immersive, easy to use|
|Cons||Pricey, multi-sensor set-up required||Could be a little more comfortable||Incompatible with glasses, a strong PC needed||Not the most comfortable, could be easier to set up||Could be more comfortable, can be hard to set up|
|Bottom Line||For the best VR experience available today, look no further than this premium model||If you are searching for the best of the best when it comes to VR, we think this product is hard to beat||A high-performing headset, with great immersion and tracking, designed for Windows integration||The Index has some great features for the VR enthusiast but probably isn't the best headset for most people||For those experienced VR aficionados seeking an incredibly interactive experience, this top-tier headset is likely to please|
|Rating Categories||Vive Pro 2 Headset||Oculus Quest 2||HP Reverb G2||Valve Index||HTC Vive Cosmos Elite|
|Visual Immersiveness (20%)|
|User Friendliness (15%)|
|Ease Of Setup (10%)|
|Specs||Vive Pro 2 Headset||Oculus Quest 2||HP Reverb G2||Valve Index||HTC Vive Cosmos Elite|
|Field of View||120º||92º||114º||130º||110º|
|Tracking type||External sensors||Onboard cameras||Onboard cameras||External sensors||External sensors|
|Resolution||2488 x 2488 pixels per eye||1832 x 1920 pixels per eye||2160 x 2160 pixels per eye||1440 x 1600 pixels per eye||1440 x 1700 pixels per eye|
|Phones that fit||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Adjustable Lenses||IPD||Slight IPD||IPD||Only side to side||Only side to side|
|Available Controllers / Remotes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Refresh Rate||90Hz, 120Hz||72Hz, 80Hz, 90Hz||90 Hz||120Hz (Up to 144Hz in Experimental Mode]||90Hz|
|Room For Glasses?||Yes||Glasses get pressed against the face||Very little||Glasses get pressed against the face||Glasses get pressed against the face|
Best Overall VR Headset
Oculus Quest 2
If you're on the hunt for an excellent 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 motion tracking is by far some of the best we've seen. 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. Best of all, this unique product offers an excellent VR experience at a price that makes virtual reality approachable for most folks. It's not the best VR headset ever, but it is the best for most people.
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. This model is also behind the premium models in interactiveness and visual immersiveness, but it's not off by enough for many folks to be willing to fork over the extra hundreds those premium headsets cost. 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 Premium Option
Vive Pro 2 Headset
If you're entering the VR market excited for the absolute premium experience, then look no further than the Vive Pro 2. Topping the charts in three of our five metrics, this headset is easily the strongest performer we tested. With this model, you'll get massive play areas, fantastic tracking, a streamlined design that caters to users with glasses, and, not to mention, gorgeous visuals. When the Vive Pro 2 shines, the premium offering is genuinely incredible.
However, in the ever-innovating world of VR headsets, even the premium experience does have a few issues. The Vive Pro 2 suffers when it comes to setup. Requiring sensors to achieve fantastic tracking, there is a requirement to set up an array around your play area. And if the price was not already high, the entry-level for this headset is a high-performing PC, which most laptops will not meet. Overall though, if you can meet the PC and financial requirements for the Vive Pro 2, it offers the best VR experience available.
Read review: Vive Pro 2
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 Mixed Reality
HP Reverb G2
It's incredibly easy to recommend the HP Reverb G2, thanks to its consistently high performance across our testing metrics. This headset offers fluid tracking, great visuals, as well as and easy-to-use functionality. Moreover, the virtual desktop provided in the Mixed Reality portal blurs the line of real and simulation which may intrigue those who frequently use Windows operating tech. And while the Mixed Reality is exciting, the entire experience which the HP Reverb G2 offers is finely crafted and immersive.
But, the HP Reverb G2 is held back from overall greatness by a few issues, the most glaring is the complete incompatibility with glasses. Throughout our tests, glasses were crammed against testers' faces and exceptionally uncomfortable, showcasing a deal-breaking flaw for those who can't play without them. Likewise, a strong PC setup is a necessary requirement to run this headset, which may further alienate some. And while it's the best headset offering Mixed Reality today, this budding technology does have room to improve with future iterations. However, with such exceptional gaming quality and the uniqueness of the Mixed Reality, those who can comfortably use it will be in for a treat.
Read review HP Reverb G2
Why You Should Trust Us?
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 Pro 2, 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 on another planet compared to 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. 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 Vive Pro 2, Valve Index, and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite displayed phenomenal performance when it came to creating an interactive experience.
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 Vive Pro 2, like the Valve Index, relies on an array of sensors to provide a fluid level of tracking. Using tripods, wall mounts, or clamp sensors, plus the possibility for play areas reaching 10 x 10 meters, the tracking elements allow for an ultra-realistic experience. We were really pleased by the nearly negligible amount of quirks this system provided. The custom controllers had no issues throughout our testing.
The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite performs almost the same as the Valve Index and Vive Pro 2. 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 in this metric are the Oculus Quest 2 and HP Reverb G2. The Oculus Quest 2 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.
Comparably scoring to the Quest 2, the HP Reverb G2 performs well in interactivity through a comfortably sized play area and really fluid tracking. The general tracking, relying only on onboard cameras--no sensors-- is really great, but there were slight issues tracking the controllers. However, our testing showed that as long as the controllers pass in front of the onboard cameras with relative frequency, the kinks work themselves out. Otherwise, the HP Reverb G2 is a strong contender in the VR field.
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.
By far the strongest performers in our Visual Immersiveness metric are the Vive Pro 2 and the HP Reverb G2. Just barely edging out the latter, the Vive Pro 2 offers up a powerful level of immersion. With 2488 x 2488 pixels per eye, and a field of view of up to 120°, the fruit of the technical specifications bequeath the user a breathtaking visual experience.
Just slightly behind, the HP Reverb G2 follows up with strong performance as well. 2160 x 2160 pixels per eye and a field of view range of 114° pair nicely with gorgeous visuals that greatly expands immersion. The headset does a great job blocking out external light as well, and the HP Reverb G2 was one that did not get affected by different nose sizes. The one thing that keeps this headset from overtaking the Vive Pro 2 is a minor amount of visual fuzziness along the peripheries. However, it is a minor nitpick for a great experience.
The Valve Index and the Oculus Quest 2 performed strongly in our Visual Immersiveness metric, too. They both 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.
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 Valve Index provides the widest field of view of all with 130 degrees, while the Oculus Quest 2 has one of the narrowest fields of view (92 degrees). We didn't mind this so much when playing with the Quest 2, but it's worth noting.
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 Vive Pro 2 snagged the top spot for comfort, receiving the highest, though still reserved, praise. Somewhat weighty on the face, though still usable, the foam and fuzzy material which covers the headset elicited mixed responses from our testes. Some didn't mind it, while others found it to be somewhat uncomfortable on bare skin. However, the Vive Pro 2 really succeeds with its ability to comfortably work over glasses, allowing spectacled users the same great experience as their non-lensed counterparts with this device.
Next, the Merge VR, the Vive Cosmos, the Vive Cosmos Elite, the Oculus Quest 2, the HP Reverb G2, and the PlayStation VR all received 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 HP Reverb G2, 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. The HP Reverb G2 is all but unusable when wearing glasses, according to our testers.
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 Quest 2 and the HP Reverb G2. The 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 HP Reverb G2 comes equipped with integrated headphones that hover over the ear, allowing you to hear your surroundings both real and simulated. Getting the headset on is as simple as tightening and loosening the array of straps that criss-cross across your skull. Once its set up, our testers found it to maintain its fitting without continued readjustments. A setting for altering interpupillary distance is equipped on the headset's back.
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, the Vive Pro 2, 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 is 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 is very snug, while the Merge is even more cramped.
Ease of Setup
Finishing out our review, we compare the difficulty of the initial setup for each VR system. This metric is based on how much effort it takes 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.
Of the remaining tethered headsets, the PlayStation VR and the HP Reverb G2 are the easiest to set up for the first time. It only took about 10 minutes to set them up, requiring us to plug in a handful of cables and make sure the cameras were pointed in the correct direction. For the Playstation VR, 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. For the HP Reverb G2, wearing the headset isn't required for crafting the play area, which makes the whole process really convenient.
The Valve Index and Vive Pro 2 are 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.
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, David Wise, and Conrad Salonites