Best VR Headset of 2020
Best Overall VR Headset
Oculus Rift S
If you are looking for the best of the best when shopping for your new VR headset, we think it will be hard to go wrong with the Oculus Rift S. This headset provides an incredibly immersive experience with fantastic image quality. The VR content is highly interactive and the inside-out tracking system of this headset eliminates the need for any external sensors, making for a much more convenient and user-friendly experience. It has one of the fastest and simplest setup processes of the top-tier headsets and is comfortable enough to wear for marathon sessions, all while costing considerably less than some of the other premium products.
There are a few concessions with the Oculus Rift S but these will be overlooked by the vast majority of users. The refresh rate dropped slightly from some previous models and the inside-out tracking system will lose a controller position much more frequently than a headset with external sensors — especially when moving one behind your back. We also had to add some strain relief to the tether to ensure a solid connection. Despite these small flaws, we solidly think that the Oculus Rift S is the best you can get if you are looking for a top-tier VR experience and highly recommend it.
Read review: Oculus Rift S
An Exceptionally Interactive VR Experience
HTC Vive Cosmos Elite
If you want top-tier image quality and an extremely interactive environment, then we would highly recommend that you consider the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. This excellent headset earned some of the best scores we have seen to date 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, with very little noticeable screen-door effect in our tests.
We did find that it fits very snug for most people, so it isn't very comfortable to wear for long periods if you have an additional pair of glasses on and we noticed our faces tended to get sweaty after even short sessions with the headset on. It also can take a little bit more time to get it properly adjusted and in-focus compared to some of the other products we tested. 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
Best Full-Featured Budget Headset
The Oculus Quest is a completely standalone headset, completely forgoing a tether or an expensive gaming PC. It relies on a series of cameras to track your position, making it one of the few completely standalone headsets that not only tracks where you are looking but also lets you walk around and move throughout the play area. This makes the Oculus Quest one of the most user-friendly and easy to use VR headsets out there, all while holding its own with the top models when it comes to providing a highly immersive and interactive experience. It has excellent motion tracking both of your position and your hand movements using the Oculus Touch controllers and takes practically no time to set up.
However, we did think that the Oculus Quest could be a little more comfortable. It isn't our favorite to wear for marathon gaming sessions, as it is heavily weighted towards the front and several of our testers complained that it was dragging on their faces. It's difficult to strike a balance between getting the head strap tight enough that the Oculus Quest doesn't fall while still being comfortable to wear. This headset also can't play the top-tier games but if you are looking for a simple to use VR headset that has full 6-Degree of Freedom (DoF) motion tracking and doesn't cost a small fortune, the Oculus Quest is the perfect choice.
Read review: Oculus Quest
Best Smartphone Headset
If all the higher-end tethered and standalone headsets are far too expensive for your budget, then you should check out the Merge VR. This ergonomic and comfortable smartphone-based headset is very intuitive and easy to use. It's a great starting point for anyone just looking at getting into VR and its foam construction makes it a little more forgiving if you happen to drop it.
The Merge VR is only compatible with certain smartphone makes and models so you will want to double-check that you have the correct device. You also won't have as much interactivity or visual immersiveness since you are limited to the screen resolution and processing power of your mobile device and don't have hand controllers but it's a great bargain option for beginners that aren't on 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 and spend the least amount of money possible, then the Google Cardboard is the obvious choice. This headset is simply a cardboard frame for your smartphone and some lenses but provides a surprisingly good viewing experience given its minimalistic design. It has a single button that you can press to tap the touchscreen on your phone.
This product can't compete with the top-tier models, that cost hundreds of times more. Cardboard is not the most comfortable material to hold against your face and there isn't a strap to secure the Cardboard to your head, so it can be quite tiring to hold it in place the entire time you are using it. The single-button interface also limits the amount of interaction with your virtual environment, making the Cardboard more of a VR viewer. 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.
Read review: Google Cardboard
Why You Should Trust Us?
Here at TechGearLab, we bought all of the VR systems in this review at retail prices — just like you would — and won'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 have spent hundreds and 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 had a panel of judges try out each headset to get a better opinion of how the lenses worked for different people and how each headset fit 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
When it comes to VR headsets, there are a few different classes of headsets, covering an enormous spread of prices. Tethered headsets, like the Vive Cosmos Elite, Oculus Rift S, and Valve Index, are typically the most expensive models. These headsets alone are pricey, usually costing significantly more than most other products we tested, and this price can easily be doubled when you take into account the cost of the powerful PC required to run these products. However, these are much better than mobile models in terms of interactiveness and visual immersiveness. The Oculus Quest splits the difference, costing about half as much as the top tethered models and doesn't require any additional hardware, making it a much more attractive budget buy than the tethered options.
If you are determined to try out VR, then the Merge VR or the Google Cardboard is the way to go. This is the cheapest way to try out VR, as both of these products are essentially just holders for your smartphone. The Merge VR is a little more expensive but is significantly more comfortable than the Google Cardboard and will actually strap to your head, rather than forcing you to hold it 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 the interface of each headset, 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.
Tying for the highest score of the group, the Valve Index and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite both earned an impressive 9 out of 10 for their phenomenal performance when it comes 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 comes 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 and has an impressively large area tracked by its sensors.
Next, the Oculus Rift S, the Oculus Quest, and the PlayStation VR (PSVR) all scored a 7 out of 10 for their interactiveness. The Oculus Quest and the Oculus Rift S both utilize and inside-out tracking system, supplanting the need for any external sensors. This also means that you have an exceptionally large play area at your disposal, especially with the Oculus Quest, as it doesn't have a tether to hold you back.
Both of these headsets use the Oculus Touch controllers, which are great but didn'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 Quest or Oculus Rift S seemed to lose their position more frequently for us 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 this was easily remedied with some strategically placed cable ties.
It is also exceptionally easy to interact with the PSVR headset using the PlayStation Move controller system, even though there are no buttons or touchpads on the headset itself.
We did find that the PSVR has some limitations when it comes to 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 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 was also a non-trivial amount of instances where the controllers were unresponsive in our testing process.
The HTC Vive Cosmos came next, earning a 5 out of 10 for its average level of interactivity. Of all the top-tier headsets in terms of price, the HTC Vive Cosmos scored the worst in our interactiveness metric. The HTC Vive Cosmos does have dual hand controllers and is only limited by the length of the tether but we weren't very impressed with the accuracy of the motion tracking. The headset just seems finicky when it comes to general position tracking and takes much longer to recover than we would have liked when you take it off and on. The horizon angle would be off and we found the screen to be a bit jittery — practically to the point of inducing nausea.
The controllers we tested also didn't seem to be very good at picking up small movements and were slow to register different movements when playing a fast-paced game. We also had lots of problems with the headset complaining about the level of ambient light in the room, first finding it too bright, and then it would be too dark. We didn't have this issue with any of the other headsets.
The bulk of the mobile headsets came next, with the Google Cardboard, the VR SHINECON, and the Merge VR all earning a 2 out of 10 for their relatively subpar performance in this metric.
Neither the Cardboard, SHINECON, or the Merge VR have 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. These headsets are all limited to 3-DoF tracking, so they don't monitor your position in the room, only the direction you are looking in.
Earning a 1 out of 10 for its dismal performance, the Bnext VR possessed a disappointingly low level of interactiveness. You don't have any interface options or motion tracking, so this headset is a VR video viewer and that's it.
Our second metric focused on how realistic of a virtual environment each of these headsets can create for you, which is responsible for 20% of the total score for each product. To determine scores when it came to visual immersiveness, we looked at the overall viewing quality, field of view, and the image sharpness, as well as how well each headset blocked out ambient light.
The Oculus Rift S, the Valve Index, the Vive Cosmos Elite, the Vive Cosmos, and the Oculus Quest all tied for the top score in our Visual Immersiveness metric, each receiving a 9 out of 10 for their superb image quality. The Oculus Rift S, the Valve Index, and the Oculus Quest all do a great job of blocking light from leaking in, either keeping the interior completely dark or letting in just a sliver of light depending on the shape of your nose. 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. It was great at blocking out light for most of our testers but let in enough for a few of them that they found it to be distracting.
The Valve Index and the Oculus Quest both have a resolution of 1440x1600 pixels per eye, though the Valve Index uses LCD panels that supposedly give you clearer images due to their subpixels than OLED displays. 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 has top-notch overall viewing quality. The Valve Index has the widest field of view of this group, followed by the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite, HTC Vive Cosmos, and the Oculus Rift S, which are about the same. The Oculus Quest has the narrowest viewable area of this quartet.
The PlayStation VR received an 8 out of 10 for the high-quality visual experience they provided. The PlayStation VR blocked the majority of the light but suffered from a slight light leak around the bridge of the nose, depending on the shape of your 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 the in-game text.
Following this top group, the Google Cardboard earned a 6 out of 10 for its 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.
Next, the Bnext, the SHINECON, and the Merge VR all earned a 5 out of 10 for their somewhat mediocre performance when it came to being visually immersive. The Bnext let an abundance of light in, while the Merge VR did a fantastic job of blocking it out. The Bnext had the widest field of view out of this group of two, followed by the Merge VR.
The Merge VR 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.
The SHINECON had a wide field of view and alright viewing quality, but we routinely struggled to get an image in focus with the way it holds the smartphone, making it hard to read the text as there was plenty of distortion.
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 others 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 there is sufficient room to wear glasses.
The Oculus Rift S snagged the top spot, meriting an 8 out of 10. It is quite spacious when it comes to wearing spectacles, 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 or the Oculus Quest.
We found the Oculus Rift S to have more than enough padding to still be comfortable and not create 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, and the PlayStation VR all earned a 6 out of 10 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, while the HTC Vive Cosmos, HTC Vive Cosmos Elite, and the PlayStation VR all have a form-fitting cushion that makes them comfortable to wear for extended periods.
The PlayStation VR has sufficient room for glasses to be worn, but the Merge VR, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite, and the HTC Vive Cosmos are quite cramped when worn with glasses, especially those with larger frames.
The Valve Index, the Oculus Quest, and the Bnext are all about average in terms of comfort, each earning a 5 out of 10. These three headsets all have a fairly snug fit that can make it uncomfortable to wear glasses and can cause you to find your face fairly sweaty after extended periods of use. The Oculus Quest comes with a glasses spacer but we didn't think it did all that much to alleviate the problem. The Index and the Oculus Quest also are very front-heavy, with several of our testers complaining that it felt like these headsets were dragging on the front of their places and applying an uncomfortable amount of pressure. The head strap on the Index does have plenty of padding but the padding on the strap of the Oculus Quest seems to be slightly lacking.
Next, the Google Cardboard and the VR SHINECON both earned a 4 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 SHINECON is only a little more comfortable to wear than the Cardboard. You might be able to wear glasses with the SHINECON, but they are going to be pushed up against your face in a most uncomfortable way.
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.
Taking home the top scores out of the entire group, the Oculus Rift S and the Oculus Quest were exceptionally convenient and hassle-free to use.
The Oculus Quest was the most user-friendly and easy to use headset that we have seen, both being completely standalone products. They both have integrated speakers, as well as the option to plug in a pair of headphones for improved sound quality and to prevent in-game sounds from disturbing anyone or ambient noise leaking in. All you need to do to use either of these headsets is power them up and put them one. You do need to spend an additional minute or two defining the playable area by creating a "Guardian" with the Oculus Quest if you haven't used it in that location before but this process only takes a minute or two.
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 three headsets.
The Valve Index also has integrated headphones, circumventing the need to attach an external pair. It's exceptionally easy to use once the initial setup has been completed, only requiring you to don it in view of the sensors. However, we weren't huge fans of 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 lacks 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 got an 8 out of 10 for their excellent performances. The PSVR has 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.
The HTC Vive Cosmos and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite both have integrated headphones, so it is even easier to set up than the others when you want to play or you can also remove them to substitute your own pair if you like. However, this only applies to its audio. We found it to be a little more effort to get this pair adjusted properly on your face, struggling to get it both comfortable and in focus.
Next, the Google Cardboard and the Merge VR both 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 Cardboard, with it only being slightly more difficult with the Merge VR. However, it is a little easier to install your phone in the Merge VR than the Cardboard, only requiring you to slide your phone in from the top rather than folding out the front cover.
Your phone fits very snugly in the Google Cardboard, so you may have to remove your case to fit it in, with the Merge VR being even more cramped.
Next, the VR SHINECON earned a 5 out of 10. It has integrated headphones, but it is an absolute pain to get your phone in the correct alignment whenever you want to use it and the locking mechanism doesn't fully engage unless you take your case off.
Rounding out the back of the group, the Bnext VR performed relatively poorly, earning a 2 out of 10 for its results, respectively. It's a hassle to get earbuds hooked up to your phone when using the Bnext VR. This headset has a holder that slides out, which then clamps in. It is a pain to use but makes it almost impossible to not accidentally hit buttons.
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 Oculus Quest, the Bnext, the SHINECON, the Google Cardboard, and the Merge VR all earned a 9 out of 10 for their supremely easy initial setup.
In terms of hardware setup, the Google Cardboard, Bnext, SHINECON, and the Merge VR are essentially ready to go right out of the box. You need to adjust the lenses on the Bnext and Merge VR and 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. They are also compatible with pretty much every modern smartphone so no need to worry about buying additional hardware.
The Oculus Quest only requires you to install the batteries in the remotes to get going and doesn't require any additional hardware besides your smartphone to connect it to your Oculus account. The only software setup required is installing this app on your phone and creating your virtual Guardian to keep from running into a wall when walking around with the Oculus Quest on.
The Oculus Rift S earned an 8 out of 10 for its performance. The Oculus Rift S is pretty much ready to go right out of the box after you put batteries in but it did require a little bit of time to get the software up and running. You need to download the Oculus software and create an account first, 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.
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 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 terribly 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 overall struggled to get the HTC Vive Cosmos to cooperate. It would either complain about the level of light and usually didn't set the floor correctly. It did occasionally do 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 as the other tethered headsets. The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is similar to the Valve index, as 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 are 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 actually leave you some money left over to buy some games!
— Austin Palmer and David Wise