Best VR Headset of 2021
|Price||$300 List||$500 List|
$482.90 at Amazon
$699.99 at Amazon
|$999 List||$899 List|
$899 at Amazon
|Pros||Exceptional image quality, super comfortable, very user-friendly||Exceptionally visually immersive, very user friendly, highly interactive||Highly immersive, easy to use||Very immersive, highly interactive||Highly interactive, very immersive, easy to use|
|Cons||Tether can be finicky||Not super comfortable, only works with PlayStation||Issues with motion tracking in our tests, not particularly comfortable||Not the most comfortable, could be easier to set up||Could be more comfortable, can be hard to set up|
|Bottom Line||Featuring excellent image quality, user-friendliness, and comfort, we think it's hard to go wrong with this top-notch tethered model||The PlayStation VR is a fantastic introduction to VR gaming, provided you already own a PS4||The Cosmos was a bit of a let down due to its mediocre motion tracking performance and cramped fit||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 immersive experience, this top-tier headset is sure to please|
|Rating Categories||Oculus Rift S||PlayStation VR||HTC Vive Cosmos||Valve Index||HTC Vive Cosmos...|
|Visual Immersiveness (20%)|
|User Friendliness (15%)|
|Ease Of Setup (10%)|
|Specs||Oculus Rift S||PlayStation VR||HTC Vive Cosmos||Valve Index||HTC Vive Cosmos...|
|Phones that fit||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Adjustable Lenses||Only side to side||No, need to move the headset around||Only side to side||Only side to side||Only side to side|
|Sound||Integrated||Headphone Jack or TV||Integrated||Integrated||Integrated|
|Available Controllers / Remotes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Field of View||110||100||110||130||110|
|Refresh Rate||80Hz||120Hz, 90Hz||90Hz||120Hz (Up to 144Hz in Experimental Mode]||90Hz|
|Room For Glasses?||Presses, even with glasses spacer||- Fits fine with glasses, but lets in a lot more light||Glasses get pressed against the face||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 a premium headset that doesn't need to be tethered to a PC, our top recommendation is the Oculus Quest 2. This VR headset offers a top-tier interactive and highly immersive virtual reality experience. It's intuitive and easy to use, and the motion tracking is by far some of the best we've seen. To top it off, the Quest 2 is one of the most versatile options out there, as you can use the included tether to attach to a PC, greatly broadening the available VR experiences.
We had very few gripes with Oculus Quest 2. It does have a slightly tighter fit than some other models we tested, so it's not our absolute favorite in terms of comfort. It can be somewhat difficult to wear glasses with this headset on, even with the included insert. However, we find this to be a fairly minor flaw, and we can't stress enough how much we recommend this product. It's one of our absolute favorites, and we think it's the perfect option for anyone who wants a hassle-free standalone headset.
Read review: Oculus Quest 2
Best Tethered VR Headset
Oculus Rift S
If you're seeking the cream of the crop, we think it's hard to go wrong with the Oculus Rift S. This headset provides an exceptional immersive experience with fantastic image quality. The VR content is highly interactive, and the inside-out tracking system of this model eliminates the need for any external sensors, making for a much more convenient and user-friendly experience. Of the premium headsets, it has one of the fastest and simplest setup processes and is comfortable enough to wear for marathon sessions, all while costing considerably less than some of the other top-of-the-line products.
There are a few concessions to consider with the Oculus Rift S though most users will likely overlook them. 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 minor flaws, we highly recommend the Oculus Rift S as the best you can get if you are seeking an exemplary VR experience.
Read review: Oculus Rift S
Best Smartphone Headset
If all 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 your 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.
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. There also aren't hand controllers, but this is still 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 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 minimalistic design provides a surprisingly good viewing experience. It has a single button that you can press to tap the touchscreen on your phone.
This product can't compete with the top models that cost hundreds more. We wish there was a strap to secure the Google Cardboard to your head; since cardboard isn't the most comfortable material to hold against your face, 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. Taking these flaws into consideration, we recommend the Google Cardboard for someone who isn't necessarily a tech expert but wants to give VR a try on the cheap.
Read review: Google Cardboard
Best for VR Enthusiasts
HTC Vive Cosmos Elite
Our recommendation for those seeking premium image quality and an extremely interactive environment is the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. This excellent headset earned some of the highest scores yet 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.
Most of our testers felt the fit to be quite snug. If you have an additional pair of glasses, it isn't very comfortable to wear for long periods. We also noticed our faces tended to get sweaty after even short sessions with the headset on. Compared to some of the other products we tested, it can take a little more time to get it properly focused and adjusted. Despite that, we think the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is one of the best you can get and is a great option for any VR enthusiast on the hunt for a premium headset.
Read review: HTC Vive Cosmos Elite
Why You Should Trust Us?
Here at TechGearLab, we bought all of the VR systems in this review at retail prices — just like you would — and 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 have 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 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
There are a few different classes of VR headsets, ranging an enormous spread of prices. The priciest modest are tethered headsets like the Vive Cosmos Elite, Oculus Rift S, and Valve Index. These headsets alone are expensive, but when you consider the cost of the powerful PC required to run these products, this price can easily double. However, these are much better than mobile models in terms of interactiveness and visual immersiveness. The Oculus Quest 2 splits the difference, costing considerably less than the top tethered models and requiring no additional hardware, making it a much more attractive budget buy than the tethered options.
If you are determined to try out VR but have a miminal 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 will strap into place, making it significantly more comfortable than the Google Cardboard, which you must hold in place.
Our Interactiveness metric is the most significant of our testing process, responsible for 35% of the final score for each VR headset. In this rating metric, we focused on how easy and intuitive each product makes it to interact with your virtual environment. Specifically, we looked at each headset's interface, the accuracy of the motion tracking — both of the headset and the hand controllers, if the headset had any — and if there are any limitations on where you can use each product, such as limited sensor coverage or the length of the tether.
Earning an impressive 9 out of 10 and tying for the highest score of the group, the Valve Index and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite display 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.
Just behind the top performers, the Oculus Quest 2 merited an 8 out of 10 for interactiveness. This headset comes with two handheld controllers, with only power and volume adjust buttons on the headset itself. This headset has 4 wide-angle cameras for an inside-out sensor system, which can accommodate a play area of up to 25'x25', with a 6.5'x6.5' area being the recommended size.
Overall, we were very impressed with the motion tracking of the Quest 2 and found it to be very accurate. The headset almost always followed our gaze perfectly, and we never had any noticeable issues with it. We also were very impressed with the hand controllers. Even when holding them out of view of the camera, we found them very adept at mirroring our movements on screen. We even turned off the ambient lighting and found that the controller's motions were still tracked without issue.
Next, the Oculus Rift S and the PlayStation VR (PSVR) all scored a 7 out of 10 for their interactiveness. The Oculus Rift S utilizes an inside-out tracking system, so there is no need for any external sensors. This also means that you have an exceptionally large play area at your disposal.
The Rift S uses the Oculus Touch controllers, which are great but 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 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 some strategically placed cable ties were an easy remedy to that.
Even though there are no buttons or touchpads on the headset itself, the PSVR headset using the PlayStation Move controller system was also exceptionally easy to interact with.
We found that the PSVR has some limitations with sensor coverage, only adequately covering a space about 7' in front of the camera. Stepping any further back would cause the screen to blackout — something a few of our testers encountered when backing up rapidly from a shark in one of the underwater VR experiences. This model also had the most limited motion tracking of all of the tethered headsets, struggling to track you if you turned around while using the Move controllers.
We also 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, this one scored the worst in our interactiveness metric. It 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 when taking 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 with complaints 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 Google Cardboard, VR SHINECON, and Merge VR all earned a 2 out of 10 for their relatively subpar performance in this metric. None of these models have a handheld remote. Instead, they have 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 only monitor the direction you are looking in, not your position in the room.
Earning a 1 out of 10 for its dismal performance, the Bnext VR possessed a disappointingly low level of interactiveness. There aren't any interface options or motion tracking. 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 for this metric, we looked at the overall viewing quality, field of view, image sharpness, and 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 2 all tied for the top score in our Visual Immersiveness metric. Each received a 9 out of 10 for their superb image quality. The Oculus Rift S, the Valve Index, and the Oculus Quest 2 all do a great job of blocking light from leaking in, either keeping the interior completely dark or, depending on the shape of your nose, letting in just a sliver of light. However, none of our judges ever found this to be enough to degrade the VR experience.
Unfortunately, we couldn't say the same about the HTC Vive Cosmos and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. It was great at blocking out light for most of our testers, but for a few of them, it let in enough light that they found it to be distracting.
The Valve Index has a resolution of 1440x1600 pixels per eye and uses LCD panels that supposedly give you clearer images due to their subpixels than OLED displays. The Quest 2 has an exceptional resolution of 1832x1920 pixels per eye — even higher than the Valve Index.
The Oculus Rift S has a slightly lower resolution of 1280x1440 per eye, while the HTC Vive Cosmos and the Vive Cosmos Elite both have a slightly higher resolution of 1440x1700. These differences are very hard to discern when wearing the headset, and we think each of these products has top-notch overall viewing quality. The Valve Index has the widest field of view of this group. The Oculus Quest 2 has the narrowest viewable area of these.
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, depending on your nose shape, could suffer from a slight light leak around the bridge of the nose. However, it doesn't let in enough light to be distracting. The PlayStation VR has a reduced resolution of 960x1080 per eye, but we still found it reasonably easy to read 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.
An abundance of light was let in by the Bnext, while the Merge VR did a fantastic job of blocking it out. 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, which made it hard to read the text as there was plenty of distortion.
Comfort accounts for 20% of the total score. While all 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.
Meriting an 8 out of 10, the Oculus Rift S snagged the top spot. When it comes to wearing spectacles, it is quite spacious with the added feature of a visor that slides to make it easier to put on while wearing glasses. Most people didn't get overly sweaty while wearing this headset, and it doesn't seem to get as warm as the original Rift.
We found the Oculus Rift S to have more than enough padding to still be comfortable and 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, the Oculus Quest 2, 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 rest of this group 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 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 Valve Index and the Bnext are all about average in terms of comfort, each earning a 5 out of 10. These headsets all have a fairly snug fit that can make it uncomfortable to wear glasses and can cause your face to become fairly sweaty after extended periods of use. The Index is also very front-heavy, with several of our testers complaining that it felt like these headsets were dragging on the front of their faces and applying an uncomfortable amount of pressure. The head strap on the Index does have plenty of padding.
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 marginally more comfortable to wear than the Cardboard. It's possible 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. Whether built-in or connected to external headphones, we compared the audio system of each headset, how much work it took to get the headset ready to use, whether or not it was easy to hit buttons inadvertently, and for the mobile VR platforms, whether or not you need to remove the case from your phone before use.
For their exceptionally convenient and hassle-free use, taking home the top scores out of the entire group were the Oculus Rift S and the Oculus Quest 2.
The Oculus Quest 2 was the most user-friendly and easy-to-use headset that we have seen. It can be operated without any additional hardware and has integrated speakers. All you need to do to use this headset is power it up and put it on, then spend an additional minute or two defining the playable area by creating a "Guardian" if you haven't used the headset in the room previously.
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. 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 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, 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 it a little more effort to get this pair adjusted properly on your face, struggling to get it both comfortable and focused.
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 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 may have to remove your phone case to fit your phone in the Google Cardboard as it fits very snugly. The Merge VR is even more cramped.
The VR SHINECON 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.
The Bnext VR performed relatively poorly, earning a 2 out of 10 for its results, respectively. Getting earbuds to hook up to your phone when using the Bnext VR is a hassle. 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.
In terms of hardware setup, the Google Cardboard, Bnext, SHINECON, 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 Quest 2 is quite minimal. You do need a smartphone to download the app and create an account using a Facebook login, but that's about it.
After you put batteries in, the Oculus Rift S is pretty much ready to go right out of the box, but it did require a little bit of time to get the software up and running. You'll first need to download the Oculus software and create an account, which will then guide you through configuring and updating the firmware — if necessary — once you plug in the Oculus Rift S. However, you do need a decently powerful gaming PC to run this headset.
Of the remaining tethered headsets, the PlayStation VR is the easiest of the three to set up for the first time. 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. Only working with a PS4 and a PlayStation Camera, this model does have limited compatibility, with the PS Move controllers being necessary for some games.
The Valve Index is by far the most difficult to set up of all the headsets we tested, predominantly due to the need to install external sensors. The sensors need to be mounted on the wall or on top of two tripods. There is also quite a bit of time involved to set up the software and configure these products. All in all, this was a much more intensive setup process than the others and would probably be quite a struggle for users who aren't the most tech-savvy.
The HTC Vive Cosmos and the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite are also some of the more difficult headsets to set up. While the HTC Vive Cosmos doesn't rely on external sensors for motion tracking, it proved to be very finicky when it came to scanning the room. It does this to prevent you from running into obstacles during play, but we overall struggled to get the HTC Vive Cosmos to cooperate. It would complain about the level of light and usually didn't set the floor correctly. It occasionally did this process quickly, but it was very inconsistent in our tests, and most of the time took much longer than we would have liked. This headset also requires a similarly powerful PC 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 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 you some money left over to buy some games.
— Austin Palmer and David Wise