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We’ve spent more than 100 hours researching and testing virtual reality headsets to find the best options for any setup and budget. If you want a great headset with top-of-the-line performance and the largest selection of VR games and media, the Oculus Rift offers a high-end VR experience at a reasonable cost (especially if you already own a PC). But if you don’t want to invest in a PC, if you want a headset that works with a smartphone or game console you already have or you just want a standalone VR headset, we have other recommendations.
The best overall virtual reality experience: Oculus Rift
Who it’s for: A PC gamer (especially one who already has a dedicated gaming PC) who wants the best VR image and audio experience and the most access to games and media.
Why we like it: The Oculus Rift is the top pick in our review of the best VR headsets for PCs because it combines a comfortable, approachable design with top-notch image/audio quality plus the largest selection of games and other media. If you’re serious about getting into VR, it’s worth investing in a high-end PC headset like the Rift. The jump in quality and tracking results in a more immersive experience and better games. Of the desktop headsets we tested, Rift is the lightest and most comfortable (so you can wear it for longer). It has the most well-balanced and capable controllers, and it was the easiest for us to set up. Its default setup can’t track you across as large of a space as HTC’s Vive and Vive Pro PC headsets, but it still gives you plenty of room to pace around, unlike most mobile headsets, which require you to stay in place.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: All of the current high-end VR systems have some flaws in common: they’re expensive, they’re awkward to use, and they require a permanent tether to an expensive computer. The Rift’s main drawback over other PC headsets is that its default setup can’t match the HTC Vive and Vive Pro’s ability to track movement around an entire room. The sensors, which you are supposed to place in front of you, sometimes lose track of your hands when you turn away from them or approach the edge of your play area.
Requirements: Compatible gaming PC or laptop
The best value for gaming: PlayStation VR
Who it’s for: People who own a PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro and want better VR image quality than a mobile headset can offer.
Why we like it: If you own a PlayStation 4 and you’re interested in getting a taste of virtual reality – or if you want to play some VR games without spending the money on a gaming PC and a high-end headset like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive – Sony’s PlayStation VR is an easy recommendation. The PSVR headset is easy to set up, has a solid library of games, and performs well enough to provide VR’s wow-inducing sense of immersion in alternate realities, all without requiring you to buy an expensive PC.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The PSVR system can’t track you as you roam around a room as effectively as its competitors from Oculus and HTC can. Turning your back to the PlayStation Camera obscures your hands so the camera can’t track your movements, but as the PSVR system has only one camera, there’s not much you can do about that. The controllers aren’t as sensitive or immersive as the Rift or Vive’s, and we don’t like the included earbuds as much as built-in headphones.
Requirements: Sony PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro gaming console, PlayStation Move controllers and Camera (usually bundled with headset)
The best standalone VR headset: Oculus Go
Who this is for: Gamers interested in a high-quality VR experience but don’t own or don’t want to be tethered to a PC, console or a Gear VR or Daydream-compatible phone.
Why we like it: The Oculus Go is the first good standalone VR headset: it doesn’t require a tether to an expensive computer or gaming console. It’s also simpler and better to use – and available to more people – than mobile VR headsets, which require you to use a compatible Android smartphone for their screen, processor and battery. The Oculus Go shares Gear VR’s expansive library of games, which means that it gives you more to do than other mobile VR headsets. Its handheld controller is larger and more comfortable than other mobile handset controllers, and it’s easy to use. However, if you have a smartphone that’s compatible with either the Gear VR or Google Daydream View mobile VR headsets, you should get one of them instead.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Oculus Go is not as comfortable or immersive as the Lenovo Mirage Solo – the only other available standalone VR headset – but it costs nearly half the price. It also suffers from the same problems as any other mobile VR headset: its screen quality and the calibre of available games and other apps are limited compared to desktop headsets, so most people will get limited value out of it.
A cheaper option that works with a smartphone: Samsung Gear VR
Who this is for: People who own a Samsung flagship phone and don’t expect to spend enough time using VR to buy a desktop headset.
Why we like it: Mobile VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR give you the same experience as the Oculus Go standalone VR headset but use a smartphone as their screen, which makes them less expensive if you already own a compatible phone. Like a standalone headset, they don’t tether you to a computer, and you don’t have to invest in an expensive PC or go through a complex setup process. The Gear VR works with Samsung’s popular Galaxy S and Galaxy Note phones and offers some of the best mobile VR games available, including Minecraft and Land’s End. The included controller, which tracks the position and location of your hand, also makes entry-level VR fun and approachable.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Like a standalone headset, you can’t walk around while wearing a Gear VR headset, it only supports a single hand controller, the screen isn’t as large or crisp and the games aren’t as good as a desktop VR headset. And unlike a desktop headset, a mobile VR headset doesn’t detect when you tilt your head or step around a room, so it just won’t feel as immersive or fun. And because it uses your phone as its guts, nobody can use your phone while you’re in VR, and it will burn through your battery in a couple of hours.
Among mobile headsets, Gear VR is not as universally comfortable as the lighter Daydream View: some of our testers thought it fit the shape of their face well, while others found it sat too heavily on their face. And it’s only compatible with about ten flagship Samsung Android smartphones. Its competitor, the Google Daydream View, works with a different (but also small) list of phones.
Requirements: Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, S7, S7 Edge, S8, S8+, S9, S9+, or Note 8 smartphone.
A cheaper way to use VR: Merge VR/AR Goggles
Who it’s for: People who aren’t sure they will use a VR headset more than a handful of times.
Why we like it: Among the seven inexpensive mobile VR headsets we tested, the Merge VR/AR Goggles offer the best combination of price, comfort and adjustability. They’re made of a soft, squishy foam that rests nicely on most face shapes. Sliding knobs – which double as buttons for interacting with virtual content – let you change the spacing between the lenses to suit your eyes. The headset also has a removable front section that exposes your phone’s camera, allowing you to use augmented reality applications. If you are more interested in augmented reality, an optional accessory called the Cube supports AR games and educational experiences. It is compatible with screens between 4.85 and 6.2 inches, which means it works with nearly all smartphones, including iPhones.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Merge VR headset is a big step up from the official Google Cardboard headset, but it’s cheaply made compared to the Daydream View and the Gear VR. The headset eventually begins to feel front-heavy and warm, and people with larger heads may feel that it presses into their face from the start.
Merge VR is compatible with the Google Cardboard ecosystem of apps, which generally use less processing power and do not communicate directly with the headset. As a result, they tend to look and feel lower in quality than those made for other categories of VR headsets. Despite there being an incredible amount of Cardboard content available, you won’t find apps that overcome this basic limitation.
Requirements: Any Android phone or iPhone with a screen between 4.8 and 6.2 inches