This is a great year for VR, with capable headsets including the HTC Vive Pro 2 and HP Reverb G2 available to buy, and the hybrid Oculus Quest 2 has many excited about the future of VR. Better yet, the price of VR headsets has begun to drop, making VR accessible to more people than ever before.
The flip side is that there are now more VR headsets on the market than ever before, making it hard to choose one to buy in 2021.
Don’t fret; we at Tech Advisor have used all of the popular VR headsets, and here’s where we tell you what to look out for when buying a headset, along with our recommendation of the best VR headsets on the market right now.
Best VR headsets 2021
Oculus Quest 2 – Best Overall
- Great standalone performance
- Well priced
- Can be used for PC VR
- Facebook account needed
- Spotty hand-tracking
- No Bluetooth support
The Oculus Quest 2 is hands-down the best VR headset you can buy. Like the original, the Quest 2 boasts standalone functionality and inside-out tracking, albeit in a smaller form factor this time around.
The star of the show is the display; at nearly 2K per eye, the Quest 2 has the most detailed display of any VR headset in our chart right now, which is incredible when you think about the entry-level price that has actually dropped compared to the first-gen Quest. There’s also Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 Platform available, offering a serious improvement to performance that’ll expand the experience of standalone apps and games over the coming months and years.
If that wasn’t enough, thanks to Oculus Link, you can hook up your Quest 2 to your PC and experience PC-exclusive VR titles like Half-Life: Alyx. The hybrid functionality simply isn’t matched by any other VR headset available right now.
If you’re looking for a VR headset, the Oculus Quest 2 is the one to go for.
Read our full Oculus Quest 2 review
HTC Vive Cosmos – Modular PC VR
- Modular design
- accurate tracking
- Comfortable fit
- Needs a high-end PC
- Not the highest resolution
The Vive Cosmos isn’t the cheapest VR headset available to consumers. But, the modular nature makes the Cosmos range unique, and it’s why it costs a little more too.
Rather than having to buy an entirely new headset when HTC reveals new tech, Cosmos owners can simply buy a new faceplate and attach it to their existing headset, offering huge savings down the line.
The Cosmos itself, with six-camera tracking, offers a decent VR experience for low- to mid-intensity VR games, but the camera tracking isn’t perfect and the loss of tracking in fast-paced VR titles can be frustrating at times.
But that’s where the Cosmos Elite comes in: for a little extra, you can grab a Cosmos with true 1:1 SteamVR tracking, but at the cost of long setup times and having to use the first-gen Vive wands.
Read our full HTC Vive Cosmos review
HTC Vive Pro 2 – Most detailed VR display
- 5K display
- No screen-door effect
- SteamVR compatibility
- Weirdly shaped FOV
- Chunky, outdated controllers
- Very expensive
The HTC Vive Pro 2 might seem like the perfect VR headset on paper, boasting the highest resolution of any headset right now alongside an expansive 120-degree FOV and smooth 120Hz refresh rate, but the execution isn’t quite as impressive.
The pixel-packed display does a phenomenal job at breathing new life into much-loved VR games with added detail, and it all but eliminates screen door effect too – seriously, it’s an impressive panel.
The issue is the oddly rectangular FOV, with the 120-degree FOV referring to the horizontal FOV only. It makes some VR experiences feel a little more claustrophobic when compared to the likes of the Valve Index.
The Vive Pro 2 hasn’t changed in terms of general design either, which means it’s just as heavy and uncomfortable to use over longer sessions as its predecessor, and it’s a similar story with the Vive Pro 2 wands, which remain practically the same as they were in 2016.
It’s also incredibly expensive compared to most headsets in our chart, meaning it’s only for the most dedicated VR fan that can overlook some of the older design choices employed by the Vive Pro 2.
Read our full HTC Vive Pro 2 review
HP Reverb G2 – High resolution at a good price
- 4K Display
- Great sound
- Inside-out tracking
- Small visual sweet spot
- Issues with AMD PCs
- Performance bugs
Though it can’t quite match the 5K display of the HTC Vive Pro 2, the 4K display of the HP Reverb G2 will still be a huge jump forward for those still on first-gen VR headsets, offering improved textures, better visual clarity and a wider 114-degree FOV without the premium price of HTC’s option.
There’s also inside-out tracking, meaning there’s no need for external base stations like with SteamVR-powered options, although unlike options from Oculus, the Reverb G2 doesn’t perform that well in smaller spaces.
That problematic nature extends beyond tracking too; the Reverb G2 doesn’t play well with AMD-powered PCs, and the Windows Mixed Reality platform it uses is far from the quality offered by the likes of SteamVR and Oculus, with glitches and the occasional complete crash.
If you really want the high resolution then the Reverb G2 is still a great option, but we’d steer clear if you’ve got an AMD PC.
Read our full HP Reverb G2 review
Oculus Rift S – Affordable PC VR
- Works well on PC
- Inside-out tracking
- Soon to be discontinued
- Low resolution
- Single LCD display
For quite some time, the Oculus Rift S was the best VR headset for most consumers; it boasts a range of improvements over the original and fixes most of the complaints without a price increase. The Rift S is comfortable, boasts high-end optics (albeit bested by the Quest 2) and like a growing number of headsets, offers inside-out tracking that completely eliminates the need for external sensors.
It isn’t the perfect headset though, lacking built-in headphones, and the use of a single display instead of dual displays means it offers a fixed IPD of 63.5mm.
Plus, Oculus has confirmed that it’ll be discontinuing the Rift S line sometime in 2021, making it a much less tempting option than it once was.
Read our full Oculus Rift S review
PlayStation VR – Perfect for PS4 gamers
- Console-powered VR
- Exclusive library of games
- Basic tracking
- Motion controllers are badly designed
Interestingly, the PlayStation VR headset is the only VR headset for console gamers – Microsoft offers a way for gamers to play Xbox One games through the Oculus Rift S, but it isn’t VR-enabled. Sony’s virtual reality offering features a 5.7in OLED display that’ll provide gamers with low persistence and, consequently, less motion blur when being used.
It also boasts ultra-low latency (18ms) and a 120Hz refresh rate, which is better than the Oculus Rift S and the HTC Vive’s 90Hz offering. It means that, theoretically, beautiful 120fps gameplay is possible, although we’re not sure the PS4 (or even the PS4 Pro) could handle it.
It seems that Sony had the same thought, and provides an additional box (smaller than the PS4) that handles the brunt of the graphics processing. It’ll track the position of your head, and can also be used with Sony’s (failed) Move controllers, giving the old controllers a new lease of life.
The tracking is basic though; it uses a PlayStation Camera, and the area that you can move around in is very small – the smallest of the ‘big three’ VR headsets. It’s designed for sit-down VR experiences, and it does it well.
Read our full Sony PlayStation VR review
It’s worth noting that there’s also the high-end Valve Index to choose from, but as we’re yet to use it in person, we can’t recommend it in our chart. We’ve also removed the original Oculus Quest as it was discontinued around the release of the updated Oculus Quest 2.
VR headset buying advice
So, what kind of things should you consider if you’re on the market for a VR headset?
Mobile, PC or standalone?
The biggest factor to consider when on the market for a VR headset is how you’re planning on powering it. There are three types of VR headset on the market at the moment; smartphone-powered, PC-powered or standalone, with the latter being a relatively new option for prospective VR users.
Mobile VR headsets are shaped like a VR headset, but they require a smartphone for the display, internals, tracking and everything else needed to provide a mobile VR experience. This is generally thought of as a beginner’s VR headset; it gives you access to a budget range of experiences, 360-degree videos and basic games, but doesn’t provide much in the way of actual interaction with virtual environments.
The next step up is standalone VR. These are, as the name suggests, standalone VR headsets that don’t require a smartphone or PC for use. They started off a little basic, but the likes of the Oculus Quest 2 are on a par with PC-powered headsets, and it can also be used as a PC VR headset.
PC-powered VR headsets are generally the most capable on the market, providing high-end games and VR experiences with incredibly accurate location-based tracking and advanced controllers for full immersion. The catch? The headsets are usually the most expensive available and require a powerful PC to be able to power the experiences.
Though it may not sound like it, controllers are a very important area when it comes to picking a VR headset. That’s because the controllers vary depending on the system, with some offering true 1:1 positional tracking while others don’t. Controllers are your gateway into the virtual world, allowing you to reach out and interact with the environment, so you want them to be as accurate and comfortable as possible.
Generally speaking, the high-end VR headsets like the Vive Cosmos Elite offer great controllers with true 1:1 positional tracking, while inside-out tracking like that offered from the Rift S, Quest 2 and standard HP Reverb G2 is a little more unreliable. PlayStation’s VR headset offers basic positional tracking, but it’s not quite as accurate as Oculus’ and HTC’s options.
Speaking of controller tracking, tracking, in general, is another important area to consider in the world of virtual reality. Mobile VR headsets only offer 3DoF, compared to 6DoF on offer by more premium headsets. 3DoF means that you’ll be able to stand in place, look around, up and down, but any movement forwards, backwards, up or down won’t be tracked.
6DoF, on the other hand, has the ability to track your location within the physical space. This really improves immersion as, with the Rift S, Quest 2 and Vive Cosmos, you’re able to physically walk around virtual worlds, bend down and retrieve items from the floor.
Resolution, refresh rate and FOV
It’s a good idea to check out the resolution and refresh rate of any VR headset before buying, as both are integral to a decent VR experience. The resolution is fairly self-explanatory: the higher the resolution, the better quality the images produced by the display will be. It’ll mean crisper edges and easy-to-read text, and a generally more premium VR experience.
But, the resolution doesn’t matter if the refresh rate is terrible. There were a lot of tests undertaken in the early days of VR to work out the ideal refresh rate to combat motion sickness experienced by early VR users. The general consensus is that 90Hz is the minimum requirement for fast-paced VR, although you can get away with 70Hz if the app or game isn’t particularly intense.
Anything lower than 60Hz, though, and you’ll start to notice motion sickness when using VR as the display takes a little too long to refresh when you move, causing lag. Thankfully, most mainstream VR headsets offer at least 90Hz, so you shouldn’t have to worry, but it’s something to consider if you’re looking at non-branded VR headsets.
Lastly, field of view – or FOV as its commonly referred to – essentially gives you an idea of how immersive the VR headset is. Generally speaking, you should aim for a VR headset that provides a FOV of between 100- and 120-degrees, which seems to be the market cap (for the moment anyway!). For reference, human eyes have a FOV of around 220 degrees.
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