Standalone, PC or console? It all depends on who you are and how much you want to spend.
VR in 2020, in a world where people are more distant from each other than ever, has taken on a different meaning. VR still can’t be the workplace or social gathering spot I’d like it to be, but it’s closer. The Oculus Quest has become the closest thing to a home VR console that VR’s ever had. But VR is also in flux right now, as the technology is ever-evolving.
VR games this year have been better than ever, thanks to Valve’s VR masterpiece Half-Life: Alyx, and more recently, Star Wars: Squadrons. But you still have to choose whether you want a headset that plugs into your PC or console or choose a standalone option like Oculus Quest. At the moment, the new Oculus Quest 2 is the best, most affordable option for VR, but it requires a Facebook account to work.
More changes will come. Companies such as Qualcomm (which makes the chips inside most self-contained VR headsets, including the new Quest 2) are building new chips that point to a wave of better standalone headsets at lower prices — including ones that plug into your phone.
Meanwhile, older mobile VR or phone-based VR headsets, like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream are basically dead. A good number of the current iPhone, Android and app options don’t even work with the old mobile headsets anyway. If smartphone-based VR comes back, it’ll more likely be in the form of small headsets that plug into phones via USB-C for VR gaming and other uses.
Regardless, if you’re a PC gamer, a solid gaming PC-connected VR headset offers the most versatile collection of software for an immersive VR experience and lets you use that headset for creative and business tools. Note that a more powerful VR system will still be largely tethered to a desktop or laptop, and a PC VR headset may require external sensors, so they may not be the best option for everyone.
And what about console gaming? The aging PlayStation VR is still fun if it’s on sale and you have a PS4, mainly because there are loads more great games for this device than you’d think. But keep in mind that the PlayStation 5, while it works with PSVR, will require PS4 accessories to work with VR.
Just know that VR is still here, but the VR experience is evolving. Augmented reality, or AR, and mixed-reality headsets aren’t ready yet, so in the meantime, a solid VR goggle and rig is your best bet for escaping to other worlds. When we look for a VR device, we’re in the market for something that offers solid motion tracking, syncs well with our controller, and offers a solid gaming experience. Read on to figure out which is the best VR headset for you. We update this periodically but note that prices are subject to change.
Oculus Quest 2
The best standalone VR
Good: Self-contained and wireless; great touch controllers; comfortable design for gaming; doubles as PC VR headset.
Bad: Requires Facebook account.
At $300 with nothing else needed, the Oculus Quest 2 delivers virtual reality games and an immersive VR experience anywhere. It’s faster, smaller, cheaper and more comfortable to wear than the original Quest, but you have to log in to Facebook in order to use it.
The Quest 2 reminds me of the Nintendo Switch for its versatility and fun, plus it takes mere seconds to start up and fits really well over glasses. The standalone VR headset has self-contained motion tracking and a full-motion six degrees of freedom (aka 6DoF) VR controller that is the same as the ones on the PC-required Oculus Rift, plus a surprisingly great high-resolution display and built-in speakers. Apps are downloaded right to the standalone headset’s onboard storage. Its more limited mobile processor still plays games such as Beat Saber, Moss and SuperHot VR extremely well, and it can even connect with a PC if you want to, using a single USB-C cable.
Facebook is making the Quest 2 it’s one VR headset going forward, discontinuing its own PC VR headset, the Oculus Rift S, next spring. The Quest 2 is the best option over a Rift for this reason right now, but also keep in mind that PC VR users have lots of other headset options.
Sony PlayStation VR
Still worth it for the games
Good: Plenty of games; lower price; works with many PS4 controllers like the DualShock and Move.
Bad: Resolution isn’t cutting-edge; Sony hasn’t yet made great VR controllers that match the competition.
Sony’s three-plus-year-old PSVR headset is still the only head-mounted display for gaming consoles and its screen still offers a surprisingly immersive experience. Even better, it’s often on sale for as low as $200, sometimes with games thrown in, too. Sony has delivered (and continues to deliver) many excellent virtual reality games, many of them exclusives. All you need is the PSVR and a PlayStation 4 and you can start playing. This VR system is showing its age, though, compared to the alternatives. And, the new PS5, while it’ll work with the PSVR, will need your old PS4 controllers and camera, plus a camera adapter, to work.
Best PC VR to explore the future of VR controllers
Good: Amazing futuristic controllers; high-quality headset; works with Vive hardware.
Bad: Expensive; requires room setup and tethering cable.
Valve’s new headset might be the most interesting PC virtual reality experience this year, just for its fancy new controllers. Valve’s “knuckle” controllers are pressure-sensitive and can track all five fingers, making them almost like gloves. Not many apps make the most of them yet, but Valve’s hardware is mix-and-match compatible with the HTC Vive, which also is built on the Steam VR platform. The Index headset has excellent audio and a really sharp, wide field-of-view display.
The Index uses external “lighthouse” boxes, meaning you need to set those up in a room first. It’s not as self-contained as Oculus’ Rift S, which can track the room with in-headset cameras, or the HTC Vive Cosmos. It’s also definitely not wireless, but if you already have some Vive hardware, you could add on parts of the Index to mix and match.
HTC Vive Cosmos
Could be a flexible, modular system
Good: Modular faceplates for extra features; built-in tracking; flip-up visor.
Bad: More expensive than the Rift S or the original Vive.
A wild-card pick for PC VR is the Vive Cosmos, the follow-up to 2016’s HTC Vive. The Cosmos has self-contained tracking like the Oculus Rift S and a better-resolution display than the original Vive, but also has swappable faceplates that will add more cameras for mixed reality and external sensor tracking (for larger holodeck-type experiences). The Cosmos can get expensive, but its flexibility might be intriguing for creators. Bonus: You can use Valve Index accessories with it. Read more about the HTC Vive Cosmos.
This article was originally published on CNET. This article was written by Scott Stein of CNET and was not written by anyone at Different Impulse by any means.