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- A great VR headset should provide rich immersion through sharp visuals and accurate tracking.
- The best headsets have a low barrier to entry, access to a range of apps, games, and immersive experiences.
- The Oculus Quest 2 is our top pick for meeting our criteria.
Virtual reality (VR) has seen a boom in just the past few years. With phones enabling some modest VR experiences and ever-improving headsets bringing huge advancements in VR displays and tracking, now is a fine time to dive in.
With the growth in VR, there has been no shortage of headsets on the market. These have ranged from PC-connected headsets that take extreme processing power to run all the way down to simpler headsets that rely just on gyroscopes to offer a basic step into VR.
Some rely on an array of external cameras to track the movement of a headset and controllers throughout an area, while others have on-board cameras that can calculate a user's head movement and track the controllers. Each type of headset has its place, and the technologies have their perks and shortcomings, making it tricky to know which headsets truly excel.
For its combination of accurate tracking, sharp displays, affordability, and the stunning breadth of content and use cases it can support, I've selected the Oculus Quest 2 as the best VR headset for almost anyone on the market. I've previously tested several VR headsets over the years, and we're currently working on testing current and upcoming models.
The Oculus Quest 2 has a fantastically sharp display and powerful tracking that keeps the immersion alive, plus it doesn't rely on any other equipment to let you get in the game.
Pros: Affordable starting price, doesn't require a powerful computer, lightweight design, untethered gameplay, capable tracking, supports standalone and PC-connected experiences, sharp visuals eliminate screen-door effect
Cons: LCD panel has weaker black levels, just OK speakers, passthrough video feed is grainy and colorless, basically requires a Facebook account, can lose track of controllers
Facebook had a good idea on its hands with the original Oculus Quest, but the Oculus Quest 2 really stuck the landing. This headset can do so much, and everything it does is done well. The headset may not have the fanciest display, but it's exceptionally sharp, which is critical in VR. And, even if it's not as fast as the 144Hz refresh rates seen on some higher-end headsets, the Oculus Quest 2 has received some updates that unlocked the potential for higher refresh rates, including an experimental 120Hz mode.
Those sharp visuals pair with surprisingly accurate inside-out tracking of the headset and touch controllers that make it easy to feel like you're occupying the virtual spaces presented in apps and games. And it's all the more impressive that the Quest 2 can deliver all this as a $299 standalone device that doesn't have to be tethered to a powerful, $1,000 computer.
The Quest 2's popularity also ensures there's no shortage of experiences available on the platform, and it has support for games and apps from other developers outside of its native app ecosystem. For those who demand even more power than the Quest 2's XR2 chipset can deliver, the headset can use a USB-C connection or even leverage its Wi-Fi connection to link up with a more powerful PC that will handle the processing of more demanding graphics. There may be headsets that look better and track better, but not so many do it at such a low price while providing both standalone and connected usability.
There are a few key things that separate a great VR headset from a simply serviceable one. Here are details we pay attention to when considering VR headsets:
The displays in VR headsets sit incredibly close to your eyes, so too low a resolution will be plainly visible. Not only can this make the visuals underwhelming but also create a "screen-door effect" where you can actually see the empty space between pixels.
The display inside the headset needs to display video smoothly in order to feel truly immersive and not leave you queasy. Most VR headsets will offer a minimum of a 72Hz refresh rate, presenting an entirely new image 72 times per second. Headsets can go considerably faster, though, with 90Hz, 120Hz and even 144Hz refresh rates on offer. The faster it goes, the smoother the visuals will be.
In order to create a true sense of immersion, the headset needs to be able to accurately track your movements as well as the movements of your controllers. If the tracking regularly glitches out, doesn't allow certain movements, or frequently loses track of your hands, the experience can quickly become tedious or even leave you nauseated.
Connectivity and setup:
VR headsets come in a few forms. Some connect to external hardware to receive a video feed, some have computing hardware inside that handles all the tracking and renders the VR experience locally. There's also the matter of what kind of wired or wireless connections are available and whether the setup needs to use external positional trackers or whether the headset tracks its position itself. These all impact how easy it is to use a headset and how accessible the experience can be.
VR headsets may be computing hardware, but they're also something you wear potentially for a long time. Being comfortable is crucial for enjoyment, so we can't overlook uncomfortable designs.
Virtual reality headsets are growing into their adolescence now, and with that comes more sensible pricing and even bigger, better deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The closer we get to the holiday season, the more VR deals are going to pop up all over the web. However, we're coming up short on deals regarding the current latest models. Stay tuned for manufacturers to start cooking up bundles in November.