The virtual reality industry is in an exciting place right now. High-end VR devices have been on the market for a couple of years, meaning they have dropped in price and developed a solid content base. Mobile VR has also progressed considerably, and manufacturers are now looking at standalone devices as the next frontier. With this momentum, the landscape seems promising for upcoming headsets, with many promising ones in the works. Augmented reality has also seen a rise in popularity recently and with this mainstream success brings a greater focus on innovative experiences and technology. However, it also means that choosing the right headset for you can be difficult. We often hear the question, ‘which is the best VR headset?’
In this list, we’ll look at the best VR devices currently available. We’ll discuss what we’ve enjoyed and disliked about some of the most popular virtual reality headsets on the market. We’ve picked out our favourite device, as well as some notable niche-specific ones. Welcome to your complete guide to the best VR headsets available in 2018.
The most immersive, detailed, and high-quality VR we’ve experienced.
Partnership with Valve means SteamVR is an excellent source of games.
Superior motion tracking, fantastic controllers.
It may not be the prettiest VR headset, and it may be among the most expensive, but the HTC Vive is an absolute joy to use. When we imagined an interactive virtual reality experience, the Vive has pretty much come the closest yet to meeting our expectations. The Oculus Rift was always the poster child of VR, but HTC has exceeded the precedents that the Facebook-owned company set. Everything about the Vive is superbly well thought out; the headset feels like a premium device, the controllers are made specifically for interacting with virtual worlds, and the sensors track movement almost flawlessly.
The Oculus Rift was always the poster child of VR, but HTC has exceeded the precedents that the Facebook-owned company set.
The Vive’s specs are amongst the best on the market, with only its big brother, the HTC Vive Pro, currently providing better screen quality, tracking area, and sensor quality. When it initially launched, it was also by far the most expensive device commercially available. Despite this, it was still the more popular choice over the Oculus Rift. Recent price-drops for both have seen the technology become considerably more affordable, however, and the Rift now comes bundled with the excellent Oculus Touch controllers. These two factors mean that the sales gap between the two has closed, but we still prefer the Vive over the Rift, just.
There are now so many fantastic VR games available that the HTC Vive can be used with. VR-exclusive titles such as Beat Sabre, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Superhot VR, and Arizona Sunshine are immensely fun to play. Other blockbuster titles have been ported over too, including games such as the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Doom, and Fallout 4, all of which are gorgeous and immersive.
Why you might not buy it:
It’s still an expensive piece of hardware, not for the casual gamer.
The PC/laptop requirements are astronomical, meaning you’ll likely have to shell out even more.
The HTC Vive isn’t a purchase most people will take lightly. At £499/$499 plus the cost of a high-end graphics card, there are cheaper options available. Those who only want to dip their toes into the world of VR may well look elsewhere.
A reasonably affordable way to get a premium level VR experience.
Bundled with probably the best virtual reality controllers we’ve encountered so far.
Fantastic range of content available.
It’s impossible to talk about the HTC Vive without mentioning the Oculus Rift, and vice versa. The two headsets are closely linked in terms of their quality, scope, price, and system requirements. When Oculus crowdfunded over $2.4 million to make the Rift, it was clear that tech lovers were ready to embrace the latest iteration of VR devices. So much was the hype (much of it deserved) that Facebook shelled out a staggering $2.3 billion to purchase the plucky startup. When the Oculus Rift first launched, there was both delight and disappointment. The headset delivered on everything that the company had promised, but it lacked a dedicated controller and room-scale tracking. Oculus has since (mostly) fixed those issues, and sales have seen a boost since.
We particularly love the controllers, which are probably the best we’ve come across in this space. They make interacting with the virtual world straightforward and intuitive.
We were impressed with the Rift when we reviewed it. Much like the Vive, it feels and performs like a premium product. We particularly love the controllers, which are probably the best we’ve come across in this space. They make interacting with the virtual world straightforward and intuitive. We also prefer the design of this headset to that of the Vive, the latter of which is a little bulbous and pock-marked. The Rift is sleek, comfortable, and easy to adjust. As with all tethered headsets, it’s a bit annoying to be constantly anchored to something, but the Guardian system does an excellent job of keeping the wearer safe.
Many of the games that are available on the Vive are also compatible with the Rift, even if the SteamVR store doesn’t necessarily state that. The experience is similar, although the Vive’s room-scale tracking is superior to that of the Oculus device.
Why you might not buy it:
Despite the price drops, it’s still expensive and requires additional purchases for full functionality.
Similar competitors deliver a better experience at times.
One of the frustrating things about the Rift is that it requires an extra sensor (sold separately) to give full room-scale tracking. By the time you’ve added this on, it’s nearly as expensive as the Vive. Don’t forget, you’ll also need a beast of a PC to power it.
An affordable means of experiencing virtual reality without the need for any expensive extras.
Delivers impressive performance and head tracking, paired with a solid controller.
Everything you need to dive into a virtual experience is contained within one well-designed headset.
Standalone VR headsets are finally here, and we’re rather pleased about it. Although there are only a couple on the market at the time of writing, there are plenty more in the works that we’re looking forward to getting our hands on. For the time being, the Oculus Go is the best VR headset that doesn’t require a PC or smartphone to power it. Everything you need to dive into a virtual experience is contained within one well-designed headset.
There are two models available, one has 32GB of storage, and the other has 64GB. Both are pleasingly priced, particularly as you won’t need to upgrade your PC, buy a console, or purchase a new smartphone to use it. One of the major benefits the headset has is access to the Oculus Store. It’s one of the best places to find interesting and interactive content, and also means you can access Oculus’ Venues app. Venues allows live entertainment streaming to your Oculus Go headset, which is pretty neat.
The only shame is that the Oculus Go only offers 3DoF motion tracking. So, although you aren’t tethered to a PC or console, your directional movements won’t translate to the virtual world you’re exploring. Despite this, the headset is still one of the best options for trying out virtual reality. The design is sleek and clean, as well as surprisingly lightweight given how much it has packed into it. Games are fun to play and plentiful, although the battery life leaves a little to be desired.
Why you might not buy it:
It’s not much of a step up from mobile VR, despite being considerably more expensive than headsets in that range.
A lack of 6DoF tracking seems to limit the experience a little.
Hopefully, there’s a lot still to come from standalone VR headsets. Although the Oculus Go offers the best option currently, it has its limitations. The Oculus Santa Cruz seems like a promising prospect, as does the HTC Vive Focus.
Packed full of innovative technology, including 6DoF WorldSense tracking.
Performs well in a number of situations.
Again, the Lenovo Mirage Solo takes the honour of runner-up by default. It’s the only other device that delivers a standalone VR experience. However, there’s a lot that is great about this device, and in many ways, there’s more to it than the above Oculus Go. The most interesting feature is the two front-facing cameras it has. This enables it to make use of Google’s WorldSense technology, giving a 6DoF experience. Although not at the same level as the room-scale VR we’ve seen from the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it’s still great to see this tech being utilised in a standalone device.
The most interesting feature is the two front-facing cameras it has. This enables it to make use of Google’s WorldSense technology, giving a 6DoF experience.
Many of the technical specs of the Mirage Solo are comparable to higher-end devices, although slightly lower all round. The screen and sensors are particularly impressive for a device in this price range. And it’s a strange price range it sits in; the Oculus Go and mobile VR headsets are a good deal cheaper, while premium headsets are not much more expensive (although do require costly hardware). It also sits in this middle-ground in terms of quality too. The design is pretty solid, and it has some worthwhile features. However, there just isn’t enough content to make the most of this.
In our review, we explained how the innovations the Lenovo Mirage Solo brings to the table are sorely underutilised just now. It’s not powerful enough to run the best games that the Rift and Vive offer, and yet there just aren’t enough games that make use of the WorldSense feature. Hopefully, this changes as more 6DoF headsets arrive on the scene.
Why you might not buy it:
It’s quite expensive; at £349/$399 it’s almost as pricey as the Oculus Rift but doesn’t have the quality.
There isn’t much in the way of standout content available for it yet.
This Google-backed headset is certainly an interesting one, but it just doesn’t entirely have enough yet to make it universally appealing. Those who own a PS4 or powerful PC are better off buying a PSVR or other premium device.
Affordable when compared to other high-end headsets.
Although Sony takes the crown of best console VR system by default, it’s still a worthy winner. The PlayStation VR system gives PS4 owners the chance to experience high-end virtual reality gaming. Although it doesn’t have quite the same level of specs as the two above mentioned headsets, it still delivers a premium and immersive experience. It’s surprisingly affordable too, receiving a couple of permanent price drops since it first launched.
Of course, Sony is one of the biggest names in gaming. This prestige means that their catalogue of games is almost unrivalled. Other platforms may have more, but the PlayStation Store has a higher number of quality games. There are exclusives such as Moss, Gran Turismo Sport, Farpoint, and PlayStation VR Worlds, demonstrate the capabilities of the technology well. Sony also released an updated version of the PS4, the PlayStation 4 Pro, which boasts improved graphics and processing power for the PSVR.
The sci-fi inspired aesthetic means it looks great next to the main PS4 console, and it’s comfortable to wear for extended periods while gaming.
Regarding the design, we absolutely love the styling of the PSVR headset, as much as any that we’ve reviewed so far. The sci-fi inspired aesthetic means it looks great next to the main PS4 console, and it’s comfortable to wear for extended periods while gaming. We were less impressed with the controllers, however. The Move controllers are relics of a previous Sony generation, made to retrofit the PlayStation VR experience. As such, they’re a little clumsy and don’t always track as well as they should. The same goes for the PlayStation Eye camera that is used for tracking; it’s not the most effective sensor we’ve seen, which means it sometimes dropped out altogether when we were playing.
Why you might not buy it:
If you don’t own a PS4 already, you’ll have to purchase one, which will increase the cost significantly.
The tracking is not up to the standard set by the Rift or the Vive.
The PSVR is an impressive debut for VR console gaming, but there are certainly improvements that could be made. The processing power of the PS4 means that the headset isn’t as graphically detailed as more expensive devices. The controllers also leave a lot to be desired, especially as they don’t come bundled with the base model.
An affordable way to try out VR, if you own a Samsung smartphone already.
Good motion tracking, sturdy design, and excellent controller.
Mobile virtual reality is a bit of a strange one. Modern smartphones often have fairly decent processors in them, but not ones that are powerful enough to come close to delivering an experience that the three headsets above produce. That being said, there are some devices that provide an enjoyable foray into the world of virtual reality. The Samsung Gear VR is the best of the bunch for the moment. Samsung partnered with Oculus to create the headset, and their quality and VR knowledge makes all the difference. With its various iterations over the years, the 2017 Gear VR has perfected the art of mobile virtual reality. This is in no small part thanks to the steady improvements made to Samsung’s flagship Galaxy smartphones. The latest, the Galaxy S9, has an impressive screen and powerful mobile processor, for example.
The content found on the Oculus Store is, unsurprisingly, tailored mainly to gamers. Although this sounds obvious, there are plenty of other things VR can be used for, such as entertainment, education, and experiences. However, with the paired controller and strong range of titles, the Samsung Gear VR is very much a gaming device. Games that stand out include Eve: Gunjack and Minecraft Gear VR, both of which provide fun and long-lasting experiences while making use of the head tracking and controller.
One of the main issues with currently mobile VR is that motion tracking is limited to 360-degree head movements or 3DoF. This small range of capture means that you never feel as immersed in what you’re doing as you do with the high-end or console VR devices.
Why you might not buy it:
If you don’t own a top-of-the-range Samsung Galaxy smartphone, you won’t be able to use this headset.
If you’re looking for true immersion or high-end gaming, you may find this device lacking a little.
There are cheaper mobile headsets available than the Gear VR, although they don’t provide quite the polish that Samsung does. All of adequate if you want to dip your toe into virtual reality without spending a lot, but none will blow you away in the same way as with the premium devices.
Excellent design that is comfortable, unique, and attractive.
It’s compatible with a broad range of smartphones.
It was a close call between the Gear VR and the Google Daydream View for best VR headset for mobile users. In many respects the two are similar. Much like Samsung’s device, the Daydream View has the backing of VR experts. Google took initial steps into the mobile VR market with their innovative Google Cardboard device. Since then, they’ve been working on a variety of systems to improve the quality of the mobile virtual reality experience. The culmination of this work is the Daydream platform, which brings together an excellent array of VR apps, games, videos, and experiences.
One of the things we particularly liked about the Google Daydream View is the fact that it’s compatible with a large range of handsets. The Gear VR is limited to Samsung phones, while the View works with most of the flagship Android smartphones. This compatibility means that a much wider audience can use the headset without having to invest any further money (aside from on games and apps). Google is clearly trying to push their Daydream platform, with this headset and their WorldSense 6DoF technology.
One of the things we particularly liked about the Google Daydream View is the fact that it’s compatible with a large range of handsets.
The other main selling point is the headset’s excellent design. The cloth-clad device stands out from everything else we’ve seen in the market so far. It’s comfortable, soft to touch, and looks pretty great too. It’s lighter than its competitors, yet still maintains a definite feeling of quality. This quality is also true of the controller that it pairs with, which is very similar to the Gear VR’s.
Why you might not buy it:
The range and quality of content available doesn’t quite compare to that found on the Oculus Store.
Image quality is a little hit-and-miss depending on the handset you use with it.
For now, mobile VR is still finding its feet. There are headsets and apps aplenty, but they lack the cutting edge that more powerful devices can offer.
So, there you have it. The HTC Vive is our pick of the bunch for now. Admittedly it’s a little on the pricey side, particularly when you account for the hardware required to run it. But it does everything we could have hoped for regarding experience and interactivity. With the Vive, HTC has set a strong benchmark and laid the foundations for premium headsets going forward. The Pro version adds a small increase in visual quality and performance, but not enough to justify the huge price difference. We’re hoping that the next generation of headsets can vastly improve on visual quality, field of vision, levels of interaction, and range of applications. Devices such as haptic feedback gloves could also drastically change the way we think about virtual reality, so we’re hoping to see those too.
If you don’t own a top-of-the-range PC, you still have options to experience VR. The PlayStation VR is a very competent offering, while standalone headsets are slowly emerging. There’s also the promise of mixed and augmented reality systems reaching mainstream markets. This is just the beginning.