Comparing VR Headsets: Which is the Best One for 2019?
VR headsets have moved out of the niche market and into the mainstream, offering a futuristic form of entertainment that can be accessed by everyone. No longer the domain of tech experts and early adopters, there’s now an unprecedented number of ways you can enjoy VR in the home.
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However, choosing the right VR headset isn’t easy, and if anything, it’s been made more challenging by the huge choice available. Every day it seems as if new and exciting models are being released, such as the Vive Cosmos from HTC and the Valve Index. All of the VR headsets offer their own individual slant on the experience, as well as having different system requirements and hardware. Throw in some top steals and bargains, and the choice is utterly mind-boggling.
If you’re keen to pick up a VR headset and want to invest in a top model, the good news is that premium picks are more affordable than ever before. Those built specifically to be used with PC gaming have plunged in price, putting them in reach for more people. Of course, the bad news is that this means there are even more VR headsets to pick from, and making the final decision can seem like an impossible task.
In the sea of VR headsets, there are some key facts you can focus on to help narrow down the selection. We’re going to walk you through the features to look for, and some of the best buy on the market right now.
VR headsets in 2019 – what’s new?
In an industry which is swiftly evolving, there are a number of changes in the market for VR headsets in 2019. For those who prefer to stick with mobile versions, the Google Daydream View and Samsung Gear VR are right up there. Conversely, if it’s headsets with the most advanced technology that get your pulse racing, the HTC Vive Pro is the perfect example of a premium VR headset, which has dropped to become more affordable.
Standalone headsets are being an on-trend item with Oculus Go leading the way initially before Facebook revealed the follow-up, the Oculus Quest. With six degrees of freedom tracking, it’s the ultimate standalone model that doesn’t compromise play.
Following CES 2019, the market got even more of a refresh with the HTC Vive Cosmos, a wired VR headset that experts believe will in the not-too-distant future be able to work with cell phones too.
While the Cosmos is promising to change the market in ways not seen before, it’s still early days for the headset, which has just launched and is still not globally available. Instead, let’s take a closer look at the VR headsets which have had the chance to prove themselves already.
Choosing the right VR headset for your needs
You can check out our individual reviews below to see what we thought of each VR headset, but for most people, their personal budget and preferred platform will play a fundamental part in determining the one that’s right. For example, if you want to play on a console, the Playstation VR is your only real option, while those who yearn for the freedom of a standalone kit only have the Oculus Quest right now.
Although VR headsets are undeniably still limited in some categories, the industry is making enormous progress in many ways. This includes both price and performance, dropping the cost of some of the more “traditional” headsets to make them more aligned with each other.
Most experts would agree that the top four headsets available at the moment are the HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus Quest, and Playstation VR. It probably won’t come as a surprise to discover that these are the four most expensive options either. If you’re a bit hesitant about spending such a large chunk of cash without even being certain that VR is for you, there are much cheaper options you can experiment with before deciding whether to upgrade.
Before you buy any headset, even those at the lower end of the price spectrum, make sure you understand their pros and cons. Each headset has its own quirks and peculiarities, and if you don’t really understand what you’re shelling out for, it could be a mistake that you’ll regret for a long time. And that’s exactly why we compiled this guide to provide some answers in the confusing waters of VR headsets.
Without further discussion, here’s a look at six VR headsets, which we think are ahead of the pack in different ways.
The Best Overall VR Headset: The Valve Index
Put simply, the Valve Index is the VR headset the world has been waiting for, but you’ll need to pay top dollar if you want to enjoy everything it has to offer. The display is incredibly crisp, an increased refresh rate, a broader field of vision, and it’s innovative knuckle controllers which are sensitive to the movement of every finger. As an added bonus, the Valve Index will even perform pretty well with older GPUs.
If you’re using the VR headset around the house, the Valve Index would be the one you’d choose. It’s an improvement on the excellent HTC Vive and delivers a smoother experience than the Vive Pro. Of course, the Vive Pro never really delivered on its promise of room-scale VR that was seamless and high-end.
Even though the performance of the Valve Index is beyond reproach, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious negatives, in addition to the painful price. The main gripe is the laborious process of not just setting it up, but also the problems that updates can cause to its connectivity. Even once you have updated, there’s a good chance you’ll find a new error message when you next plug it in for use.
If you’re able to see past those irritations, this is a VR headset to remember. It’s possible to wear for extended periods without discomfort, and the clever controllers are part of its next-generation vibe.
For those players who are craving the very best VR experience available, it’s hard to argue against the Valve Index.
- Intuitive and sensitive controllers
- Very wide field of vision
- High refresh rate
- A lot more expensive than others
- Can be tricky to set up
The Best VR Headset – Standalone: Oculus Quest
The Valve is a great option for when you’re at home and surrounded by all the equipment you need to get the most out of the experience. However, if you’re not a fan of being immersed in cables or willing to sink into serious debt just to get the best PC and VR headset, there are other options.
The Oculus Quest is a very real alternative that offers something completely different to the Valve. Without the need to hook up to a PC or a cell phone, the Oculus Quest is breaking barriers. You’ll still be able to enjoy a phenomenal experience as inside the casing, and you’ll find a Snapdragon 835 processor accompanied by an OLED display panel with a resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye.
The Quest is quick and simple to set up, and you won’t need any fancy equipment, sensors, or other tools to be up and running. In fact, once it’s charged, you won’t need more than a few minutes to get going if you follow the set-up wizard available in the Oculus app.
As an added bonus, there are some games which are supported by cross-buy, which means you won’t need to buy them twice. If you have any Oculus titles already, check to see if they’re available on the Quest as an increasing number are.
Of course, the Quest isn’t perfect, and one of the biggest grumbles is the battery life. Once it’s fully charged, you’ll probably get a maximum of 2-3 hours. You’ll, therefore, need to keep the Quest charged between sessions, and if you forget, you won’t be able to play. There are some minor quality issues, too, such as light leakage through the bottom of the device, where it sits on your nose.
Despite the criticisms, the Oculus remains the top-performing standalone VR, and if the battery life isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s a fantastic bit of kit.
- Great value for money
- Wire-free play
- Magnificent VR on a standalone model
- Short battery life
- Some light leakage
The Best Console Gamers’ VR Headset: Playstation VR
Part of the problem with using some VR headsets is that you need a top of the range PC to run alongside to get the best experience. For many people, this is simply out of their price range. This doesn’t mean that VR isn’t an option, thanks to the Sony Playstation VR system.
Only needing the PS4 to run, the PSVR (as the Playstation VR system is known) is far more affordable for many gamers.
When you consider the very considerable discrepancy in power between a high-end PC and a PS4, it’s surprising just how well the PSVR performs. Head-tracking seems to be accurate, and the refresh rate is good, leaving few complaints over its competency.
Sony has backed the PSVR comprehensively, too, offering a large number of VR games for play. On the launch date, there were already dozens available, and many more were released in the first year alone.
One of the initial complaints about the PSVR was that everything was sold separately, but it’s now possible to buy bundles and packages that bring the important accessories together, such as the Playstation Camera. However, it’s still not perfect because the all-essential controllers, the Playstation Move, aren’t included in everyone – and that’s a disappointment.
Due to the way it’s bundled and sold, the PSVR may not be as cheap as it initially looks, but nevertheless, it’s still cheaper than PC options. It won’t ever be the top-performing VR headset, but given the limitations on power, it does a very decent job.
- Very affordable
- Performance which is close to PC VR headsets
- Broad choice of games
- Bundles and packages are inconsistent
- More light leakage than others
- Motion controller tracking can be spotty at times
The PC VR Headset Runner Up: Oculus Rift S
The original Oculus Rift was first introduced to the world in 2012 and years later, and now under the ownership of Facebook, the Oculus Rift S is the next generation. VR has taken huge steps in its development since the Rift first hit the shelves, but sadly the Rift S hasn’t kept pace. That’s not to say that it’s not an improvement, because that would be unfair. It’s just that the Oculus Rift S hasn’t taken the huge strides expected of this innovative brand.
Just like its predecessor, the Rift S works with a PC to provide users with the VR experience. Using a USB 3.0 port coupled with a DisplayPort connection, it uses an enormous cable so you won’t feel hamstrung and unable to enjoy the room-scale VR that the device is capable of offering. Of course, any wired connection at all still is more limiting than the liberating gameplay available on the Oculus Quest, but there are some compromises that have to be made to enjoy the power of the PC, and this is one of them.
Oculus has been thoughtful with its launch and have made the new VR headset totally compatible with the previous Rift so you won’t need to rebuy favorite titles. Not only that, but the Rift S is also compatible with a large number of titles on the Quest with only a few exceptions.
It’s hard to deny that it’s better than the original Rift, and in many ways, it is a resounding success. It is comfier to wear and quicker to set up, and the larger games library is an unexpected boon. The enhanced resolution is another asset, but to achieve this, the new Rift has compromised on its refresh rate and audio, and that’s an enormous shame.
- Better visuals
- No tracking stations needed externally
- Huge cable for greater freedom
- Tends to crash more frequently than others
- Lower refresh rate
The Best VR Headset – Mobile: Samsung Gear VR
The Samsung Gear VR has won many admirers with its headset powered entirely by the smartphone, but now with an added motion controller, it’s arguably the best option for those using a mobile.
As well as getting a brand new controller, the Samsung Gear VR is more streamlined and lighter than previous models. It has a USB-C connector which enables the headset to hook up directly to a Samsung Galaxy handset. As you’d probably surmise, the Galaxy S8/S8 Plus and Galaxy S9/S9 Plus are all compatible with the latest VR headset.
The motion controller includes a trigger button and a touchpad and is reminiscent of the design on the popular HTC Vive controller – which can only be a good thing. This controller is what elevates the gameplay on the Gear VR, providing the ability to interact and engage with VR environments in a way that would have been impossible before.
The power of the latest Samsung handsets means that although the VR performance is entirely dependent on the phone, it’s not really a problem. If, however, you’ve hooked up your VR to an older handset, there might be issues with speed and performance.
The launch of newer pieces of tech, such as the Oculus Go, raises the question of whether systems such as the Gear VR are really needed. However, as the Go shares its library with the Samsung Gear VR, the chances are that this headset will continue for some time yet.
- Supported by numerous Samsung phones
- More expensive than comparative models such as the Google Daydream View
- Controller batteries aren’t rechargeable
The VR Headset Mobile Runner Up – Google Daydream View
The problem with the Gear VR is that you’ll need to own a Samsung to get it to work, which is a problem if you’re an Android owner that has a different make of cell phone. The Google Daydream View offers another way to enjoy VR without spending a fortune, or by purchasing a Samsung.
The Google Daydream View is ridiculously cheap, and in some places, a further retailer discount is available, making it even more economical.
It’s one of the fastest to set up as all you’ll need to do is install an app on your phone. It’s even easy to use when ready as the controller is included and provides a simple way to navigate around the whole VR world.
It’s fair to say the experience isn’t as immersive as VR devices powered by a PC, but it’s compatible with lots of phones, made from a decent material, and is extremely inexpensive to buy.
There’s a nice variety of content, but it’s not the same addictive gameplay that you’ll find elsewhere. For the price it’s sold for, it’s not a big surprise to discover it’s not the best VR, but it’s a good alternative and perfect as an entry point.
- Comfy in the hand
- VR is good for a cell phone
- Extremely affordable
- Not evenly weighted
- Lack of quality content
If you’ve used one of these VR headsets and want to share your experience, let us know in the comments below.