The Best VR Headsets For 2021

VR Headset

VR Headset

Best VR Headsets In 2021; Standalone And PC-Ready Picks From Oculus, Sony, HTC, And More…

  • Oculus Quest 2; Worthy standalone VR; Go to details; $299 at Amazon
  • Sony PlayStation VR; Good value for the games; Go to details; $350 at Target
  • Valve Index; Best PC VR to check out futuristic VR controllers; Go to details; $999 at Steam
  • HP Reverb G2; The highest-resolution PC VR headset; Go to details; $600 at HP
  • HTC Vive Cosmos; Check out this modular, flexible system; Go to details; $700 at Amazon

Virtual reality provides an exciting way to move around with nothing but the power of technology. Transport yourself into a virtual space and look around like you were there or experience the joy of playing a game as if you were in it.

VR allows you to do all this with just a headset and motion tracking. VR has compelling experiences and games, which is why it’s been gaining traction over the last couple of years. It’s still in a state of flux though, upgraded headsets keep hitting the market every now and then.

This guide tracks what’s currently the best on offer in the market.

Quest 2 is the best VR headset in the market today, and Oculus focuses on marketing its worthy standalone VR headset with the option to connect it to a PC with a cable. HTC has its developer-focused Vive Pro and the tethered Steam-friendly Vive Cosmos.

Microsoft develops its Windows Mixed Reality platform for some third-party headsets, while Sony is still going strong with its PS4-compatible PlayStation VR. Valve also has a ready audience for its costly Valve Index headset. All of these have their fans.

Which VR Is the Best?

That’s the big question most people ask. You can get VR headsets now that fit into one of two categories: standalone or tethered.

You have the freedom of not using cables or an external device to enable processing with standalone headsets. The Oculus Quest 2 and Oculus Rift S both have cameras facing outwards that provide 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) motion tracking or 6DOF motion controls that are similar.

A gaming computer has more processing power, but the Quest 2 in fitted with a high-end mobile tracking processor that processes smooth, detailed graphics.

Tethered headsets like the Valve Index and HTC Vive Cosmos both connect to PCs with cables, while the PlayStation VR or PS VR connects to a PlayStation 4.

You get a more complex VR experience when you don’t strap the headset to your face, as all the heavy video processing is done in a motion controller box that’s connected to the headset with a cable.

Full 6DOF movement tracking for both your hands and your head is enabled using motion-sensing controllers mounted on outward-facing cameras or external sensors mounted on the headset.

You pay approximately $400 for taking care of the processing issue. Both the Valve Index and Vive Cosmos need powerful PCs, while you need a PlayStation 4 to run your PS VR.

Oculus Quest 2

Oculus Quest 2 headset

Oculus Quest 2 headset

Pros: Accessible prices, ease of use, wireless.

Cons: Bulkier with enlarged controllers.

Oculus is a major player in the current wave that’s hit the VR category, as it already was a big name with its popular Oculus Rift.

It has since focused on Quest 2, its standalone all-in-one headset, after discontinuing the Rift S and opting not to compete with others in the dedicated tethered VR headset market.

You can still enjoy PC VR with a cable connected to the company’s new headset.

The Oculus Quest 2 costs $300 (June 2021). This standalone VR headset is fitted with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, which is a major power upgrade over the earlier released Snapdragon 835 and the original Quest.

A single package without wires, except to charge the headset, provides a comprehensive VR experience.

It has the highest resolution compared to any consumer VR headset in the market today at 1,920 by 1,832 per eye.

Two motion controls offer full 6DOF hand and head motion tracking. You have access to an online store when you purchase the Quest 2. This store has an elaborate library of VR software.

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy tethered VR with the Quest 2, though. The $79 Oculus Link cable is a five-meter USB-C cable that you use to play Half-Life and other PC-specific VR games.

Use this to connect your PC to Quest 2 just like you connect the tethered Rift S to play Half-Life: Alyx and other PC-specific VR games.

You do pay more for the cable, but the Quest 2 is cheaper than the original Quest by $100. This means you get more value even after you’ve bought this additional accessory.

Sony PlayStation VR

Sony PlayStation VR

Sony PlayStation VR

Pros: Mechanical relief system; easy for people with glasses to wear.

Cons: You need both PSVR and PlayStation 4 to enjoy the VR experience.

The availability and affordability of the PlayStation 4, as compared to other gaming PCs, make the PlayStation VR a compelling offer.

You just need the PlayStation 4, a PlayStation Camera that the company now includes with most of its PlayStation VR bundles, and the headset, thanks to Sony backing development for its products.

Enjoy some great games on PS VR like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Moss, Five Nights at Freddie’s: Help Wanted, and Rez Infinite.

You don’t need motion controls as most PlayStation VR games are compatible with DualShock 4. Motion controls are what PlayStation VR needs, as it uses the same PlayStation Move wands that were first installed in PlayStation 3.

PlayStation VR works very well with PlayStation 5 as well.  Enjoy backward compatible PS4 games and native PS5 releases on PlayStation 5 using PlayStation VR.

Valve Index

Valve Index

Valve Index

Pros: High-quality headset; amazing futuristic controllers; works with Vive hardware.

Cons: A premium model which needs room setup and tethering cable.

Check out the fancy new controllers installed on Valve’s headset. This PC virtual reality experience might interest you more than just a little.

Valve’s knuckle controllers are designed to track all five fingers giving them the advantage to act like gloves.

These controllers are underutilized by most apps, but Valve’s hardware takes the mix-and-match approach.

It works with any content developed on the Steam VR platform, so it’s compatible with HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro, Windows Mixed Reality, and the Oculus Rift headsets.

The Index headset has finetuned lenses that offer the widest view across a viewer’s full range of travel.

Its innovative off-ear audio solution is optimized for comfort and immersion. You experience audio in a more natural way.

You can adjust the Valve Index for your ear position, head size, and face angle, as its ergonomics are designed for all types of faces and heads.

Set up external lighthouse boxes in a room before you use the Index, as it cannot track a room with in-headset cameras found in the HTC Vive Cosmos or the Oculus Rift S. Use a mix and match approach with your existing Vive hardware and addon Index parts.

HP Reverb G2

HP Reverb G2

HP Reverb G2

Pros: Comfortable design, sharp high-resolution display, and great audio.

Cons: Controllers are just acceptable.

HP’s headset wins, if you want the best image quality you can find in consumer VR. This is the best choice for VR racing sim fans and gamers. Its 114-degree field of view and 2,160×2,160-per-eye resolution are among the best for this price range.

The Reverb G2’s interpupillary distance (IPD) adjustment feature allows you to change the width of the lenses to accommodate for the distance between your eyes. This ensures you get the perfect fit.

Valve has designed the amazing drop-down speakers that are installed in the Reverb G2’s comfortable and lightweight headset.

You can compare it to the Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality headset that works with apps and your favorite PC games developed with Steam VR but produces the best results when launched into Microsoft’s native Windows 10 VR ecosystem.

Four cameras are built into the headset, so you can track more movement than the earlier versions of the Reverb G2. You’ll find it easier to set up the built-in camera-based room tracking than the Valve Index’s external base stations; however, there are likely to be more tracking errors.

The Valve Index motion controller and the Oculus Touch controllers are less clunkier than the Reverb G2’s controllers that’s based on Microsoft’s VR controller design.

Reverb G2 Omnicept is the latest release in May 2021 with additional features like the improved head-strap tightening system and mouth, eye, and heart rate sensors.

HTC Vive Cosmos

HTC Vive Cosmos

HTC Vive Cosmos

Pros: Easy setup with inside-out tracking; excellent immersive experiences.

Cons: tethering to PC; premium pricing.

HTC’s Vive Cosmos with its latest software optimizations is the upgraded version of the Vive headset.

It has better resolution, as it replaces external base stations that earlier enabled motion tracking with outward-facing cameras. You get a better immersive gaming experience.

You can now view graphics and text through a 2880 X 1700 combined pixel resolution. Its new LCD panels reduce the distance between pixels, thereby reducing the screen-door effect.

The whole-room package is quite good with its 1000 sq. ft. external tracking capability; but with a price tag of $699, it’s an expensive buy when you compare it to the Oculus Quest 2.

The $899 Vive Cosmos Elite has better motion controllers with its external base stations to follow your head.

Like the Oculus Quest 2, the Vive Cosmos is compatible with SteamVR. It also has in the form of Viveport its own VR software store.

You can also opt for the Viveport Infinity membership via Viveport. You don’t have to go in for a la carte software purchases from software libraries when you opt for the subscription service, as you gain unlimited access to VR experiences with your Viveport Infinity membership.

Experience better sound during long VR adventures, as the Vive Cosmos has high-fidelity audio integrated into its on-ear headphones.

Summary

The HP Reverb G2 is the only consumer Windows Mixed Reality headset in the present lot, even though other manufacturers like Acer and Samsung have begun releasing Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Other VR Headsets To Consider

Affordable VR Headsets

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

The simplest and the cheapest form of virtual reality requires nothing more than using the screen of your smartphone with a pair of magnifying lenses made of plastic and a cardboard sheet. People recognize this as the Google Cardboard, but the idea was conceived many years earlier and even before Google decided to brand it. Google has put most of its efforts into designing and selling Cardboard sets that follow a set of best practices. Several manufacturers who followed these practices got the official, “Works with Google Cardboard“ stamp of approval. Some handset makers do not follow these guidelines, but the majority of them release sets that are Google compatible. This means that you’re likely to get a set that works with iOS VR and Android apps. You find aluminum headsets in the market, but their interactivity levels are low. They are mostly useful to watch 360-degree videos.

Affordable VR Prices

You were likely to find a cheap Google Cardboard or get one for free if you lived in a major city or got the chance to visit conventions that promoted this gadget. Several manufacturers and a lot of these companies partnered with Google VR to produce headsets. Verizon’s Star Wars cardboard giveaway is a good example of a branded headset. You could even make your own by following a pattern you download from Google’s site. Use some plastic lenses and cardboard you order from the market to assemble your set. Google no longer sells its basic Cardboards for $15, but you have the option to click on Google’s site links leading to options like Knoxlabs (Knox V2; $10) and DODOcase (SmartVR; $39.95).

Hidden Costs With Affordable Sets

Over two-thirds of American adults are in possession of a smartphone, so they have everything they need to use a Google Cardboard. Anyone who does not need a costly device can choose this option. iPhone users can also rejoice with the knowledge that Google does release Cardboard features to YouTube and other versions of apps released on the iOS platform, though there may be some delays. Virtual reality has taken a backseat with Apple, so there’s no telling when you’re likely to get a mobile experience with your iPhone that matches the quality of a Gear VR. Verify in older phones whether they can handle Google cardboard apps. A high-end headset is likely to produce better results with these apps.

Space Requirement For Entry Level Sets

Google Cardboards were the most portable headsets you were likely to find in the market, unlike those Google Cardboard-style headsets that were not easily portable. This basic cardboard shape easily folds into a box that can be stacked. Cardboard experiences are basically live-action shorts. The lack of motion tracking in Google Cardboard is not really an issue, so you don’t have to choose a high-end headset. Also, consider the fact that these headsets create the best experiences on a spinning chair.

Affordable Controllers

You need just one input to make your headset fully cardboard compatible. You don’t need a button for this. The market offers headsets made of boxes and lenses and a hole for your thumb or finger to directly tap the screen. Headsets do have buttons in the form of levers that activate the screen. At the most, you can select menu options or perform actions in slow motion inside your video game. A few Cardboard apps use the visual mode. Stare at a menu for a second or two to choose the option. You can also move your head in a video game to change directions.

Affordable Sets Availability

The cheapest VR headsets are still available, though Google’s site and some others stopped the sale of headsets. They are now providing you with more options with Android apps. Until you get a better version of the View-Master Cardboard design, it’s best that you use these Android apps with your homemade cardboard headset. The lifespan of these cardboard headsets is limited anyway but can be replaced. You can still get a limited range of experiences with apps like Jaunt, IM360, and Ryot to watch VR videos. Also check out apps like vTime XR, Sketchfab, Google Arts and Culture, Google Cardboard Camera, and NYT VR for 360-degree video effects in full virtual reality.

Summary Of Cheap VR Headsets

With Apple gearing up to release its VR and mixed reality headsets early in 2022, you can expect Google to come up with its own versions of cheap handsets in the near future. Meanwhile, the Google Daydream viewer is available for $99 (2nd Generation) and works with some Android phones. Check your Android phone to verify if you can download apps to run Google Daydream.

Mid-Range VR Headsets

Zeiss VR One Plus

Zeiss VR One Plus

If you are looking for a step up from Google Cardboard, then these mid-range headsets offer you a grab bag of options.

These phone-powered headsets provide their own screens, additional tracking sensors, focus wheels, and more sophisticated built-in controls than the Cardboard, which was more of a smartphone case.

Samsung’s Gear VR headset is no longer in production, but you have other options like the French Homido device or the Zeiss VR One Plus. You can expect Google to come out with its own version of a mid-range VR headset option after stopping sales of its Google Cardboard.

Zeiss VR One Plus and VR headset Homido V2 are your best options after the front runner Gear VR is no longer available.

The Zeiss and Homido designs have improved considerably but are still not comparable to either of the above. Again, apps are the best options, and both are compatible with over 300+ Google Cardboard Android/iOS apps.

Homido VR headset

Homido VR headset

LG has its lightweight LG 360 VR but it costs $199 and needs the LG G5’s processing power to run VR experiences. It’s best to consider mobile headsets ranging between $75 and $125 for a decent VR performance.

Meanwhile, the Google Daydream viewer is available for $99 (2nd Generation) and works with some Android phones. Check your Android phone to verify if you can download apps to run Google Daydream.

Hidden Costs With Mid-Range Sets

Mid-range VR depends a lot of your smartphone. Google is likely to come out with a mobile headset with all the apps you get in Google’s Nexus line of smartphones. iPhones may accommodate mid-range headsets as well.

Mid-Range Set Space Requirements

Mid-range headsets are more immersive than the Google Cardboard and more comfortable, so in a sense, they have the best options from the affordable and mid-range worlds.

The LG 360 VR is lightweight and comfortable to wear, but it costs a bit.

Some sets come with headset cables that twist after a few uses. Motion sickness is another issue to consider, as spatial head movement tracking is a feature in VR that is best achieved with tethered headsets.

A mobile headset paired with a Bluetooth controller may produce reasonable results.

Mid-Range Controllers

Mid-range VR headsets have enough controllers available in the market.

LG’s virtual reality headset has a simple two-button set-up.

The Gear VR has the most sophisticated system so far, a laptop-like trackpad that sits on the side of the headset. It’s not perfect, but it offers several different input options, like swiping, tapping, or pressing a separate “Back” button.

Technically, you can pair a Bluetooth gamepad with most mobile phones and use it as a control system, but that’s usually a clunky, inconsistent experience, and it just adds more equipment to carry around.

Mid-Range Set Availability

Generic headsets like the Homido and Zeiss VR One Plus are your best bet in this range.

You can try out other Amazon $50 headsets like the BNEXT virtual experience goggles to watch 360-degree movies and try some virtual reality games from the library of games. They work with most Android phones except a few like some of the Samsung mobiles.

The Peiloh Virtual Reality headset (2021 version) is another option to try in the sub $50 category. It’s a lightweight option that produces great graphics and sound in both iOS and Android phones. You can use this set for a short period of time when you enable Bluetooth.

Augmented, Mixed, and Virtual Reality Headsets

Which Are The Best Mobile VR headsets?

Smartphone virtual reality headsets or mobile VR viewers like the Google Daydream and Pansonite HMDs power the VR experience on your phone.

The app you download on your phone creates the VR content that you in a wider range by putting your phone inside the mobile VR headset.

People usually prefer this way as their first step to trying VR. This is a great option when you’re not ready to buy one of the best VR headsets currently available or maybe you’re not really keen on VR.

Google Cardboard is no longer available, so try one of the sub $50 lightweight VR Googles like the BNEXT VR Pro and Destek 2021 V5.

Given the fact that your phone powers these VR experiences and is not a piece of dedicated hardware, you can’t expect the same experience you’d get when you use any of the best available VR headsets available on the market.

However, mid-range sets are a solid option and the easy way to try VR.  The quality of pictures and the VR experience are bound to improve. Try a PC-based system to lower the cost.

Which Are The Best Augmented Reality Headsets?

You’ll find a number of augmented reality headsets available in the market.

A few of them like the Oculus Quest 2, Lenovo Star Wars, and Merge AR/VR headsets are a few that cater to regular consumers.

Microsoft’s Hololens 2 and many of the other augmented reality headsets focus on creating reality solutions in a business setting or for an enterprise.

For example, Microsoft’s Hololens 2 Industrial Edition is a reality device for use in industrial environments. The Google Glass Enterprise Edition is another example.

Microsoft's Hololens 2 headset

Microsoft’s Hololens 2 headset

Times are changing, and you now get one of the best augmented reality headsets to use at home like the Oculus Quest 2.

AR offerings are set to offer more value. One reason why the future of augmented reality headsets is bright is that the top tech brands spend a lot of energy and resources developing AR.

Apple is a good example. Rumor has it that Apple is finalizing the release of its VR and AR product (likely to be called Apple VR or Apple Glass) early in 2022.

Compare Specs: The Best VR Headsets for 2021

Oculus Quest 2

Sony PlayStation VR

Valve Index

HP Reverb G2 Omnicept

HTC Vive Cosmos

Rating

Type

Standalone

Tethered

Standalone/Wireless

Tethered

Tethered

Resolution Per Eye / Refresh Rate

1832 x 1920

@ 120 Hz

1920 x 1080@ 120hz, 90hz

1440×1600@ 80 Hz – 144 Hz

2160 x 2160@ 90Hz

1440 x 1700@ 90Hz

Controls

Oculus Touch

DualShock 4

PlayStation Move

SteamVR

Quad on-board camera

Vive Sense

Field Of View

90 degrees

Static

130 degrees (wide field)

114 degrees

110 degrees

Motion Detection

6DoF

6DoF

6DoF

6DoF

6DoF

Platform

Standalone

PlayStation 4

PC

PC

PC

Best Price $299 at Oculus

$299 at Amazon

$414.21 at Amazon

$429.95 at Newegg

$1225 at eBay

$1479.99 Amazon

$1249 at  Walmart

$1167.84 ShopBLT

$695.99 at Amazon

$699.99 at Walmart

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