Our editorial team selected the products on this list based on our own experience using these products, extensive research and real customer reviews. For each category, we carefully selected parameters based on our research and identified the products with the highest review score within those parameters.
If you’ve never experienced virtual reality but are curious about whether it’s for you, there’s no better low-commitment way to dip your toes into the virtual waters than Google Cardboard. It’s literally made of cardboard and two cheap plastic lenses, comes flat-packed in the mail and costs less than a fast-food lunch for two.
Once you assemble the Google Cardboard, you simply download a smartphone app and slot your phone inside the headset. The phone then serves as the screen and GPU powering the VR experience.
For a headset that resembles a toddlers arts and crafts project, the result provides a surprisingly revealing likeness of the real deal. You can’t play the big-budget, high-profile VR games on it, but there are several interesting free experiences available on various app stores that give you a decent idea of what the more expensive headsets are capable of. Proper VR enthusiasts should steer clear, but beginners have very little to lose.
The Oculus Rift S holds a high Google user score of 4.4 from almost 3,000 reviews. While the Cosmos Elite does have more impressive tech specs in a few key areas, the Rift S represents a better purchase for most people.
Oculus Rift S is a premium VR device. It has a great 2560×1440 overall resolution, a good 110-degree field of view and a solid 80Hz refresh rate.
Where it really scores points, though, is in the comfort department. I’ve found it noticeably lighter with soft, forgiving padding that makes it far easier to wear for extended play sessions.
Tracking performance is also very impressive. Given that the Rift S doesn’t require external cameras, it effectively relays your movements.
If you have a powerful PC and don’t mind being tethered to it by a wire, Oculus Rift S is currently the best option available for playing high-end VR games.
If you want a wireless full-room standing VR setup and are willing to sacrifice both the money and a substantial portion of your living space, the Vive Cosmos Elite is the premium wireless high-end option available.
The Elite version of the Cosmos utilizes external trackers, combined with handheld “wands” to capture your movements as you wander around a 3.5 by 3.5-meter play area, free to interact with your surroundings in whatever ways the software allows. It’s a different, more immersive way of experiencing VR than the seated options, but it does require significant setup and a decent amount of space in your home.
Under the hood, it packs an impressive punch: The 2880×1700 overall resolution, 90-Hz refresh rate and 110-degree field of view are top-of-class specs. The flip-up screen allows you to instantly switch between virtual reality and actual reality is also practical and helpful — few things are more disconcerting than being unable to quickly figure out what just brushed past your arm while you’re in VR.
There are more convenient, better value options available, but if you want to experience the VR effect in its most powerful and authentic form — standing, without wires, powered by a high-end PC — this is a solid choice.
The Oculus Quest is far and away the best standalone VR headset. It scores 4.8 stars from more than 1,000 Google reviews and has earned ongoing positive reviews.
The bad news: It’s officially discontinued. The good news: Oculus released the Quest 2 in October 2020.
Quest 2 headsets are as convenient as VR gets: no wires and clutter, no cameras to configure and no expensive PCs or consoles to maintain. This might seem like a minor detail — but speaking from experience, the single biggest barrier to regularly using VR is the hassle with setting it up every time.
The Quest 2 improves upon the specs of the original, with 1832×1920 pixels per eye (up from 1440×1600), and a 90Hz refresh rate (up from 72Hz). It still isn’t as powerful as Oculus’s premium Rift S but that requires a beefy gaming PC to operate.
However, the Quest 2 can be given a bit more grunt via the “Quest Link” function, which allows you to connect it to a PC to play more graphically demanding games and make the experience more comparable with the Rift S.
PlayStation VR takes this category practically by default on account of being the only dedicated console VR headset. Fortunately, for PlayStation 4 owners, it’s a fun, relatively affordable option for diving into VR.
PlayStation VR’s ace is that it’s significantly cheaper than PC VR or standalone VR — provided you already own a PS4. There’s also a good library of exclusive games unavailable on other platforms: Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Resident Evil VII, Dreams and Ace Combat 7 among many others are all well worth your time.
Being cheaper — and now slightly older — there are a few downsides. Each eye has a resolution of 960×1080, which is lower than newer Oculus and Vive headsets, so you’ll notice the “screen door effect” more. It doesn’t ruin the illusion, but it doesn’t help it either.
And heavy cords draped across the living room floor from the PlayStation are less than ideal. However, PlayStation VR is still a fantastic, cheaper option and definitely the best value VR option for PS4 owners.
Where to buy VR headsets and accessories
Amazon: Virtual reality gear for the whole family.
Boasting the largest online selection of VR equipment, Amazon lets anyone go virtual regardless of their price point.
Finder verified: Finder has verified this retailer's relevant licenses and certification to ensure it's a legitimate seller of these products.
If you’re new to the VR world or are on a budget, the Google Cardboard model can get you up and running for less than$25. However, if you’re more hardcore in your VR experience and can shell out the cash, the Vive Cosmos Elite could be worth it for a top-drawer experience.
Either way, take your VR investment for a shop around the block and compare all your options to get your best game on.
David Milner is an award-winning games journalist, former editor of Game Informer magazine, and regular contributor to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Embarrassingly, he only completed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time in 2019. Bloodborne is his favourite game ever.
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