Which VR Headset Is the Best?
Modern VR headsets now fit under one of two categories: tethered or standalone. Tethered headsets, such as the HTC Vive Pro 2, PlayStation VR, and Valve Index are physically connected to PCs (or in the case of the PS VR and PS VR 2, a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5). Their cables makes them a bit unwieldy, but putting all of the video processing in a box that you don’t need to directly strap to your face means your VR experience can be a lot more complex. Either external sensors or outward-facing cameras provide full 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) movement tracking for both your head and your hands, thanks to motion-sensing controllers.
The least expensive tethered options are currently around $400, and that’s before you address the processing issue; the HP Reverb G2, Valve Index, and Vive Pro 2 need powerful PCs to run, while the PS VR requires a PlayStation 4 and the PS VR2 requires a PlayStation 5.
Standalone headsets offer the greatest physical freedom by completely removing the cables and not requiring an external device to handle processing. The Meta Quest 2, Quest Pro, and Quest 3 use similar outward-facing cameras to the now-discontinued Oculus Rift S to provide 6DOF motion tracking, and similar 6DOF motion controls. They lack a dedicated gaming PC’s processing power on their own, but their high-end mobile processors (especially the Quest Pro’s Snapdragon XR2+) push detailed, smooth graphics. They also support PC-tethered VR with an optional cable.
There are two more major headsets to look forward to further down the line. Apple is preparing to launch the Vision Pro, a $3,500 AR/VR headset in February, with preorders opening in the US on Friday, Jan. 19. It seems technically impressive, with at least iPad Pro-level hardware and features like eye-tracking and iris-scanning. It’s really expensive, though, and we’re curious to see how much developer support it attracts.
Sony’s “spatial reality” headset announced at CES 2024 is the other model to keep an eye on. Details are scant, but Sony says it will run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2+ chip, indicating it could be standalone headset like the Meta Quest. More interesting are its controllers: a ring and a wand that are designed for “intuitive interaction with 3D objects and precise pointing.” Aimed at content creators, it could be a major release for VTubers and other streamers.
Which VR Headset Is Best for the Metaverse?
Meta emphasizes that the Quest 2, Quest 3, and Quest Pro are all devices for its “metaverse,” which is still fairly ill-defined apart from a few specific apps under the Meta Horizon name. It remains a vague concept, but the Quest headsets are the best jumping-off points for exploring the company’s vision. Our metaverse guide will help you understand what’s happening, based on the few hard details.
Meta’s vision of the metaverse hasn’t really panned out, and the aforementioned Horizon Worlds app is a ghost town. On the other hand, platforms and games that don’t call themselves metaverse like Roblox and VRChat have effectively become popular multimedia experiences crafted and curated by users. You can also use them outside of VR.
The Best Augmented Reality (AR) Headsets
You might have seen other headsets pop up over the last few years, including the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap One. They aren’t on this list for a few reasons, but the biggest one is that they’re augmented reality (AR) headsets, not virtual reality headsets. And yes, there’s a difference.
Basically, these AR headsets have transparent lenses that let you look at your surroundings instead of completely replacing your vision with a computer-generated image. They project images over whatever you’re looking at, but those images are designed to complement and interact with the area around you. You can make a web browser pop up in the middle of a room, for instance, or watch animals run around your coffee table. It’s fascinating technology that could hint at the future of computing.
The emphasis here is on the future, as in several years away. That brings us to the second biggest reason the HoloLens and Magic Leap One aren’t in this list: They aren’t consumer products. Both devices are purely intended as development hardware, so AR software can be made for their platforms. Considering each headset costs several thousand dollars, you shouldn’t expect a large library of AR experiences for a while. Outside of specific enterprise and education uses, AR headsets are an early adopter playground at best, and not for most people.
If you can’t wait, we’ve found several consumer-available smart glasses that are very useful, though don’t deliver on actual augmented reality. They project large images in front of your eyes and can have limited head tracking to keep that virtual screen fixed in place before you, and make great privacy-minded external monitors if you want to watch movies, play games, or work on the go.
With that in mind, we’ll continue to track the best new VR headsets as they are released, so make sure to check back soon for updates. And after you find the right headset, check out our list of the best VR games.