Virtual reality headsets were once only for the savviest of tech fans to explore, but the space is now packed to the brim with options for all experience levels and budgets.
Whether you’re looking for the best VR headset for your gaming PC, or you just want a standalone headset that you can jump into for 20 minutes, this buying guide has you covered.
Essential reading: Top games you can play in VR
We’ve tested practically every VR headset imaginable over the last few years, and we’re here to recommend the top picks for six different kinds of user.
Buying a VR headset: Picking the right one
A virtual reality headset can be a fairly daunting purchase, even with the price of high-end devices from Oculus and HTC reducing over the last few years.
With this in mind, it’s important to grasp the key trends around VR headsets in 2019. In the barest terms, there’s two types of headsets to choose between: standalone VR and PC-powered VR.
Standalone VR, as the name suggests, works without any input from another device; you simply power it on and begin exploring.
VR headsets for PCs are a bit different.
They’re more powerful and will deliver the best quality VR experience on the market, though this obviously comes at a more expensive price.
More reading: Oculus Black Friday deals 2019
Of course, you may also remember mobile VR, though this is now considered a dying platform.
Google Cardboard’s popularity has died down, its Daydream platform is being discontinued and even Samsung’s Gear VR isn’t supported by the latest smartphones.
There’s also console VR to consider, available for both the Nintendo Switch and Sony PlayStation 4.
Whichever platform you’re interested in, scan our top picks below, which includes options for those on a budget and those who want the best of the best.
1. Oculus Rift S
Best VR headset in 2019
Buy now: Amazon | $399.99
Oculus has progressed considerably in the past few years, not least due to the backing of Facebook. And with the Rift S, the company offers the best blend of both platform, price and design.
It may not be as powerful as the Valve Index, which costs more than double, and it does only represent an incremental upgrade on the original Rift, but it has everything you need for an elite VR experience.
It offers a 1280 x 1440 pixels-per-eye resolution in its two LCD screens, paired a refresh rate of 80 Hz, helping immerse you in an abundant collection of apps and games in the Oculus Store.
The Insight Tracking also means you don’t need to set up external sensors, though you will need to use the Oculus Touch controllers and have a VR-ready PC for it to reach its full potential.
Read more in our full Oculus Rift S review.
2. HTC Vive Pro
Best VR headset for hardcore PC users
Buy now: Amazon | $799.99
The HTC Vive Pro misses out on top spot due to its lofty price tag, but, at least on paper, this is the most powerful headset we’ve tested.
It costs twice as much as the Oculus Rift S, but what you get in return are better specs, such as the higher 2880 x 1600 pixel-per-eye resolution.
With a higher refresh rate, tracking area and a lighter design – not to mention handy features like gesture control – this is the VR headset for those who just want the very best the space has to offer.
The Steam store is comparable to Oculus’, so you won’t be short of games or apps to choose from, but it’s worth noting that you can still pick up the original HTC Vive for $399.99.
Aside from the improved visuals and tweaked design, it’s not a massive step down on the Pro.
Read more in our full HTC Vive Pro review.
3. Oculus Quest
Best standalone VR headset
Buy now: Amazon | $399.99
The Rift S represents the top-end of Oculus wares, but, for those who don’t have a PC to match it, the Quest is a top pick and unquestionably the best standalone headset you can buy.
Standalone, in this sense, means this is a machine that’s ready to go right out of the box. There’s no external sensors to set up and connect to – you just need to scan the area you want to track in with the controller and away you go.
As we say, this doesn’t have the same flashy specs as the Rift S (or obviously the HTC Vive Pro), but a pixel resolution is 1440 x 1600 and a 72 Hz refresh rate is nothing to be sniffed at.
Trust us, it’s good enough to ensure you’ll lose an hour (or six) inside the headset without even thinking about it – largely due to the impressive list of dedicated Oculus Quest games.
Read more in our full Oculus Quest review.
4. Oculus Go
Best budget VR headset
Buy now: Amazon | $199.99
Oculus’ lineup includes two headsets at the same price point, but bridging the gap between this and the regrettable mobile VR options is the Oculus Go – the top entry-level VR headset.
Naturally, it’s not as powerful as its siblings, but, in a way, it represents everything that was great about smartphone-powered VR and puts it into a package, well, without the need for smartphone.
You’ll get a 1280 x 1440 pixel resolution in each LCD screen, combined with a 60 HZ refresh rate. You’re not getting the room-scale tracking of more expensive headsets, but you do get head tracking and some excellent games for all levels of VR experience.
Read more in our full Oculus Go review.
5. Nintendo Labo VR
Best VR headset for kids
Buy now: Amazon | $59.99
The Oculus Go is one option for those who want to help kids enjoy the wonders of VR, but, for those who already have a Nintendo Switch, the company’s Labo VR Kit is an essential purchase.
This isn’t a headset like the rest of the entries on this list – strictly speaking, it’s more of an accessory – but it can quite easily make the case for being the most creative and fun way to experience the platform.
For those who haven’t heard of Nintendo’s Labo before, this package is the VR version of the company’s many DIY kits, which lets you build toy controllers out cardboard, reflective stickers and more. The toys, which are available in the starter kit and two expansion packs, are then used in specific mini-games and experiences.
This is Nintendo at its best, and though the VR goggles do offer some limited compatibility with two big titles – Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – save your effort for the real VR content.
Read more in our full Nintendo Labo VR review.
6. Sony PlayStation VR
Best VR headset for console gamers
Buy now: Amazon | $259.99
It may be a little long in the tooth, but Sony’s take on VR is still a viable option for those who own a PlayStation 4.
The platform still has great support, with new titles still launching for it this holiday season, and is intuitive as it gets when it comes to setup and play. Though this is wired VR, you only need your console to power it – no PC.
The downside to this option is that compatibility doesn’t stretch to every PlayStation game, and there’s also a strong chance we see PSVR 2 when the PS5 gets its release in late 2020.
In the meantime, why not explore the best PS4 VR titles?
Read more in our full Sony PlayStation VR review.