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Best Virtual Reality Headsets: Systems for PC & Smartphones (2019)
The world of virtual reality has changed a lot in the half-decade that it’s been in the mainstream.
I’ve seen devices with heavy price tags and wires replaced with shells that hold mobile phones and devices that are completely wireless. VR resolution has gone from looking like someone smeared vaseline on your glasses to being sharper than that nerd in your physics class.
I wrote this guide to help you determine what the best VR headset in 2019 is, as there are a bunch of great options available. At the end of the guide, you should be able to choose a device that will provide you with a top-notch experience.
What to Look for in a VR Headset?
If you go to an online store and search for “VR headset”, you’re going to get a bunch of products offered to you.
Most of these devices are crap, and you should avoid them like that lady at the bar with the big sore on her lip.
With that being said, there are a lot of great options out there, and if you do your homework (ie. read this guide) you’re more likely to end up finding something of value.
I’ve compiled a bunch of things to look for when shopping for a VR headset, and I think you’d be wise to consult them.
The old adage is, “You get what you pay for”.
This is true in many different aspects in life, and it certainly applies to virtual reality.
You can be tempted to buy into products that have a cheap price point, but you should be looking beyond the price. What features does the headset offer, and why is it so cheap?
If you look a little deeper, you’ll find that the headset manufacturer probably cut corners and the end result is something more likely to make you hurl than feel like you’re in another world.
Resolution plays an important role in virtual reality, as it helps to bring something virtual to your eyeballs.
If the headset’s screen resolution is bad, you probably won’t be able to buy into the experience, killing immersion and making you sour on VR.
Higher-end devices can alleviate this, and I’m even seeing some screens with 4K screens starting to pop up.
Did you know that audio plays a huge part in the VR experience?
It’s just as important as video, at least in my eyes. Many apps and headsets integrate 3D audio, giving you depth of sound instead of a traditional stereo experience. Devices like the Oculus Rift come with awesome 3D audio headphones included, and it’s a real value proposition.
You should definitely consider whether the VR headset you’re looking at comes with 3D headphones, or at least supports it.
If you want to see how cool 3D audio is, plug in some headphones and listen to the video below:
Some Android VR headsets come with simple controls to help you navigate your virtual environment, and nearly all higher-end headsets do as well. You want to make sure you choose a headset that includes great controllers that have solid tracking to give you the most accurate look and feel possible.
The HTC Vive controllers are fantastic in this regard, and if you can find something similar, you’re gonna have an awesome time.
Speaking of tracking, I shouldn’t forget to mention this as something to look for in a VR headset.
Tracking is another important element leading to immersion, so you want to make sure your device has a good way to support your movement. Most mobile VR headsets have 3 degrees of freedom (3DoF), meaning you can go left and right while also looking up and down, but you can’t move forward and backward.
Higher-end VR devices usually have motion tracking, which allows you to also move forward and backward.
This is called 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) and is superior in almost every way.
The last thing I’ll recommend you look into before selecting a VR headset is the device’s interface.
Oculus products differ from most other PC VR headsets, in that they have their own interface and ecosystem, while others traditionally use Viveport or Steam VR to launch games.
Mobile headsets are big on running in limited app launchers or individual apps and aren’t nearly as comprehensive as the big boys.
New Trends for VR in 2019
Developers have been fine-tuning their hardware since the first products hit the open market.
The main complaints for users have stemmed from poor resolution, being attached with wires, and motion tracking, among others.
I took a look at just where the VR industry is heading moving forward, and what you can expect from VR headsets moving forward.
I hate being tied to my console or PC when playing VR.
It’s enough to kill the immersion for me, and I’ve heard countless other users with similar complaints.
Thankfully, developers have heard you, and we’re starting to see major headsets going that route.
Oculus has released the Quest, which is a fully wireless experience, and Sony has filed a patent that could see the PlayStation VR being a wireless experience.
I sure hope this continues to be the trend, as it’s a huge barrier to entry for a lot of users.
Augmented Reality Making a Splash
For the uninitiated, augmented reality is a lot like virtual reality, but instead of fully putting you in a virtual world, the device uses external cameras to let you see your surroundings, with virtual overlays present.
AR technology has been built into several types of devices, with Apple having made a substantial investment by putting it into their iPhones. We can expect developers to begin making a wider splash into the tech moving forward, which will really show off the potential of the VR hybrid.
One often overlooked aspect of virtual reality is the social scene. You may not be aware of it, but you can watch concerts, movies, and hang out with large groups of other users using just your headset.
This may seem surprising, seeing as how you’re usually sitting in a room all alone with a headset blocking out the outside world, but social interactions are huge in VR.
Apps like Bigscreen are showing movies and TV shows, allowing a bunch of users to partake in an experience while chatting it up. Facebook has also hosted events where users can watch comedy sets, and there was a recent Tenacious D concert that was broadcast in VR.
I think that social holds a ton of promise for VR, and I’m interested to see the types of events we can expect to see this year and beyond.
More Educational Experiences
Kids generally moan when they find out that they have to do something school-related, but it’s possible that VR could provide a cool boost to kids. There have been various apps created to let users learn about certain historical events, with Apollo 11 letting you try to land on the moon, while Titanic lets you investigate the doomed ship.
Letting students participate in experiences like this gives them an extra level of immersion, potentially letting them absorb the information better. Guided field trips and visits are being developed, and with the price of headsets falling, I think it’s likely we’ll see more VR learning experiences introduced this year.
The Ability to Watch New Released Movies in VR
This trend sort of goes with the social experiences mentioned above. Bigscreen has been working on distribution deals with major movie production groups to secure the ability to sell movie tickets within their app.
Last year, users were treated to a free Top Gun 3D showing, and it’s expected that new 3D movies will be launched this year.
The experiences would see you buying a virtual movie ticket in the Bigscreen app, where you then join other users to watch the movie. 3D movies look fantastic in VR, and if I get a chance to watch the new Top Gun: Maverick when it’s released, I’m gonna pee my pants in excitement.
More Polished Experiences and Apps Coming Our Way
When VR headsets first launched, the software wasn’t necessarily ready for primetime. Games were short experiences, and some of them weren’t all that polished, feeling more like a beta than a finished product.
Things have gotten better over the years, and if 2019 is any indication, we’re going to continue seeing better VR games being developed. The Vader Immortal experience on Oculus is simply stunning, and other games like Beat Saber feel like a full experience for those who buy them.
I can’t wait to see what other games will be coming down the pike, as platforms need more good games to help make VR a success. Things are especially limited on the new Oculus Quest, and I want to see new titles flowing to my eyeballs on a monthly basis.
The Five Best VR Headsets of 2019
Because VR is so fragmented, I decided to break down the best VR headsets by category that they fill.
This may not end up being the decisive list you were hoping for, but it’s at least comprehensive and full of honest opinions… not sales-y crap.
Without further adieu, here are the headsets I think are the best.
Oculus Quest: The Best Standalone Headset
- Receive all 3 Episodes of Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series and Lightsaber Dojos when you purchase an Oculus Quest headset between 11/21/2019 and 01/31/2020 (limited time only). Oculus Quest must be activated within 30 days of purchase to redeem offer.
- All-in-one VR: No PC. No wires. No limits. Oculus Quest is an all-in-one gaming system built for virtual reality. Now you can play almost anywhere with just a VR headset and controllers.
Last update on 2019-12-09 / Source: Amazon Affiliates
The Oculus Quest launched in Spring of 2019 and has taken the world by storm. In fact, Facebook (the owners of Oculus) CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during an earnings call that Oculus is selling Quest headsets as fast as they can make them.
Why are they such a hit?
The Quest brings 6 degrees of freedom to users with a completely wireless setup. Furthermore, the Quest delivers an experience that’s similar to what you’d find on the original Oculus Rift, despite having the computer components crammed into the headset itself.
I have had my Quest since launch, and I have to say that it’s an amazing device. I haven’t really used my PlayStation VR since I got the Quest, as it’s a huge pain in the booty to hook up all the wires. With the Quest, I just slip the headset on and go to town.
The Quest features a high-end screen that gives you a resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye at 72Hz. This is superior to most other headsets available, and the pixel density comes in at a hefty 539 PPI (pixels per inch). The end result is stunning visuals for many apps that really make it seem like you’re somewhere else.
On the tracking side of things, the Quest uses an inside-out solution to track movement using cameras attached to the headset itself. It also uses these to track your Touch Controllers (which come with the device). The tracking was always “good”, but an update in Summer 2019 made the controller tracking much better.
When you combine all of these features together with the Oculus ecosystem and good price point starting at $399, you get the best all-in-one VR headset experience available.
PlayStation VR: Console VR Gaming at Its Finest
- Contains: PlayStation VR headset, Processor unit, PlayStation VR headset connection cable, HDMI cable, USB cable, Stereo headphones, AC power cord, AC adaptor, PlayStation VR Demo Disc
- Games Come First - With gamers in mind, PlayStation delivers a new world of unexpected gaming experiences through PlayStation VR
Last update on 2019-12-09 / Source: Amazon Affiliates
Seeing as how I’m a huge VR nerd, I’ve had my PlayStation VR since it launched a few years back.
Despite the newer options available for PC and standalone, the PSVR stands out as being the sole option for console gamers. Even though it’s considered an “old fogey” in the annals of technology, the device is still a wonderful VR headset.
The PlayStation VR is the best-selling major VR headset of all-time, with millions of units sold.
You get the chance to play wonderful VR games like Beat Saber, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, and Ace Combat 7 in this device (the latter two are exclusives). While it can be out-classed in terms of specs by other headsets, the PSVR is still a great device, and it provides immersion at a reasonable rate.
The headset does have 6 degrees of freedom, as it uses the PlayStation 4 Camera to track your headset and Move Controllers. The Move Controllers are a piece of tech that launched nearly a decade ago, and although they aren’t nearly as accurate as the Touch mentioned above, they still do a decent enough job for most games.
The real joy here is being able to sit in a seat and use your DualShock 4 to play games like Ace Combat or Resident Evil 7, as the controls are much, much better.
You can find the PSVR on special from time to time, getting a good bundle with a bunch of games for less than you can get just an Oculus Quest or HTC Vive for. If you have a PS4 and want to get into VR, I highly recommend this headset.
Oculus Rift S: A Great PC Alternative
- Top VR gaming library: Blast, slash and soar your way through the top library in VR gaming. Oculus Rift S lets you play hundreds of games and exclusives already available in the Oculus store, with so much more to come.
- Improved Optics: Stare down the competition with next-generation lenses and a sharper display. Improved optics deliver bright, vivid colors and reduced “screen-door” effect.
Last update on 2019-12-09 / Source: Amazon Affiliates
If you’re looking to buy a PC virtual reality headset but don’t want to drop a small fortune, the Oculus Rift S may be the best alternative. The headset is a refresh of the original Oculus Rift product and was launched in May 2019, making the CV1 obsolete.
You end up getting better resolutions, with the headset providing a resolution of 2560 x 1440 at 90Hz refresh rate. While it’s not as large of an upgrade as what HTC did with the Vive Pro, the S changes the game in many ways.
You also get inside-out tracking for the headset and Touch Controllers, much like what you get with the Quest.
I’ve found that the tracking is a bit sharper than the Quest, as the cameras on the headset don’t seem to get “lost” like it’s sister headset.
Speaking of the controllers, the Rift S uses the same style Touch Controllers that the S has, so you can’t use the old-school controls (with the loop underneath) with the new headset. The Oculus ecosystem is the cleanest I’ve come across, and the trend continues with the Rift S. Things are just so much easier to navigate here.
Roomscale VR is available, and while it’s not as great as the Vive’s setup, it’s still pretty cool.
You end up setting up a “guardian” system, where you draw the outlines of your play space. If you end up getting close to the edge of the space, gridlines appear. If you put your head through the space, you get a black and white video showing you your surroundings in real-time.
For the price point, the Oculus Rift S is an excellent option, as you could buy more than two whole devices for the price of one Vive Pro HMD. Of course, you’re still going to end up having a gaming PC to power the software, which is a hefty investment to have to make.
Samsung Gear VR: The Best Mobile Headset
- Be transported to amazing new worlds, in games, video and images. 360° experience. Weight 0.76lbs
- Use the intuitive controller that comes in the box to drop, point, select and Drag with a Wave of your wrist
Last update on 2019-12-09 / Source: Amazon Affiliates
I’ll be frank with you: most mobile VR headsets are terrible, and if you get a bad one, you’re going to hate VR.
My wife is one of these people, as she tried an actual Google Cardboard, and thought it was stupid. I have a hard time getting her to try GOOD VR these days, but the Gear VR is one device that she likes.
The Gear VR is more expensive than a lot of the crap headsets, but once again, “You get what you pay for”. The comfort is among the best I’ve seen for this style headset, and the controller that comes with it serves as a sturdy way to interact with your environments.
While the price may be higher than drugstore junk headsets, you can often find them on sale. I recall seeing a Gear VR on clearance at my local department store in March, coming in at less than half of what a traditional video game disc costs. That’s a whale of a deal!
The Gear VR is a tie-up between Samsung and Oculus, giving you access to the latter’s ecosystem, complete with a Zen-style room to get your bearings in.
This is a fantastic device, but it’s contingent on you having a compatible Samsung phone. Cheap burner phones won’t cut the mustard, either. You’re going to need the likes of the Note 8 or Galaxy to use in the system.
If you do have a Note, you’ll want to make sure you get a compatible Gear, as some of the older versions don’t fit the behemoth’s body.
Oculus Go: The Choice if You Don’t Want to Use a Phone
- Personal Viewing: The littlest, big screen. Crystal clear optics and state-of-the-art 3D graphics make your headset feel more like a personal theater
- Viewing with Friends: Watch with friends. Meet up in VR with friends and fans from around the world to catch live sports, concerts, or just your favorite TV show
Last update on 2019-12-09 / Source: Amazon Affiliates
Another section, another Oculus product recommendation. I have to give some love to the Oculus Go though, as it’s an all-in-one solution that doesn’t burn your smartphone’s battery. It is mainly tied to mobile experiences, but the resolution is high enough to arguably make it better to use than a true mobile VR headset.
The Go includes a microphone as well as 3D audio into the headset, which is present in the head strap. You don’t have to stick anything into your ears, and the quality of the sound is fantastic.
The Oculus Go headset does come with a nice controller to navigate the world. It’s very similar to the controller that comes with the above Gear VR, but you can also sync a Bluetooth pad if you want more control. I personally use my Xbox One S controller and leave it in my carrying case with the Go.
If there is a downside to the Oculus Go, it’s the fact that the headset isn’t 6 degrees of freedom. This means that you can’t go back and forth, and if you try to, there’s a good chance you’re going to feel sicker than that time you had 10 beers in a few hours.
While it’s not officially supported, you can also do some sideloading into your Go, which lets you add Android apps that may not otherwise be supported. I actually downloaded a new Netflix app, as the stock version has a limited resolution and no ability to download movies. The sideloaded app solves these issues, and there are a bunch of good things you can load.
There have likely been wars fought and won in the time it took you to read this whole guide, but I hope you found it worthwhile. There are so many different ways to consume virtual reality that it makes choosing the best VR headsets difficult.
In the end, the best headset really comes down to what your needs are.
If you’re looking for a great all-around headset, I highly recommend the Oculus Quest. It’s become my daily-driver for VR, and I cannot wait to see what the Oculus team does with it.
Individual Headset Reviews
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