As a '90s kid, I dreamed about being able to jump into my video games and experience those worlds firsthand. That day has finally come: You can buy a virtual reality headset, bring it home to your living room, and step into a virtual fantasy world Star Trek-style (literally). And yes, it's an absolute blast. While there aren’t too many different VR headsets on the market right now worth considering, each has distinct advantages, as well as limitations.
Every single person was skeptical going in, and every single one was blown away.
VR headsets: Is virtual reality worth it right now?
When the first VR headsets started trickling out, I was extremely skeptical. But after using the then just-launched, original HTC Vive — one of the first modern consumer VR headsets, which has since evolved — I was immediately hooked. Even the headset's tutorial had me giggling in amazement as I stumbled around my living room. Since then, I've owned and reviewed multiple VR headsets, and showed off multiple games to dozens of friends and family members, most of whom are not even gamers. Every single person was skeptical going in, and every single one was blown away, eyes wide and smiling, when they took the headset off.
That said, VR is still in its relative infancy. The screens aren't as sharp as they could be, the headsets are a tad heavy and some people can experience motion sickness, particularly in more open-world games where you use a controller to walk around. Most games aren't like that, though. While there are full-blown games like Half-Life: Alyx and Skyrim VR, most titles are smaller in scale.
Arcade shooters like Space Pirate Trainer and Robo Recall keep you more or less confined to a 6-by-6 foot space, shooting enemies that come at you in waves. Rhythm games like Beat Saber and Pistol Whip are like Guitar Hero for the VR generation, while Rec Room and Population: One provide online multiplayer experiences you can play with friends. Other games, like Superhot VR and Job Simulator, are truly unique, showing off what VR does best. Oh, and if you want to fulfill your lifelong dream of swinging a lightsaber with Darth Vader, VR can grant your wish.
So while you aren't getting the same full-blown gaming experience as you would on a PlayStation, Xbox, or PC, it's still loads of fun — and it gets you up and moving, which is never a bad thing. If you’re wondering whether to finally invest in and try out VR yourself or are on the fence regarding gifting VR to someone, here are the leading VR headsets to consider right now.
Best VR headsets: What to buy
There are a number of VR and AR (augmented reality) headsets out there, but there are only a few that are really worth buying, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages.
Best VR headset overall: Oculus
I recommend almost anyone interested in VR look at Facebook's Oculus Quest 2. It's a standalone headset so you don't need to hook it up to a PC or game console — you just charge it, put it on, and start playing. It allows for wireless "room-scale" VR, meaning you can walk around your play space freely, and it has a lot of games and experiences to choose from. If anything you want to play isn't in the Oculus store, you can hook the Quest up to your PC with a compatible USB cable and play PC-based VR games, as well — it's really a jack-of-all-trades. For the best experience, grab the Elite Strap, which is a bit more comfortable than the included one.
Best advanced VR headset: Valve
If you have a powerful gaming PC and want the best VR has to offer, the Valve Index offers higher quality graphics, a more comfortable headset and super advanced controllers with built-in finger and pressure tracking for a more realistic experience. Unlike the Quest, though, the Index isn't wireless, requiring you to hook the headset up to a PC for all games, which can feel slightly more limiting as you move around the room. It also requires a few sensors placed around the room or on your walls, which — coupled with the requirement of a decent gaming PC — make this a good option for more seasoned gamers (and ones better able to invest in their VR setup).
Best VR headset for PlayStation gamers: Playstation
Sony's own VR headset is a bit older than the above options, and we don't know if Sony has a new PS5-based iteration planned on the horizon. For now, the PSVR still occupies a nice compromise between the Quest and Index. You get arguably better graphics than the Quest in a more comfortable headset, but you'll need to wire it up to your PlayStation — and the headset's tracking doesn't allow you to move around the whole room in the same way the Quest and Index do. The PlayStation does have a huge library of games, though, including some you may already own. So if you already have a PS4 or PS5, a PSVR headset may be a natural addition if the Quest doesn't appeal to you.