The Best VR Headsets Available in 2019
Virtual reality is quite a reality today (pun unintended), though not so ubiquitous as it seemed back in, say, the early 1990s. In 2015 there was a breakthrough of announces and concepts, and something close to what we had seen in The Lawnmower Man and Disclosure. With nothing like a complete world takeover, VR has found its niche first of all in gaming. That’s where it totally makes sense.
But VR defaults haven’t been established yet. Instead, we have an exotic zoo of proprietary accessories, compatible with various sorts of devices, platforms, and software, and sometimes even quite standalone. Mostly they are about gaming, so no wonder there are almost no practical apps, except for museum or city guides. A good thing, though, and making enough sense to keep VR devices manufactured and sold.
On the other hand, we’re living in the time that later will be referenced to as “The Golden Age of Virtual Reality”. Before settling down with the defaults, the industry will generate lots of various form-factors, technological solutions, firmware versions, and exclusive software for each device. Probably later, we (or our children) will see today’s diversity just like we see the picture of mobile store shelves from the pre-iPhone era. It’s trial and error in real-time we witness now.
Well, are you feeling the importance of the moment now? So hold your breath for a moment, and let’s proceed to the actual devices, the bricks that form today’s VR temple. We still don’t know which of the technologies will shape the future mainstream, like touchscreen phones, and which will remain exotic, like double-screens or external camera modules. But what we have now is enough to make a choice, while we have it.
Types of VR Devices
So, let’s start with sorting. There are several types of VR devices now:
- Phone-based headsets. These require your phone as the screen, split into two halves, and generally have nothing but the case and the lenses. Some advanced models of this sort may have their own headphones and anatomical construction, but that doesn’t change the essence: they are simple and cheap.
- Computer-based headsets. A headset paired to a stationary device needs to have its own displays and audio speakers, controls, and data transfer modules. These are rather expensive, and often only compatible with the parent device by the same vendor. But they provide much higher comfort and quality.
- Standalone ones. In fact, they are something like a phone or a tablet in the shape of a headset. They don’t need extra hardware or software, being quite self-sufficient.
This classification doesn’t let us choose the best VR headset in 2019 that beats all the others: how do you compare one for Samsung phones only to another, only compatible with Sony PlayStation? They aren’t just different; they are from different categories. So when choosing yours, keep in mind what devices you already have, for your headset to fit your ecosystem. And so we’re ready off to each device.
Oculus Quest – I Don’t Need Nobody
The first one on our list is the most expensive one ($400/500), and that’s understood. In fact, it has a built-in mobile computer, in addition to solid build quality and great hardware components. Based on Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the flagship chipset for mobile devices of 2017, it provides decent performance. It has also a stereo display of high resolution and a built-in speaker. The device comes with 64 or 128 GB memory, and that’s the only difference between versions.
As for controls, it’s equipped with built-in motion detectors and controllers that provide six degrees of freedom. The separate touch controllers from Oculus Rift are here as well, letting you move your hands as you do in real life, and your motions will be digitized and interpreted correctly with the Oculus Insight system. The headset itself is anatomical, and even more: it fits over glasses quite well.
This one is quite great for games like SuperHot, Beat Saber, or Vader Immortal. But there’s still a feeling of excessive power that doesn’t have a real application yet. And first of all, it’s because it lacks games.
Sony PlayStation VR: A PS4 Extension
This device by Sony has been around for three years, and it has no rival at all. Neither Microsoft nor Nintendo made anything similar to their rivaling consoles. And there are no third-party alternatives for the PlayStation platform as well. As for the actual monopolist, PlayStation VR is surprisingly well done, providing great immersive gameplay.
If you have a PS4 already, it’s a great offer. Initially almost as pricey as Oculus Quest, now it can be found on sale for half the price, and sometimes the bundle includes the games, too. At the same time, lots of games for Sony PS4 come with native support for PS VR. The device will probably retain its compatibility when PS5 is out.
Connecting to the mother console wirelessly, it lets you move freely; but you will need enough space around you. On the other hand, its built-in controllers aren’t enough to control your character in games, and the traditional DualShock is not meant to imitate real moves.
Oculus Rift S: The Best Option for PC
In fact, it’s an improved version of the original Oculus Rift that is too obsolete for 2019 and thus not reviewed here. Technically, it’s just superb. It boasts two high resolution (1280*1440) screens, one for each eye. Combined, they provide a 2560*1440 (QHD) screen, just like that of a current Samsung or Motorola flagship phone. Along with that, the device has a five-camera system for room tracking, built right into the headset and leaving no need for extra sensors or cameras. That provides both safety and interactivity.
The headset needs to be connected to a PC via a cable (other platforms are not supported, neither is a wireless connection). The compatible games are available from the Oculus Store, and it looks just like any decent digital app store, with no complications (unlike, say, Steam VR). All of these games are compatible with controllers – the same as coming with Oculus Quest.
Valve Index: Futuristic and Brave
Valve projects are tightly based on the PC platform: first Steam, then this VR experience. Along with the headset itself, it features two “knuckle” controllers, similar to those by Oculus, and two base stations that connect to the headset and track its position and moves. The controllers are worn like gloves, and they offer buttons right under your fingers, easy to push. This comfort has its downside, though: too few games make full use of it so far. Among other pros, we’d like to highlight great headphones connected to the headset and wide view on built-in displays.
As for base stations, they are compatible with HTC Vive, just like other hardware. And no wonder: HTC builds its devices upon Steam VR, because it’s the default, and Valve builds it upon Steam VR just because Valve owns it.
Still, the developers couldn’t get rid of cables, despite base stations around. And it has no built-in cameras to recompense that. But this headset has two things that can make it the future classics. First is the platform that is also used by HTC and probably other manufacturers: the first step to potential industry standard. Second is the futuristic control system that game developers are sure to incorporate soon.
HP Reverb: for Working on PC
One of the most unusual (and the most expensive) headsets is at the same time one of the most impressive ones. Unlike those above, meant first of all for games, HP Reverb is rather a hardware component of various simulating sets. With its help you can train your soft skills (like speaking in public), take a new look at the design, or just create content for other VR devices; if it runs smoothly on HP Reverb, it will run on anything else.
The greatest thing about HP Reverb is its screens: they offer a fantastic resolution of 2160*2160 per eye. It also looks futuristic and feels very soft on the head where it touches. There is also a built-in tracking system that tracks and interprets your movements.
As for safety, HP Reverb uses Windows Mixed Reality technology, so you can look out to your real environment with the headset on, using the cameras. This approach removed the necessity of a flip-up visor, and that provides the great look of HP Reverb.
HTC Vive: A Versatile PC Companion
While HTC isn’t what it used to be on the smartphone market, it still feels sure in the VR industry. Its Vive headset is among the rare defaults, based on the same platform that Valve Index (and so fully compatible with Steam). It helps with both creating and consuming content (games, training simulators, panoramas, virtual tours, and so on), because of its versatility, quality screens, easy feel, and full-room experience.
Its Pro version is quite expensive, even more than HP Reverb: for $799 you get a headset with quite good 1400*1600 per eye (a bit less than in Reverb, but still great), and – for many, it’s the most important thing – with a wireless data connection. There is an eye-tracking edition, but its price increases to very, very high numbers due to more technologies.
Still, Vivo is the whole class of devices that provides choice, depending on your aims and your budget. If you are seriously into VR and intended to invest, it’s probably the best. But remember that other compatible headsets may lack what the premium versions of Vivo have.
Oculus Go: The Basic Option for No Motion
From the most expensive one we proceed to quite affordable ($200), similar to phone-based ones, though equipped with its own screens and speakers that form virtual reality. Oculus Go also comes with its own controller. While it’s obviously no option for gaming, Oculus Go delivers a great experience at virtual tours and VR videos.
Google Daydream View: The Simplest Phone-Based VR
Google offered the most affordable option for VR, named Google Cardboard, and then its reworked version that feels more comfortable and has more options. It still requires an Android smartphone inserted into it (as a display as well), only delivering visual and audial aspects like split view and stereo sound and providing a controller. On the other hand, it grants a very long roster of compatible games, and even if you purchase a dedicated Android smartphone for VR, it still may cost you less than Quest or Vivo.
Samsung Gear VR: for Samsung Only
Finally, Samsung Gear VR is just a pleasant bonus for those already on Samsung devices, not compatible with any other vendors. But if you own a smartphone by a Korean giant, you’ll get the best mobile VR experience from it. Games and apps are all checked and compatible, and, powered by Oculus, its software grants full compatibility and much smoother experience than that with a generic Daydream approach.
From all this list, devices by HTC and Valve seem the most probable candidates to shape the tomorrow. The future VR headsets will surely have their own chipsets and screens, and probably earphones. All the sensors to provide smooth interaction will be onboard, and the controllers will come in sleeve shape. The wireless modules will provide using the headset like the second screen for an external PC or mobile device, with some default technology supported by all of them.
There is nothing extraordinary or excessive in this approach. In this manner, an iPad can be connected to Mac as a second display with Sidecar, and pro DJ players, when linked to a laptop, act like external modules for it, despite being quite standalone devices. This duality seems the mainstream tendency.