If software is the road that leads to all VR experiences, then the VR headset is the car you would use to traverse that road. In regular flat gaming, you can take a game and play it on pretty much any TV and have varied, yet decent enough experience.
No matter the resolution, screen ratio or size, you’re guaranteed to have a decent baseline experience with gaming on a tv screen or monitor. However, Your experience in VR can go from alright on an HTC Vive, to incredible on a Pimax 8kx simply due to the inherent hardware differences that go into each headset.
This is because you’re going from screens that have 1080×1200 per eye with the Vive, to 3840 x 2160 per eye, and because of how VR screens and lenses work together you’re not only getting a much sharper image but the added pixels allow you to actually see further as well. Comfort and audio are also important considerations as well. Do you want built-in, on-ear headphones that may lack quality compared to your gaming headset? Do you want a stretchy nylon-based headband, or something more rigid that cushions your forehead, the base of your skull?
These are all important questions that should be considered, and they will be when I recommend you of the top 3 VR headset choices you currently have available!
Valve’s Very Own High-End Offering: The Valve Index
The Valve Index is certainly the most expensive option of the 3 that I’m presenting to you today, however, you get what you pay for; quality, comfort, and functionality. If money is no issue for you, then this is the virtual reality headset to buy.
Here are the key features of the Vale Index:
- The Index features two 1440 x 1660 LCD displays, with refresh rates at 80, 90, 120 and 144hz.
- A Field-of-View of around 120 degrees. Lots to see, even more to do.
- It’s wired to your PC, and requires a PC to use. Nothing standalone or wireless here…yet.
- Has full mechanical IDP adjustment, with a range of 58 to 70mm.
- The Index is regarded as one of the most comfortable that you can buy.
- Comes with the Index controllers that feature individual finger-tracking.
- The headset and controllers are widely accepted across SteamVR from a software standpoint. With the controllers being very immersive and intuitive.
- Does not use inside-out tracking, but uses base-stations placed around your room’s playspace to track the headset and controllers.
- The entire setup retails for $999.99, or $499 for just the headset itself, and the controllers for $279 by themselves.
- Of the 3 VR headsets on this list, The Valve Index is the oldest. That’s okay though when it does so many things so well.
Facebook’s Standalone Oculus Quest 2
The Quest 2 is the cheapest option of the 3 headsets here, and sadly there are some corners cut like comfort, and usability to keep the price as low as it is. Thanks to the low price, the Quest 2 now rivals Playstation VR in terms of total units sold, which overall is a win for the VR community.
Here are the key features of the Oculus Quest 2:
- The Quest 2 features 1 LCD panel, with the resolution of 1832 x 1920 per eye.
- The LCD panel runs at 72, and 90hz refresh rate.
- Has a Field-of-View of around 95 degrees, which isn’t as little as it sounds.
- Quest 2 Is a stand-alone headset with its own CPU/GPU inside (the Qualcomm XR2 chipset, 6gb of RAM, and 64gb and 256gb versions), and does not need a PC!
- It can be plugged into the PC via Link Cable for PCVR play, or you can use Virtual Desktop and stream PCVR games to the Quest with minimal latency (this is what I do!).
- Out of the box, the Quest 2 lacks heavily in comfort, and in my opinion, it is worth spending another $15-$50 for a 3rd party head-strap addon, or replacement.
- Has a serviceable audio solution built into the head-strap, I would recommend your own headphones, or earbuds instead if the clarity is important to you.
- Slightly bigger controllers with improved ergonomics. Still requires 2 AA batteries each, but a single charge lasts far longer than before!
- Features inside-out tracking, and can be set up, and played anywhere where you have the space in your home, or even outside on cloudy days.
- The Quest 2 only features 3 settings for IPD adjustment: 58, 63, and 68. So if your IPD falls in between those, or outside of that range, you may find it hard to find the visual sweet-spot for maximum clarity and sharpness.
- It has hand-tracking support for menu browsing, and some games allow you to play without controllers
- Has between 2 and 3 hours of battery life, and takes roughly the same amount of time to charge to full from zero.
- The Quest 2 retails for just $299.
Windows Mixed Reality’s Latest Innovation: HP Reverb G2
If Oculus and Steam VR are brothers, then Windows Mixed Reality is their cousin. Unlike Oculus, WMR has full compatibility with Steam VR; this allows you to take any WMR headset, and play any Steam VR game with usually no strings attached. The HP Reverb G2 is a sequel to the underwhelming HP Reverb. This time around they changed and improved everything else beyond the already industry’s highest resolution.
Here are the key features of the HP Reverb G2:
- The Reverb G2 features 2 LCD panels, with each eye at 2160 x 2160 resolution.
- The refresh rate is a standard 90hz. Don’t even think about trying to get higher frames out of your PC at those resolutions!
- Has a field of view of around 114 degrees. I do wish the Quest 2 was just a little closer to this degree.
- This headset features inside-out tracking just like the Quest 2, so no need for bulky cameras around the room.
- Unfortunately, it’s still completely wired to your PC. The cord itself is 6 meters in length so that does leave quite a bit of leeway.
- Windows Mixed Reality feature set that includes your own virtual home base that is customizable with various furniture, and apps!
- The same audio over-ear audio solution as the Valve Index with 3D spatial audio.
Features the latest Windows Mixed Reality controller with improved ergonomics and comfort. However, they still require AA batteries.
- Like the Valve Index, the Reverb G2 has mechanical IPD adjustment for ranges between 60 and 68 millimeters.
- The faceplate that goes on your face is attached to the headset itself via magnets and can be easily swapped out during party play.
- Uses the same proprietary technology that went into the lenses of the Valve Index.
- Retails at a reasonable midrange point of $599.
- Comfort-wise, the Reverb G2 features the same padded head-strap from the Index, one that cradles the base of your skull in ways that are much more comfortable than I’m making it sound.
The HP Reverb G2 is one of the better 2nd generation VR headsets, with a price point that sits between Enthusiast and Starter kit. This is a great headset for anyone that likes Windows Mixed Reality, on top of the stellar design that went in to make the Valve Index so beloved.
Should You Buy An Older VR Headset?
All in all, these are just a few of the total amount of headsets out there. I would honestly avoid a lot of the early generation headsets unless you get an absolutely killer price of less than $150. That said, this is only the beginning of VR hardware as both sales of software and headsets soar during a time where staying home is encouraged.
I hope this guide found you well and encouraged you to one day try what a lot of people now can’t do without! Me Included!!