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The best VR headset for 2020

Oculus Quest, HTC Vive or PSVR? It all depends on who you are, and how much you want to spend.

John Kim/CNET

Last year, the Oculus Quest was the coolest self-contained VR headset around. But that may not mean that it's the headset for you.

Yes, VR is still a thing, and it's seeing a huge spike in interest in the lead-up to the release of the much-anticipated Half-Life: Alyx. There are are plenty of headsets you could buy, many of which are really good at what they do. But the idea of VR in 2020 is totally in transition. Know that companies like Qualcomm (which makes the chips inside most self-contained VR headsets, including the Oculus Quest) are building new chips that point to a wave of better standalone headsets, including ones that plug right into your phone -- and might even cost less.

Meanwhile, remember those older phone-based VR headsets, like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream? They're basically dead, and many current phones don't even work with the old goggles anyway. If phone-based VR comes back, it'll more likely be in the form of small headsets that plug into phones via USB-C.

Read more: Best gaming PCs for 2020 

Are you a PC person? Getting a solid PC-connected VR headset offers the most versatile collection of software for an immersive experience, and also lets you use that headset for creative and business tools. Plus, you can play Valve's Half-Life: Alyx, probably the most eagerly awaited VR game ever made. These more powerful headsets are still largely tethered to a desktop or laptop, and some require external sensors, so they may not be practical for you. 

Read more: Want to play Half-Life: Alyx? Here's the VR gear that works  

Meanwhile, for console gamers, the aging PlayStation VR is still fun if it's on sale, mainly because there are loads more great games for this device than you'd think.

Just know that VR is still here, but it's evolving. Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality headsets aren't really ready yet, so in the meantime a solid VR rig is your best bet for escaping to other worlds. (Note that prices are subject to change.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Good: Self-contained and wireless; great touch controllers; comfortable design for gaming.

Bad: More limited library of apps; standalone design limits more advanced apps and tools.

At $400 with nothing else needed, the Oculus Quest delivers virtual reality games and an immersive experience anywhere. The Quest reminds me of the Nintendo Switch for its versatility and fun, and takes mere seconds to start up. The Quest also fits really well over glasses. It has self-contained tracking and full-motion six degree of freedom (aka 6DoF) controllers that are the same as the ones on the PC-required Oculus Rift, plus a surprisingly great high-resolution display and built-in speakers. Apps are downloaded right to the headset's onboard storage. Its more limited mobile processor still plays games such as Beat Saber, Moss and SuperHot VR extremely well, and it can even connect with a PC if you want to, using a single USB-C cable. Read our Oculus Quest review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Good: Plenty of games; lower price; works with many PS4 controllers such as the DualShock and Move.

Bad: Resolution isn't cutting-edge; Sony hasn't yet made great VR controllers that match the competition.

Sony's 3-plus-year-old PSVR headset is still the only head-mounted display for gaming consoles, and its screen still offers a surprisingly immersive experience. Even better, it's often on sale for as low as $200, sometimes with games thrown in, too. Sony has delivered (and continues to deliver) many excellent virtual reality games, many of them exclusives. All you need is the PSVR and a PlayStation 4 and you can start playing. (A few good games to start with are listed here.) This system is showing its age, though, compared to the alternatives. Read our Sony PlayStation VR review.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Good: Reasonable all-in price; crisp display; in-headset room tracking; really good controllers.

Bad: Bulky headset isn't very portable; can't flip up like some other VR headsets.

The Oculus Rift S is an improvement over the original 2016 Rift PC headset, adding overdue features such as a higher-resolution display and self-contained room tracking via five cameras studded in the Rift S headset. No more external cameras or sensors are needed, making the Rift S much easier to use casually.

Oculus' collection of games and apps is excellent, and the Oculus Store is easy to browse for games for first-time Rift users. In-headset tracking for the Rift S isn't always as seamless or as large-scale as the holodeck-like room tracking on the HTC Vive and Valve Index, but not needing to install any extra hardware is a huge help. The Rift S still uses a cable tethered to your PC, but at least that one cable is pretty compact.

(Note that at time of latest update the Rift S was not available at Oculus, possibly due to high demand ahead of Half-Life: Alyx, and apart from resellers charging $550 or more, the only place we found it for sale was Lenovo.) Read more about the Oculus Rift S.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Good: Amazing futuristic controllers; high-quality headset; works with Vive hardware.

Bad: Expensive; requires room setup and tethering cable.

Valve's new headset might be the most interesting PC virtual reality experience this year, just for its fancy new controllers. Valve's "knuckle" controllers are pressure-sensitive and can track all five fingers, making them almost like gloves. Not many apps make the most of them yet, but Valve's hardware is mix-and-match compatible with the HTC Vive, which also is built on the Steam VR platform. The Index headset has excellent audio and a really sharp, wide field-of-view display.

The Index uses external "lighthouse" boxes, meaning you need to set those up in a room first. It's not as self-contained as Oculus' Rift S, which can track the room with in-headset cameras, or the HTC Vive Cosmos. And, it's definitely not wireless. But if you already have some Vive hardware, you could add on parts of the Index, and mix and match. Read our Valve Index review.

Angela Lang/CNET

Good: Modular faceplates for extra features; built-in tracking; flip-up visor

Bad: More expensive than the Rift S or the original Vive

A wild-card pick for PC VR is the Vive Cosmos, the follow-up to 2016's HTC Vive. The Cosmos has self-contained tracking like the Oculus Rift S and a better-resolution display than the original Vive, but also has swappable faceplates that will add more cameras for mixed reality and external sensor tracking (for larger holodeck-type experiences). The Cosmos can get expensive, but its flexibility might be intriguing for creators. And a bonus: you can use Valve Index accessories with it. Read more about the HTC Vive Cosmos.

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More VR coverage from GameSpot