Gaming

Best VR Headsets to Buy in 2022

PC, console or neither? Oculus Quest 2 or no? It depends on who you are, how much you want to spend and how long you can wait.

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Virtual reality continues to pick up steam in 2022. There have been recent innovations in the visuals, tracking and overall performance of VR tech, and big businesses are starting to acknowledge its power and potential for becoming a big part of everyday life down the road.

For example, Facebook (which has now been renamed Meta) has a new VR headset on the way that will support face tracking and mixed reality -- and will no doubt come with a pretty hefty price tag. Similarly, Apple is expected to have some form of VR/AR headset on the way by the end of 2022. Sony is also expected to release the PlayStation VR 2, which will work with the PlayStation 5 and feature new controllers, sometime this year. And in the meantime, we may see more phone-connected headsets like the HTC Vive Flow start to pop up, too.

If you're looking for the best VR headset, the ideal choice will depend on what you enjoy doing in the virtual world. VR technology is advancing rapidly, but right now, even the best VR headsets have their firmest foothold in the gaming market. That's right: This technology is currently best used to play video games. In fact, the Oculus Quest 2, which is an excellent home VR console, is one of my favorite ways to play games. 

If you're a gamer looking to enter the VR space, the Quest 2 remains our top pick for best VR headset experience, even though you need a Facebook account to use it. The Quest 2 also remains a strong entry point to VR that doesn't look like it will become obsolete next year.

Even better is that VR games are the best they've ever been. I've been impressed by Valve's VR masterpiece Half-Life: AlyxStar Wars: Squadrons on PC, and plenty of Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR games. But you still have to decide whether you want a headset that plugs into your PC, console or a stand-alone option like the Quest (which can double as a PC headset). The best VR headset for you ultimately depends on your needs and budget.

Oculus Quest 2

The Oculus Quest 2 is the best VR headset right now, but you may want another option if you have a PC or PlayStation 4/5.

Scott Stein/CNET

The world of VR tech is advancing, and more changes will come. Companies such as Qualcomm (which makes the chips inside most self-contained VR headsets, including the new Quest 2) are building new chips that point to a wave of better stand-alone headsets at lower prices -- including ones that plug into your phone. The more expensive and business-targeted Vive Focus 3 shows where more premium standalone VR headsets could evolve.

Meanwhile, the mobile phone-based VR headset -- like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream -- is basically dead. A good number of the current iPhone, Android and VR app options don't even work with the old mobile VR goggles. If smartphone-based VR comes back, it will more likely be in the form of small headsets that plug into phones via USB-C for VR content, VR gaming and other uses.

If you're a PC gamer, a solid gaming PC-connected VR headset offers the most versatile collection of software for an immersive VR experience and lets you use that headset for creative and business tools. Note that a more powerful VR system will still be largely tethered to a desktop or laptop and a PC VR headset may require external sensors, so they may not be the best option for everyone.

And what about console gaming? The aging PlayStation VR is still fun if it's on sale and you have a PS4, mainly because there are loads more great VR game options for this device than you'd think. But keep in mind that the PlayStation 5, while it works with PSVR, needs the older PS4 controller and PS4 camera in order to work. You might want to wait for the next-gen PSVR 2 (which we're hoping to see sometime in 2022).

Augmented- and mixed-reality headsets aren't ready for everyday use yet, so a solid VR headset is your best bet for escaping to other worlds in the meantime. Read on to figure out which offers the best VR experience for you. We update this best VR headset list periodically, but note that prices are subject to change.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Good: Self-contained and wireless; great touch controllers; comfortable design for gaming; doubles as PC VR headset

Bad: Requires Facebook account

At $299 with nothing else needed, the Oculus Quest 2 delivers virtual reality games and an immersive VR experience anywhere. This virtual reality headset is faster, smaller, cheaper and more comfortable to wear than the original Quest, but you have to log in to Facebook in order to use it. A new version of the Quest 2 doubles the storage of the $299 model to 128GB for an extra $100, and includes a silicone cover for the foam face piece after a voluntary recall of the foam covers earlier this year due to facial irritation concerns with a small subset of customers. Existing Quest 2 owners can order a free silicone cover.

The Quest 2 reminds me of the Nintendo Switch for its versatility and fun, plus it takes mere seconds to start up and fits really well over glasses. This VR headset has self-contained motion tracking and a full-motion six degrees of freedom (aka 6DoF) VR controller that is 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.

Facebook discontinued the Oculus Rift S, so the Quest 2 is the best and only option for Oculus VR right now. But PC VR users have many other headset options.

HP

The good: Really sharp high-res display, great audio, comfortable design

The bad: Mediocre controllers

If your idea of the best VR headset has the best image quality in consumer VR, HP's newest VR headset wins. For serious gamers (or VR racing sim fans), this VR technology may be your best choice. The 2,160x2,160-per-eye resolution and 114-degree field of view are the best at this price range, and the lightweight, comfy headset also has fantastic drop-down speakers designed by Valve. It's technically a Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality headset that prefers to launch into Microsoft's native Windows 10 VR ecosystem, but it bridges with Steam VR and works with those games and apps, too. Built-in camera-based room-tracking is easier to set up than the Valve Index's external base stations, but is more prone to tracking errors. The included controllers, based on Microsoft's VR controller design, feel clunkier than either the Oculus Touch controllers or Valve Index controllers. Also, the over-ear speakers are your only audio choice: there's no headphone jack.

Read our HP Reverb G2 review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Bad: Expensive; requires room setup and tethering cable

Valve's 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. It's also definitely not wireless, but if you already have some Vive hardware, you could add on parts of the Index to mix and match.

Read our Valve Index review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Bad: Resolution isn't cutting-edge; Sony hasn't yet made great VR controllers that match the competition, but a new version may be coming next year

Sony's years-old PSVR headset is still the only head-mounted display for gaming consoles and its screen still offers a surprisingly immersive experience. But Sony's confirmed it's working on a next-gen PSVR headset for the PS5, with a new set of controllers, that could be coming in 2022 if you want to wait. In the meantime, 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 VR system is showing its age, though, compared to the alternatives. And, the new PS5, while it'll work with the old PSVR, will need your old PS4 controllers and camera, plus a camera adapter, to work. 

Note that this PlayStation VR headset is increasingly hard to get. Unless you want to opt for a refurbished model, the best price you'll find is on the Iron Man VR bundle, which is available for $350.

Now playing: Watch this: Oculus Quest 2 is better and cheaper... with one Facebook...
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VR FAQs

Should I wait to buy a VR headset?

There are a lot of expected headsets this year, as I mentioned above: Meta's Project Cambria, PlayStation VR 2 and Apple's mystery device. There are bound to be others. VR is a technology that's still in flux, with companies aiming for products that are smaller and more able to be connected to devices like phones. It's probably best to spend as little as possible to avoid investing in outdated gear. The Quest 2 is by far the best value, and it also happens to be the best-designed headset with the most upside at the moment, as long as you're OK with the proposition of living under Meta's metaverse umbrella and Facebook's data policies.

What should I look for in a VR headset?

It depends, really, on whether you're connecting to a PC or not... and whether you plan to do work with it. There are plenty of Windows-compatible headsets, but they vary in display resolution. Higher is better, and so is a larger field of view. Headsets can refresh at up to 120Hz now, and the faster they can refresh, the more natural and smooth VR movement feels. Most PC VR headsets have similar controller designs, and can bridge to work tools and apps. For portability or stand-alone comfort, the Quest 2 doesn't have any competition right now (the Vive Focus 3 is business-targeted, and the Vive Flow is still too embryonic to recommend). For gamers with a game console, the PlayStation VR is the only option, but you'll probably want to wait until 2022 for the PSVR 2 if you have a PS5. Also, consider the app libraries: Oculus has a lot of exclusive games, Windows-connected headsets have lots of compatibility with work apps and experimental tools, and Sony's PlayStation library has unique VR games, too.

How do I care for my VR headset?

VR headsets can get dusty and grimy. Take extra care with the lenses, which should be cleaned gently with microfiber cloths the same way you'd treat glasses (don't use liquids). It's a good idea to invest in a silicone cover to protect the face plate from sweat and dirt, or look for extra face covers to swap out over time. It's a very good idea to keep your headset covered when not in use. Take extra care not to expose your VR headset to bright sunlight: The sun can damage VR displays if beams hit the lenses of the headset. (To be safe, I keep mine in cases, or turn the lenses away from windows.)

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