Features and buying advice from the experts

PC Console & Standalone VR

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2020 has been a great year for VR, with high-end headsets like the Valve Index and Vive Cosmos available to buy, and the reveal of the hybrid Oculus Quest 2 got many excited about the future of VR. Better yet, the price of VR headsets has begun to drop, making VR accessible to more people than ever before.

The flip side is that there are now more VR headsets on the market than ever before, making it hard to choose one to buy in 2020.

Don’t fret; we at Tech Advisor have used all of the popular VR headsets, and here’s where we tell you what to look out for when buying a headset, along with our recommendation of the best VR headsets on the market right now.

Best VR headsets of 2020

1. Oculus Quest 2 – Best Overall

2. HTC Vive Cosmos – Modular PC VR

HTC Vive Cosmos

3. Oculus Rift S – Affordable PC VR

Oculus Rift S

4. PlayStation VR – Perfect for PS4 gamers

Sony PlayStation VR

5. Oculus Go – An interesting starting point

Oculus Go

6. Google Cardboard – Great for beginners

Google Cardboard

It’s worth noting that there’s also the high-end Valve Index to choose from, but as we’re yet to use it in person, we can’t recommend it in our chart. We’ve also removed the original Oculus Quest ahead of its discontinuation alongside the launch of the updated Oculus Quest 2. 

VR headset buying advice

So, what kind of things should you consider if you’re on the market for a VR headset?

Mobile, PC or standalone?

The biggest factor to consider when on the market for a VR headset is how you’re planning on powering it. There are three types of VR headset on the market at the moment; smartphone-powered, PC-powered or standalone, with the latter being a relatively new option for prospective VR users.

Mobile VR headsets are shaped like a VR headset, but they require a smartphone for the display, internals, tracking and everything else needed to provide a mobile VR experience. This is generally thought of as a beginner’s VR headset; it gives you access to a budget range of experiences, 360-degree videos and basic games, but doesn’t provide much in the way of actual interaction with virtual environments.

The next step up is standalone VR. These are, as the name suggests, standalone VR headsets that don’t require a smartphone or PC for use. They started off a little basic, but the likes of the Oculus Quest 2 are on a par with PC-powered headsets. 

PC-powered VR headsets are generally the most capable on the market, providing high-end games and VR experiences with incredibly accurate location-based tracking and advanced controllers for full immersion. The catch? The headsets are usually the most expensive available and require a powerful PC to be able to power the experiences.

Controllers

Though it may not sound like it, controllers are a very important area when it comes to picking a VR headset. That’s because the controllers vary depending on the system, with some offering true 1:1 positional tracking while others don’t. Controllers are your gateway into the virtual world, allowing you to reach out and interact with the environment, so you want them to be as accurate and comfortable as possible.

Generally speaking, the high-end VR headsets like the Vive Cosmos Elite offer great controllers with true 1:1 positional tracking, while inside-out tracking like that offered from the Rift S, Quest and standard Vive Cosmos is a little more unreliable. PlayStation’s VR headset offers basic positional tracking, but it’s not quite as accurate as Oculus’ and HTC’s options.

Tracking

Speaking of controller tracking, tracking, in general, is another important area to consider in the world of virtual reality. Mobile VR headsets only offer 3DoF, compared to 6DoF on offer by more premium headsets. 3DoF means that you’ll be able to stand in place, look around, up and down, but any movement forwards, backwards, up or down won’t be tracked.

6DoF, on the other hand, has the ability to track your location within the physical space. This really improves immersion as, with the Rift S, Quest and Vive Cosmos, you’re able to physically walk around virtual worlds, bend down and retrieve items from the floor.

Resolution, refresh rate and FOV

It’s a good idea to check out the resolution and refresh rate of any VR headset before buying, as both are integral to a decent VR experience. The resolution is fairly self-explanatory: the higher the resolution, the better quality the images produced by the display will be. It’ll mean crisper edges and easy-to-read text, and a generally more premium VR experience.

But, the resolution doesn’t matter if the refresh rate is terrible. There were a lot of tests undertaken in the early days of VR to work out the ideal refresh rate to combat motion sickness experienced by early VR users. The general consensus is that 90Hz is the minimum requirement for fast-paced VR, although you can get away with 70Hz if the app or game isn’t particularly intense.

Anything lower than 60Hz, though, and you’ll start to notice motion sickness when using VR as the display takes a little too long to refresh when you move, causing lag. Thankfully, most mainstream VR headsets offer at least 70Hz, so you shouldn’t have to worry, but it’s something to consider if you’re looking at non-branded VR headsets.

Lastly, field of view – or FOV as its commonly referred to – essentially gives you an idea of how immersive the VR headset is. Generally speaking, you should aim for a VR headset that provides a FOV of between 100- and 110-degrees, which seems to be the market cap (for the moment anyway!). For reference, human eyes have a FOV of around 220 degrees.  

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