Recent advances in technology have seen huge improvements in VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) headsets. Going back to just 2012 when the Oculus Rift VR headset was launched as a crowdfunding campaign (raising $2.5m), the technology has come on leaps and bounds since.
Just a couple of years later in 2014, Facebook (now Meta) buys the Oculus company for a cool $2bn dollars, clearly having seen some potential in the future of VR. This also spurred Sony to invest in the technology and announce their own VR headset for the Sony PS4 console. The years 2016 to 2017 then see a huge flurry of companies announcing their own VR products such as the HTC Vive, Valve Index and many more.
If we then fast forward to current times, the advances in technology and quality of the overall VR experience is simply mind blowing! As you will see from our list below, there are virtual reality headsets that no longer even need a computer to operate and are entirely untethered. Though the best experiences and real computing-power-hungry applications do still require a modern PC to perform best, this is changing and slowly the headsets themselves are becoming ever more powerful and untethered.
If you have never experienced virtual reality or augmented reality, then you really should try it. Nobody can ever explain in words or pictures just how immersive the whole experience can be, particularly when using the better games and applications. There is no feeling quite like flying a plane in a flight simulator such as X-Plane or Microsoft Flight Simulator using a VR headset. You could easily be fooled into thinking you’re actually flying and even get that familiar tingle in your spine when you decrease height rapidly. See our Best Drones list for another alternative to real flying!
Google Earth is another thing that you must experience at least once in VR. It is absolutely mesmerising, not to mention a great form of education for those keen on geography. To say it is mind-blowing would be an understatement. Of course for youngsters and older people alike, many of the games are a great way to get some exercise during those wet and cold days. An hour of Beat Sabre will definitely burn the calories and get the heart pumping.
Best VR Headsets
Use our list below to see which headsets we suggest for various purposes and why we recommend them.
Meta Quest Pro – When budget matters less than performance
The Meta Quest Pro headset really is an incredible feat of engineering. With its compact form factor and new comfortable design, it’s ideal for those longer sessions in the virtual world. The only real barrier to this is the life of the built-in battery which is a somewhat restrictive 2 hours of run time. It is obvious from looking at the Meta Quest Pro that it was designed with business and commercial applications at the forefront, unlike its successful sibling the Meta Quest 2, which was clearly designed with gameplaying in mind.
The specs of the Meta Quest Pro dwarf the Meta Quest 2 (and most other brands of VR headsets too!), but inevitably the cost also dwarfs that of the lesser powered headsets also. Its certainly not cheap, but it is incredibly powerful and perfect for online VR and AR meetings, and this really does have to be seen to be believed. The quality is truly stunning and the 1920x1800px screen per eye is a marvel of modern technology when combined with the new much thinner pancake lenses.
With features such as eye tracking, face tracking, colour pass-through camera and 90hz screen refresh rate, it’s clear to see why technologically this headset is really setting new standards in the VR world. And if you thought that was all impressive enough, consider the fact that the Meta Quest Pro can do all of this without a PC and completely untethered!
Meta Quest 2 – The perfect mix of cost versus performance for gamers
Like the Meta Quest Pro, the Meta Quest 2 headset is untethered but can also be tethered to a PC for the more demanding applications. With a screen resolution of 1832x1920px per eye, the Meta Quest 2 gives a crystal-clear image and does so at a remarkable 120hz refresh rate. This helps to make the most of the silky-smooth performance which is achieved with its powerful Snapdragon XR2 processor. Weighing in at just under 18 ounces, it doesn’t feel heavy at all on your head, even for long periods of time.
Sound on the Quest 2 headset is impressive and is delivered to your ears via the headset arms on the side. It does so without the need for earphones leaving your ears uncovered and therefore leaving you feeling less isolated whilst wearing it, but without compromising on quality.
Along with the headset, you also get the controllers which allow you to navigate within applications and games and the sensitivity is very impressive. That said, you can also use the Meta Quest 2 without controllers as it supports hand tracking which follows the movement of your hands and is very intuitive to use. Seeing your “hands” in front of you when wearing the headset is incredible and the dexterity and accuracy is absolutely mesmerising. Sadly, not all games or applications support the hand tracking feature, so it is not a full-time replacement for the controllers, but still impressive, nonetheless.
Valve Index VR Kit – For cutting-edge controllers with individual finger control
Whilst on paper, the Valve Index VR Kit doesn’t really jump out from competitors in terms of specs, the controllers really are incredible. They can track individual finger movements which delivers a whole new world of immersion when playing games or using apps that support this feature.
Don’t let the lack of cutting-edge specs for the headset put you off, as it still delivers smooth performance, sharp graphics using a 1600x1440px per eye screen and a high refresh rate of 120Hz. The downside is that the headset is tethered, so you will need a reasonably decent PC to use it whilst accessing the SteamVR store, where there are plenty of games and apps to enjoy.
Overall, the Valve Index VR Kit is very impressive in terms of performance and overall appeal. That said, its main standout feature is the incredibly well implemented individual finger controls which are something to behold.
HTC Vive Pro 2 – For when high resolution matters most
This VR headset falls into both consumer and professional categories, and this is reflected in the price…it’s definitely not a cheap VR headset. That being said, it has some of the best visuals that you will see in VR with it’s super impressive 2448x2448px per eye screens which also deliver smooth motion at a stunning 120Hz refresh rate giving a fantastic overall experience.
One of the biggest disappointments with the Vive Pro 2 is the lack of controllers or base stations. These must be purchased separately, and they are not inexpensive, making the whole package a pricey proposition when you add it all up. That being said, if resolution is what matters to you and having that super-sharp clarity within VR, then it is still a worthy option.
The Vive Pro 2 is a tethered headset, so you’re going to need a PC to use it and make use of the SteamVR library or HTC’s own Viveport proprietary ecosystem. It requires a PC with at least an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD equivalent processor and at least a GeForce 1060 or equivalent GPU. An important note is that is requires a DisplayPort 1.4 interface to achieve its maximum resolution.
Sound is delivered via headphones which sit over your ears and can leave some people divided on whether they prefer the experience as it’s more immersive, or some people arguing that it makes they feel isolated and vulnerable when wearing them. The headphones can be removed to replace them if required, but as there is no headphone jack on the headset, you cannot simply plug in your own.
To summarise, the HTC Vive Pro 2 VR headset is truly spectacular to use, and the visuals are some of the cleanest and sharpest VR visuals you’ll see to date. However, the cost of controllers and base stations does make this rather expensive overall. But if cost matters less to you than resolution and clarity, then it’s hard not to recommend the Vive Pro 2.