We've seen a virtual reality explosion over the last few months, and now in 2017 there's an amazing variety of VR headsets to choose from.
But which is the best VR headset out there? Well, for our money it's the brilliant HTC Vive, for its use of room-scale tracking to offer gamers and users the freedom to walk around and interact in the virtual world like never before.
Go mobile: Best VR headsets for iPhone
But the competition is closer and ever. The Oculus Rift has come a long way in the past year, while the Sony PlayStation VR sold over a million headsets by summer 2017 thanks to its significantly lower price and the ubiquity of PlayStations ready to run it.
So what are the best VR headsets – and which one should you head out and buy? We've put together the definitive selection of the most gob-smackingly awesome devices just waiting to be strapped to your face.
Best VR headsets for consoles and PC
This group is what most of the fuss has been about. The Oculus and HTC both work with a PC, while the PlayStation VR works with a PlayStation 4; so your choice of headset may come down to whatever machines you already have. If you're going for a PC headset, be sure you have good enough specs to run it.
1. HTC Vive
The HTC Vive was made in collaboration with PC games giant Valve and works with Valve's mammoth gaming ecosystem, Steam. HTC packs in 70 sensors to offer 360-degree head-tracking as well as a 90Hz refresh rate – that's the stat that's key to keeping down latency, which is the technical term for the effect that causes motion sickness. Thankfully that wasn't an issue in our review, which can't be said about every device.
Essential reading: Best HTC Vive games
It's still lacking a strong handful of killer apps, but there's plenty to explore, and plenty of titles we think are worth your money. The key to the HTC Vive's success is the Lighthouse room tracking, which enables you to move around with the headset on. It means mounting some sensors in your home, but the effect is next level. Meanwhile, the Vive's new Tracker tech is able to bring any object into VR, and some developers have already found some creative uses for it.
The Vive can also now go wireless thanks to the TPCast module, and eye tracking is on its way. There's also the VIVEPORT subscription service, which gets you a whole bunch of VR content for a monthly fee of $6.99. Check out our HTC Vive review to see why we think it's such an awesome VR experience.
2. Sony PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR will be most people's introduction to 'good' VR. It's not perfect, but it's going after console gamers hard and, ultimately, it is still a truly awesome VR experience. There's nothing else in this category of quality but affordable VR, meaning PS VR is the benchmark for mainstream console VR. Plus, since launch there's been a steady stream of new titles, some from big franchises, such as Resident Evil 7.
Essential reading: Best PlayStation VR games
With its low price and PS4 compatibility, it's no surprise that PlayStation VR has outsold both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – even if, by its own admission, the tech isn't quite up to the standards of its competitors. Check out our full PlayStation VR review for all the in-depth details.
3. Oculus Rift
The Oculus Rift is the headset that started the current hysteria. Developed by Palmer Luckey, funded via Kickstarter and snapped up by Facebook for a cool $2 billion, the Rift plugs into your computer's DVI and USB ports and tracks your head movements to provide 3D imagery on its stereo screens.
The consumer edition Rift uses a 2160 x 1200 resolution, working at 233 million pixels per second, with a 90Hz refresh rate. It's high-tech stuff, which matches the HTC Vive for refresh rate but lags behind PlayStation VR. However, given its access to the power of the latest PCs, it's pushing a lot more pixels than Sony's headset.
Essential reading: Best Oculus Rift games
The Oculus Touch controllers arrived at the end of 2016 and, through our testing, have pushed our opinion of the Rift closer to its competitors. Simply put, the Oculus Rift platform is finally a finished product that excels at giving you the VR experience the company initially promised. The price is better than it used to be, especially now that Oculus is including the Touch controllers with every headset from here on out, and it's permanently dropped the price to $399 after a successful "Summer of Rift" event. Be sure to read our definitive Oculus Rift review for more details.
Great VR content
Because of just how expensive it is to invest in high-end VR, companies have worked hard to bring us affordable VR that can run on those handy supercomputers we all carry around in our pockets. Thus, here are the best headsets you can slip your phone into. They're generally wireless and many are under $100, so it's a whole different ball game to the beasts above. Be careful though, certain devices only work with certain phones, so check before putting down any cash.
1. Samsung Gear VR
Samsung's Gear VR doesn't look much different year-to-year, but the Korean company gives it enough of a boost every 12 months to keep it on top of the mobile VR heap. This year's biggest addition is a brand new controller, which will help you get a little more immersion in your VR content.
Of course, the visual experience of using Gear VR will depend on which Samsung smartphone you use. But there are some features that'll give you a good experience no matter which Samsung handset you've got, like a wide 101-degree viewing angel and a dark tint to reduce glare and reflections.
However, because of that new controller the price of this year's Gear VR has gone up a tad. You'll also need one of the compatible Samsung phones, which includes the Galaxy S8 and S8+ and S7 and S7 Edge. If you have a Samsung phone, this is still the best mobile VR experience you can get. Check out our full Samsung Gear VR review for more.
2. Google Daydream View
The flagship first headset born out of Google's Daydream VR platform, Google claims the View is 30% lighter than any other mobile headset on the market. Google isn't naming names, but we'd guess it means the Gear VR.
The View is only compatible with a handful of handsets for now, including Google Pixel and some of Motorola's, but that's about to change. As of 1 August, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ now have Daydream support thanks to a software update. And LG's next flagship, the V30, will also have Daydream support. With two of the most popular Android smartphone makers in tow, it may be time for Google's sweatpants-inspired headset to give the Gear VR a run for its money.
Read this: Best Daydream apps and games
We've done a full Google Daydream View review and have to say the headset is mostly liked at Wareable HQ, though that light bleed certainly harms the overall package. Still, with an impressive batch of launch apps and a bundled handheld controller, when it comes to mobile VR experiences, it's already one of the best.
3. Google Cardboard
Google wants to make virtual reality as accessible as possible, so enter Cardboard, a literal piece of cardboard that folds into a very portable VR headset. You can strap it to your head, you can hold it to your head – it doesn't really matter because all it cares about is giving you a quick, cheap and easy way to dip your toe in the VR waters.
Surprisingly, the VR is actually quite good. It's incredibly easy to share with people too, since they can just press it up against their heads if they want in on some tasty VR content. It's also compatible with most smartphones, including iPhones, making it a good choice for anyone who is looking to experience VR without too much of a cost.
We admit, because it's… cardboard, too much use can take its toll. There's also a bunch of unofficial Cardboard headsets, but you might as well get the real deal from the Big G. It's really better than you'd think… honest. And don't forget to take a look at the best Google Cardboard VR apps and games.
4. Merge VR Goggles
The sneaky underdog of the mobile VR headset world, the Merge delivers everything you want from a mobile headset. It works with a wide variety of smartphones, including iPhone. It's made out of a soft foam, so it's both comfortable and light.
It's also got a bunch of doodads to help you customise your mobile experience. Adjust the lenses all you want, click two buttons to interact with your content; pop out the front window in case you ever need to use it for mixed/augmented reality purposes. Speaking of which, Merge is ramping up for the sale of its AR cube, which will let you put mixed reality experiences in the palm of your hand.
Everyone is excited about VR, which means – naturally – that more headsets are always coming. In fact, we've really only just begun. Below, we've picked out a few headsets that are headed our way in the future. As you'll notice, some of them are beginning to play with the idea of what a VR headset even is.
Oculus Santa Cruz
Oculus' high-end standalone headset, Santa Cruz, is getting closer and closer to reality. This year at Connect, the company showed off a new prototype of the device, which we tried. It's also got new controllers that are positionally tracked, with infrared LEDs on them that can be read by the four wide-camera sensors on the Santa Cruz headset.
Hands-on: Oculus Santa Cruz
In our time with the new version of Santa Cruz, we found it to be an excellent experience less compromised than the current Rift experience. The play areas involved can scale, and it's going to be exciting to see what developers can do with it. We just have to keep waiting - developers will get their hands on it next year.
Google Daydream View 2
Google has unveiled the next generation of its Daydream View headset, and the two big upgrades are a new lens that increases the field of view and a new fabric finish that's both breathable and comfortable. In our time with the Daydream View we found its new field of view to be quite good, though it's still not going to set your world on fire. It's as comfortable as ever and there are even three colors to chose from this year. It's more of an iterative update than a giant leap ahead, but still one to look out for when it launches on 19 October.
On Kickstarter now for $499, Pimax's new 8K VR headset is aimed at solving two VR problems: motion sickness and not-so-great field of views. It does this by going wide with a 200-degreee field of view, which is closer to the human field of view of 220 degrees. It also has two 3840 x 2160 displays.
Both of these things mean a more immersive experience, and having spent time with the somewhat bizarre-looking headset we can say that this feels like it's pushing VR forward in a huge way. In fact, we found it difficult to go back to a Vive or Rift after experiencing the larger field of view in the Pimax 8K.
At Oculus Connect 4, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg announced a new, affordable standalone headset called Oculus Go. The headset lives in between the more high-end Oculus Rift and Santa Cruz headsets and the low-end Gear VR.
It features 3DoF tracking in the headset and a remote controller - similar to the Gear VR remote - that has 6DoF. It's also got inside-out tracking, so you won't need to line your living room with sensors. Oculus says the headset comes with "next generation" lenses that'll reduce glare and improve the field of view. Plus, there's built-in spatial audio.
Developer kits are heading out in November before the consumer version arrives in early 2018.
Samsung Odyssey/Windows Mixed Reality
Microsoft's plans for virtual reality aren't what you're used to. Rather than go for a straight VR platform, Microsoft is investing heavily in a platform it refers to as mixed reality. And, since it's Microsoft, it's partnering with a bunch of third parties to make it happen, like Acer, Lenovo and HP.
Microsoft is still trying to create a more affordable version of high-end VR, and many of the headsets are built to run in two modes: one for PCs with dedicated graphics cards and one for PCs with integrated graphics. Many of these headsets start around $300, but the one we're most excited about is the Samsung Odyssey. It has built-in spatial headphones from AKG, two 1400 X 1600 AMOLED displays, and a 110-degree field of view.
Hands-on: Samsung Odyssey review
In our hands-on time with the Odyssey, we felt it was the one Mixed Reality headset that's on the same level as Oculus Rift. It has a premium, comfortable feel that the other headsets, from the likes of Lenovo, Acer and HP don't have. You'll be able to pick it up on 6 November.
HTC Vive / Lenovo Daydream
One of the bigger announcements out of Google I/O 2017 was that the Daydream platform wasn't just about mobile headsets like the View. No, instead Google announced a whole new segment of the Daydream platform: standalone headsets.
These are headsets that'll use a technology called WorldSense to be fully wireless and smartphone-free. No need to plug it into anything, no need for sensors or trackers. It's all handled by the headset itself. We're yet to see them in the flesh, but Google promises they'll arrive later this year.
Read this: The standalone VR headsets are coming...
Two of the companies working on the headsets are Lenovo and HTC. Yes, HTC is working on a standalone, affordable headset for the Daydream platform, which can only be good news. That and Lenovo, which seems to make it a habit to join in on new VR tech from the jump, has us more excited than ever for the future of the Daydream platform.
The Fove 0 differs from the likes of Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR because it offers a special eye-tracking technology. Not only can this be used to make games responsive to your eyeline, but it can actually create a more natural depth-of-field, which VR can't currently do.
The Fove setup is an 5.7-inch, 1440p display; a 100+ degree field of view; 70fps frame rate; and eye-tracking measured at 120fps. With the redesigned developer kit, gone are the big side panels and quite a lot of the heft of the last prototype design. The company promises the new model offers "dramatically reduced weight, size and overall wearability, as well as better production efficiency." You might have to wait a bit though – Fove doesn't plan to launch its consumer model until the end of 2017 at the earliest.
Razer OSVR HDK 2
Razer's OSVR isn't a rival to the likes of Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR. Instead, it's intended to make life easier for developers to make applications for VR hardware, without technical (software and hardware) limitations getting in their way.
You can pick up the OSVR Hacker Developer Kit 2 now. Its 2160 x 1200 dual OLED display puts it right up against the big names. However, there are still some comfort issues to work through. As the name says, the headset still remains open source, allowing third parties to do whatever they want with it.