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Top 3 Best PC VR Headsets for Gaming

Choosing the Right Headset for AAA SteamVR: An Objective Look at Pros/Cons




Published: September 19, 2021

VR has grown exponentially over the past couple of years and is now finally a fully-functional force of nature with surreal AAA quality games like Half Life: AlyxThe Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, Boneworks, Star Wars: Squadrons, Skyrim VR, and a plethora of other great experiences.

With no exaggeration, these games are literally the type of mind-blowing gaming experiences that I would dream about as a kid growing up hooked on the SNES, N64 and PS1. Back then, VR was a science fiction pipedream that was sometimes mentioned in the gaming magazines I used to read as something to look forward to in the future. And now, it's science fiction no more.

If immersion is something you value as a gamer, there is just no comparison to be made between VR and flatscreen gaming. Playing through Half Life Alyx last year was one of, if not the most surreal and memorable gaming experiences I've ever had. Now in 2021, you could definitely make the argument that VR is somewhat mainstream at long last, thanks in part to the release of the Oculus Quest 2 last year which sold like hotcakes (and continues to do so), and which has exponentially grown the VR industry by leaps and bounds over the past year or so. But while the Quest 2 is what most people will think of when it comes to VR right now, and is definitely the best overall value option if you don't mind its downsides, there are other options out there. Especially if you want the absolute best PC VR experience.


Along With Half Life Alyx, Saints and Sinners is the Pinnacle of PC VR Right Now (Image: Steam)

Besides, the Quest 2 is not technically a PC VR headset, but a mobile one. But it is capable of PC VR gaming if you buy an add-on cable (Oculus Link) or use special wireless software (Airlink or Virtual Desktop) that connects your PC to the headset, both of which tap into your PC's hardware to enable the headset to run PC VR games (which are much more demanding than mobile VR games that run solely off the Quest 2's limited built-in hardware). But for the ultimate PC VR experience, you may want to look elsewhere than the Quest 2. First let's go over the main specs of the top 3 VR headsets on the market right now and compare them side by side, and then I'll share my thoughts on each.



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Top 3 Best PC VR Headsets in 2021

TIER MODEL PRICE DISPLAY REFRESH FOV AUDIO TRACKING COMFORT IPD ADJUSTMENT
Best Overall
Valve Index
US Great

1440 x 1600 Per Eye

LCD
80Hz

90Hz

120Hz

144Hz
Best

~ 110-130°
Best Best Best Yes (Mechanical)

58 to 70mm
Best Sims
HP Reverb G2
US

Canada

UK

Australia

Best

2160 x 2160 Per Eye

LCD
60Hz

90Hz
Good

~ 112°
Best Good Best (& Lightest) Yes (Mechanical)

60 - 68mm
Best Value
Oculus Quest 2
US

BestBuy

Canada

UK

OC UK

Australia

Great

1832 x 1920 Per Eye

LCD
72Hz

90Hz (certain games)

120Hz (" ")

Average

~ 89-92°
Average (Headphones Recommended) Great Good (But Great With Add-On Strap) Yes (Mechanical)

58 to 68mm




1. Valve Index (Best PC VR Headset Overall)

PROS

- High quality built-in speakers (no need for separate headphones)

- Very accurate tracking (comes with 2 external base stations)

- Best controllers on the market, featuring individual finger tracking

- Very comfortable out of the box (no need for add-on unlike Quest 2)

- Wider FOV than Quest 2 and Reverb G2

- Most flexible mechanical adjustment for IPD (Inter Pupillary Distance)

- Comes with a Free Copy of Half Life: Alyx

CONS

- Much more expensive than Quest 2

- Glare issues can be annoying to some people in some games (but not Alyx)

- Longer setup than other headsets

- Needs more space than other headsets

- Over 2 years old now (and an Index successor a potential in near future)





Because the VR industry moves fast, you can definitely consider the Valve Index a little outdated considering its release date and also the fact it's been outdone by both the Quest 2 and Reverb G2 in terms of resolution and image sharpness/clarity. That said, the Index still remains a fantastic high-end PC VR headset worth considering, and arguably the best headset for PC VR overall when you take into account all the pros and cons of the top headsets out there.

It does depend on what's more important to you though, which I understand can be difficult (or impossible) to know if you're new to VR (so I'll do my best to explain as much as I can). The HP Reverb G2 does have higher resolution, but the Index has better controllers, more precise tracking for past-paced games, a wider field of view, and higher refresh rates for the smoothest gameplay (up to 144Hz). The Index vs G2 is a tough decision without a doubt, because while the higher resolution of the G2 does increase immersion, the higher refresh rates, better tracking, and wider FOV of the Index does so too. It comes down to which features are more important to you.

As for the Index vs Quest 2 debate, it's another difficult choice. The Quest 2 is much more affordable, and offers wireless PC VR and the ability to play mobile VR games (that you can't access on a PC VR headset like the Index). But the Index is still the objectively better PC VR experience overall, as the Quest 2 is not a native PC VR headset and so has downsides when used as a PC VR headset (latency and compression, but I'll get to that next). The Index also beats the Quest 2 in terms of stock comfort (Quest 2 comfort out the box ain't as good and requires an add-on strap for the best comfort), higher refresh rates, superior built-in audio, and individual finger tracking.

So despite its age, the Index remains a solid option for high-end PC VR if you have the budget for it. Just keep in mind there's a chance Valve announces a successor to the Index at some point in the near future, as some interesting Valve patents have been filed recently indicating an "Index 2" (or whatever it'll be called) may be on the horizon. That said, if there is a Valve Index 2, it may not release for a while yet, so the original Index may have some decent legs left (assuming an Index 2 is even coming, as it's still speculation). Just thought I'd give you a heads-up about that. Anyway, let's move onto the next best PC VR headset for gaming, though you could just as easily have it as the top spot (and have the Index as number 2).



2. HP Reverb G2 (Best PC VR Headset for Simulations)

PROS

- Higher resolution than Quest 2 and Valve Index

- Best clarity makes it ideal for VR simulations (flight sims, racing, etc)

- Sharpest image in a consumer VR headset today

- High quality built-in audio (exact same speakers as Valve Index)

- Cheaper than Valve Index (and arguably better value)

- Very comfortable out of the box (and lighter than Index)

- Slightly wider FOV than Quest 2 (but less than Index)




CONS

- Not as precise tracking as other headsets (a non-issue for many, but may be noticeable in fast-paced or competitive games)

- Can't do 120Hz or 144Hz like the Index

- High resolution means slightly higher GPU requirements than Index

- Image sweet spot not as good as Quest 2


The HP Reverb G2 replaces the original Reverb G1 and has outdone it in every way, instantly placing itself among the best VR gaming headsets on the market. In fact, you could argue it is now the best PC VR headset to beat right now given its advantages over the Valve Index, and as mentioned I could just have easily placed it as my number one recommendation (so take the ordering of this article with a grain of salt; very difficult to rank VR headsets as it's all about personal preference).

Featuring an impressive high-resolution display with noticeably better clarity and sharpness than PC VR headsets before it, the Reverb G2 takes immersion to the next level and has taken the VR enthusiast crowd by storm to firmly entrench itself as the clear best PC VR headset for virtual reality simulation games like Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, Assetto Corsa, Project Cars 2, iRacing, and DCS World. Also, while Star Wars Squadrons and Elite Dangerous are not technically sims, the G2 would also be the perfect headset for space flight games like these as well.

Related: Best PC Builds for Gaming/VR

But the truth is, the G2 can also be a fantastic choice for any VR genre - if you can accept the downside of slightly less precise and reliable controller tracking when compared to the near flawless tracking of the Valve Index and Quest 2. The tracking issue is only a potential worry when playing competitive shooters like Pavlov or rhythm games like Beat Saber, or in situations where you have to grab things above or behind your head (such as grabbing items from your backpack or throwing grenades in Half Life Alyx).

If you do plenty of research on this issue as I have (until I can get my hands on a G2 myself soon to then be able to update this section with my own personal opinion), you'll find that the G2's tracking issues really aren't that bad, and unless you do some strange moves in VR or are serious about competitive multiplayer shooters, it's unlikely to get in your way. See VR Flight Sim Guy's thoughts on Alyx with a G2 as an example of the G2 not being an issue for Alyx, but do your own research to find out if the G2 is right for you.

Anyway, all things considered the G2 is a beast, and cannot be ignored when on the hunt for the best PC VR headset. The unbeatable image quality and clarity is a huge plus that for many will outweigh the negatives, but if you absolutely want optimal tracking under all situations then consider the Index or Quest 2 instead (the latter of which isn't far behind in terms of resolution and image sharpness). Let's move onto the third and final of the top 3 best VR headsets on the market today.



3. Oculus Quest 2 (Best Value PC VR Headset)

PROS

- Most affordable, value for money VR headset

- Most versatile VR headset (ability to play both mobile VR and PC VR games)

- Ability to play PC VR games wirelessly via software (AirLink/Virtual Desktop)

- Very good resolution (higher than Index, but lower than Reverb G2)

- Access to Oculus exclusives like Stars Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge, Vader Immortal 1-3, Lone Echo (via Link Cable or wireless only), Stormlands, The Climb 2, Robo Recall, and more

- No need for a gaming PC if you only want to play mobile games (and not PC VR)

CONS

- Must login and link your Facebook account in order to use (and be okay with them using your data for advertising purposes)

- Slight latency and compression when playing PC VR using the Link cable or wirelessly (see a variety of user opinions on this)

- Must have a high-end GPU to avoid compression souring image quality too much (mid-range GPUs may not cut it)

- Must also have good router and strong signal to play PC VR wirelessly without noticeable latency

- Not as comfortable out the box compared to other headsets (Elite Strap highly recommended)

- Average built-in audio (using your own headphones or earphones is recommended)

- Slightly lower FOV than Reverb G2 and Index

- 2 hour battery life when gaming wirelessly (but can buy extended battery pack to play longer)

- Successor to Quest 2 potentially being announced soon (perhaps even at Facebook Connect this year)



The Quest 2 has changed the VR landscape considerably since its release last year and has been a catalyst in bringing VR one step closer to mainstream adoption. It's not only the clear best value VR headset, but also the most versatile. Primarily marketed as a standalone, mobile VR headset (because it technically is), it also functions well as a PC VR headset if you have a decent gaming PC to hook it up to (which you can do so using either a cable or wirelessly, but I'll get to that in a bit).

If you're new to VR, there's basically two types of VR games/experiences. There's the mobile VR market, which are games and experiences of smaller scope and of lower graphical fidelity due to hardware limitations (as the game is running solely off the Quest 2's built-in hardware). These games run wirelessly on the Quest 2 without needing a PC at all, so you can be gaming at any place and any time without needing to be tethered to your PC with a cable.

Some of the best, most popular mobile VR titles right now are Beat Saber (has a PC VR version on Steam too though), Population One, Jurassic World: Aftermath, Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge, Star Wars: Vader Immortal 1-3, The Climb 1 and 2, Carve Snowboarding, and there's plenty more. Just note some PC VR games also have a Quest version too with optimized, watered-down graphics to able to run on the headset, such as The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, Red Matter, Contractors, Onward, Pistol Whip, Superhot, and Sniper Elite.

Then you have the PC VR market, which is basically any VR game on Steam (or on the Oculus Rift store like the great Lone Echo, though that store is discontinued just like their Oculus Rift S headset). This is where you have the biggest and best VR games with the most impressive visuals, including titles like Half Life: Alyx, BoneworksBlade and SorcerySkyrim VR, No Man's Sky, Elite Dangerous, Fallout 4 VR, Star Wars: Squadrons, all the VR racing and flight sims out there, and much more.

So, with "true" PC VR headsets like the Valve Index and HP Reverb G2, you can only play PC VR games (but not any mobile games). With the Quest 2, you have access to both - mobile and PC VR games. Definitely another advantage of the Quest 2, and over time we're sure to be treated to better and better mobile VR games that utilize the limited on-board hardware better.

That said, the objectively best, most immersive VR games with the best graphics are PC VR titles (and will remain so for the foreseeable future). To play PC VR with the Quest 2, effectively turning it into a PC VR headset, there are two ways. Both require a good gaming PC, and the better your specs the less noticeable the latency and image compression will be.

  • Connecting to a PC using a special USB cable (called Oculus Link)
  • Connecting to a PC wirelessly using special software (either AirLink or Virtual Desktop)

A: Tethered PC VR

Using the Oculus Link cable allows you to turn the Quest 2 from its primary design as a mobile VR headset into a PC VR headset. But be aware it's not like having a direct DisplayPort cable connected to your PC. Instead, it's a USB cable, and the data from your PC has to be compressed, which can lead to latency (slowness) and slightly lower visual quality resulting in a less crisp image than using a true PC VR headset (this can be mitigated with a high-end GPU though).

How noticeable the latency and image compression is will differ from system to system and person to person. If you do your research you'll see some people say they can't notice the difference (between Oculus Link and a "true" tethered PC VR headset), but it's usually those with really good PCs. With a mid-range GPU, the compression can be quite noticeable when comparing the experience directly to a true PC VR headset.



B: Wireless PC VR

As for running PC VR content wirelessly on the Quest 2 - using the official Oculus Airlink app or the third-party and very popular Virtual Desktop for Quest app - you need a strong PC to minimize latency and image compression, but you also need a good gaming router and a strong wireless signal where you'll be using the headset. You also want to avoid clogging the router with tons of devices while playing.

But with the right setup, wireless PC VR with the Quest 2 can have an unnoticeable amount of latency and compression, and in that case it's a fantastic experience as you get to play the best AAA VR games without wires. Check out Beardo Benjo's good tutorial to check it out in action. Also see VR Oasis's comparison of Airlink vs Virtual Desktop.



Final Thoughts on Quest 2 vs G2 vs Index

Overall, all things considered, if you're new to VR it's hard to ignore the Quest 2 for its value. If you're okay with the whole Facebook requirement thing (which was, and still is, a controversial topic within the industry), it's the best VR headset for gaming if you're looking to stretch your money as far as possible.

The ability to play PC VR wirelessly is a big plus, and if you don't have a strong wireless signal to be able to do that smoothly, plugging the Quest 2 into a good gaming PC via the Oculus Link cable allows you to play all those great SteamVR games with minimal latency and compression to the point where it's unnoticeable to many. Yeah, you need a strong PC to minimize latency and compression, but you need a strong PC for the G2 and Index anyway, so that's not a downside to the Quest 2 and just a requirement for PC VR in general.

Plus, with a Quest 2 you get to play the many good mobile VR games out there, as well as Oculus exclusive titles. Mobile VR games aren't as good as PC VR games due to the huge technical limitations of what you can run on a mobile chipset, but there's still plenty of good experiences. All that said, the Index is the technically better option for VR enthusiasts who don't care for wireless and just want the absolute best PC VR experience, and the Reverb G2 is hard to ignore for VR sims with its unbeatable resolution and clarity (but still works just fine for any genre if you're okay with the potential for occasional tracking issue in the heat of the moment).

The Index and G2 are native PC VR headsets that'll give you the full PC VR experience without the latency and compression of the Quest 2, but whether either of these is worth spending the extra money on compared to the Quest 2 is a subjective call and how much you care for wired vs wireless VR. Whatever you decide, it's hard to go wrong with a Quest 2, a HP Reverb G2, or a Valve Index. If you're new to VR I'm sure you'll be blown away with any, and if you're here pondering an upgrade from a previous-gen headset like the Rift S, original Rift, HTC Vive, or Quest 1, you'll also surely be satisfied with either of these 3 great headsets.

That wraps my thoughts on the current VR headset market, and hope it helped a little. If you found the article helpful or have some feedback to make it better, let me know in the comments below. See you in VR, friend.

See Also: Build the Best PC for Half Life Alyx









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About Me

Indie game dev currently working on an atmospheric VR FPS adventure with Unreal Engine (to be announced soon here for anyone interested in VR FPS's). Also likes writing about gaming and hardware.

Favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, WC3, HL1, HL2, and KOTOR, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Half Life Alyx. - Julz