Other VR headsets we’ve tested
Meta Quest Pro: Last year’s expensive, eye-tracking-equipped Quest headset can track facial expressions and has a crisp display, but the less expensive Quest 3 already makes it obsolete with its better graphics, cameras and display resolution.
HTC Vive XR Elite: The glasses-like design of the XR Elite is a sign of the future, but the software and performance of this headset don’t justify its price.
PlayStation VR: The original PSVR still works on the PlayStation 4 and 5, but it’s not compatible with PSVR 2 games and hardware. It still has some great games to discover, but its lack of dedicated controllers and awkward setup feels ancient.
How we test VR headsets
Even though mainstream VR headsets have been around for nearly a decade, the apps they run and the computers, phones and game consoles they work with keep changing. We run key apps and software on the headsets, using them mainly in standalone mode if they’re designed to be self-contained, or with a PC, game console or phone if they’re primarily meant as connected peripherals.
We use the headsets for a mix of work, gaming, fitness and creative uses, and stay attentive to where the headsets have pain points (moments of discomfort, feelings of disconnect or sensations of nausea or distortion). Using technology like VR can often be a highly subjective experience, but by being attentive to details we find we can discover where each product is uniquely useful.
Comparison is also key: I’ve looked at pretty much every wearable AR and VR device of the last 15 years and also covered a lot of the wearable tech, phone and computer landscape. How these devices work as game consoles, fitness devices, work accessories and social tools are all key areas. We also think about displays, audio, controllers and accommodations for eyeglasses.
Factors to consider when buying a VR headset
VR and AR sometimes feel like product categories that never quite seem to become mainstream, but change is coming fast to the headset landscape.
Apple’s $3,499 Vision Pro headset — a self-contained, standalone VR/AR device that Apple is positioning as a full spatial computer — is the highest-price device on the consumer market, with a very different pitch than games-focused devices like the Meta Quest. Its ability to run all sorts of iOS apps and have multiple apps open at once make it a unique option, and its possibilities as an iOS mixed reality computer, paired with its fantastic display quality and unique input method of hand-eye tracking, might make it a promising device for creators, researchers and anyone with a large enough wallet to pay for a high-end personal cinema on their face. It also emphasizes things like computing and video quality instead of what are still the Quest’s greatest strengths: gaming and fitness.
The Vision Pro isn’t the only mixed reality VR headset out there: Expect more in this category, which blends VR with video of your surroundings using color passthrough cameras that feels almost like augmented reality. The Quest 3 is the most affordable mainstream mixed reality VR headset, and Apple’s is the most expensive. Upcoming expected devices by Samsung and others should be on their way. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chipset, which enables mixed reality, more AI functions, and better graphics, made its debut on the Quest 3 but will roll out to other headsets in 2024 and beyond. A variant on this chip, the XR2 Gen 2 Plus, will be on Samsung and Google’s higher-end headset.
Samsung, Google and Qualcomm have announced a partnership for future products, suggesting a mixed-reality headset could be arriving as soon as next year. If you want a phone-connected device, you probably should wait and see how Samsung and Google’s future products shake out. Qualcomm’s future plans for VR and AR lean on phones as a way to power smaller glasses, but so far there aren’t any of these types of smaller devices that we’d recommend.
Sony’s $550 PlayStation VR 2 delivers a great console gaming VR experience for PlayStation 5 owners and includes eye tracking like Apple’s Vision Pro, but isn’t wireless and is still a relatively expensive accessory (it costs more than the PS5 itself). It’s more expensive than both the Quest 2 and Quest 3, and still needs a PS5 to work, but costs far less than a Vision Pro (although it serves a completely different purpose and relies on a limited set of PlayStation VR games to even function). Its more limited library and functions make it less versatile than a Quest, but a fun Quest alternative for anyone deep into Sony’s PlayStation 5 ecosystem.
For PC owners, there are several options. You could use a Quest 2, Quest 3 or Quest Pro, or consider several existing devices. The biggest previous players in the PC VR gaming scene (Microsoft, Valve, and HTC) have been quiet on that front, especially now that Microsoft has discontinued most of its mixed reality efforts. That could change again soon. A PC-connected VR headset can offer the most versatile collection of software for an immersive VR experience, and it also lets you use that headset for creative and business tools.
The cost of a new VR headset is going up these days. If price is your biggest concern, the Quest 2 still offers the best value in VR: a completely wireless experience, with access to a great library of fantastic games.
VR headset FAQs
Should I wait to buy a VR headset?
Right now, the Quest 3 and Quest 2 are great devices to try without spending a lot. The Apple Vision Pro, on the other hand, is an extremely expensive new product you definitely should wait on (but try a demo of). With a Samsung mixed reality device expected to be announced this year that could be a Google-enabled alternative to Vision Pro, plus possible entries from HTC and maybe even Valve on the horizon, there could be many headsets on the way that are better than what’s here at the moment. VR is a technology that’s still in flux. That being said, the Meta Quest is a safe buy right now (although a more affordable Quest 3 Lite could be coming this year, too).