Best VR headset 2021: which virtual reality system should you buy?

Searching for the best VR headset? We can help

Best VR headset hero image showing man using Oculus Quest 2
(Image credit: Oculus)

If you're in the market for the best VR headset then you've got plenty of choice, from the HTC Vive Pro 2 to the Oculus Quest 2. It's not always easy to figure out what the differences are between them, though, or exactly what you're getting in return for your money.

That's why in this best virtual reality headset guide we'll take you through all the top options on the market today, and serve up the lowest prices on them from across the web too. You'll find out about the factors you need to take into consideration when choosing a VR headset, what all of the key specs mean, and the sorts of features you might want to look for.

Some of the virtual reality headsets you'll come across are completely standalone, with everything they need built right in, while others require a wired or wireless connection to a PC or games console – this can limit your freedom to roam and increase the cost, but you usually get a better graphics experience as a result, because there's more processing power available to you.

In the last couple of years the VR market has matured a lot, and you can get a lot of top-quality, reliable devices for a significantly lower outlay than what these headsets have cost in the past. In terms of specs, look out for the size and the resolution of the display that's in front of your eyes, and extras like integrated audio.

It's also worth checking out the game and app stores that these headsets have access to, which might help you make a decision on which is the best VR device for your needs. That said, a lot of the top virtual reality titles are now available across the board on multiple headsets, so maybe don't get too hung up on it.

New virtual reality products continue to arrive and be speculated about (we're looking at you, Apple), but in terms of what you can buy right now, these are our very top picks. Check these out first before deciding what you're going to buy.

And make sure you check out the best Black Friday deals. We think we'll be seeing some really good deals on headsets from the likes of Oculus and HTC: with the PS5 VR headset still in the future it's a good time for other VR firms to push their own platforms, so we're expecting some decent discounts.

The best VR headsets you can buy today

Oculus Quest 2 VR headset on white background

(Image credit: Oculus)

The best VR headset you can buy right now

Specifications
Compatibility: Standalone or PC
Resolution: 3664 x 1920
Refresh rate: 90Hz
Reasons to buy
+All-in-one package+Affordable price point
Reasons to avoid
-Needs a Facebook account

HTC Vive Pro 2 VR headset on white background

(Image credit: HTC)

The Oculus Quest 2 has proved a big hit in the virtual market, and it's not difficult to see why: everything you need is included in the box (though you can connect it to a PC if you want to), it's available at a tempting price point, and it provides plenty of fun, cool VR experiences in an accessible and user-friendly way.

You don't have to set up any cables or any trackers around the room to use the Oculus Quest 2 – you just power it up and get started – and thanks to the high-resolution displays and the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 running under the hood, you're guaranteed visuals that are smooth and slick (if not quite up to the standard of PC-connected headsets).

From the ease of initial setup to the range of apps and games on offer, the Oculus Quest 2 scores highly in most departments. One of the few downsides is that you need a Facebook account to register and use the device (and to upload your screen grabs), which isn't something everyone is comfortable with.

The best premium VR headset

Specifications
Compatibility: PC
Resolution: 4896 x 2448
Refresh rate: 120Hz
Reasons to buy
+Superb graphics+Top-quality tracking
Reasons to avoid
-High price point

If you want the most immersive and the most complete virtual reality experience right now, then we recommend the HTC Vive Pro 2: it's an absolute beast of a VR headset, and that's reflected by the fact that you need a fairly beefy gaming PC to run it alongside. You can get complex, high-resolution graphics on this device that just aren't possible with the Oculus Quest 2 (in its standalone mode, at least).

All this power is reflected in the price of the headset, and the high cost of admission is of course going to factor into your decision about whether or not to buy this device. You're going to need to be absolutely sure that you'll be spending a lot of time in VR worlds, and that the HTC Vive Pro 2 has everything you need, before you consider investing such a substantial sum.

If you do make an investment though, we don't think you're going to be disappointed. Thanks to the pair of high-resolution tracking units you need to mount around the room, all of your controller movements are captured perfectly, while the Viveport and Steam libraries mean you've always got plenty of games to choose from.

PlayStation VR headset on white background

(Image credit: Sony)

The best VR headset if you've got a Sony console

Specifications
Compatibility: PS4 and PS5
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Refresh rate: 120Hz
Reasons to buy
+Relatively affordable+Enhances your existing console
Reasons to avoid
-Due for an upgrade

Launched in October 2016, the PlayStation VR headset (or PSVR) is a little on the old side now, but it's still a fantastic choice if you've got a PS4 or PS5 at home. Even though the specs can't stand up to the best that virtual technology can offer today, and the PlayStation Move controllers are somewhat rudimentary, you can still get a lot of fun out of a PSVR.

You can find some great titles available for the PSVR as well: Doom 3, Star Wars Squadrons, Hitman 3, Marvel's Iron Man VR, Sniper Elite VR, I Expect You To Die 2, Winds and Leaves, Vader Immortal, Beat Saber and Minecraft to name just a few. New games continue to appear for the Playstation VR headset, and because it works with the PlayStation 5, you know you're going to still get plenty of use out of it in the future.

There is a question mark over longevity though, because the PSVR 2 is on the way: there's no official launch date yet, but it's going to be 2022 at the earliest. It will obviously offer better specs and performance than the first PSVR, but until it gets here, we think the PSVR is still very much worth a look if the price is right.

HTC Vive Cosmos VR headset on white background

(Image credit: HTC)

A great all-round VR headset for gamers

Specifications
Compatibility: PC
Resolution: 2880 x 1700
Refresh rate: 90Hz
Reasons to buy
+High-resolution graphics+Built-in tracking capabilities
Reasons to avoid
-You need a gaming PC

HTC's range of virtual reality headsets can be a little difficult to navigate, but perhaps the easiest way to think about the HTC Vive Cosmos is as a cheaper alternative to the HTC Vive Pro 2 – it's still going to cost you a substantial amount of cash, just not as much, and you get powerful visuals and a smooth and slick user experience in return.

Unlike the Vive Pro 2, the HTC Vive Cosmos can take care of its own tracking using on-board sensors, so there are no separate trackers to place around your gaming room. You still need to keep this cabled up to a computer though, so bear in mind the extra cost of investing in a gaming rig (if you don't already have one in place).

You get access to the extensive Viveport and Steam libraries for your games and applications, and this being an HTC device, you get a build quality and robustness that you can rely on. If you're looking for a powerful PC-based VR gaming experience but don't want to pay top dollar, then the HTC Vive Cosmos is absolutely worth a look.

Valve Index VR headset on white background

(Image credit: Valve)

5. Valve Index

Top-tier VR performance... for a price

Specifications
Compatibility: PC
Resolution: 2880 x 1600
Refresh rate: 144Hz
Reasons to buy
+Fully integrated with Steam+Excellent hardware specs
Reasons to avoid
-Can be difficult to get hold of

You'll need a fairly decent gaming PC to be able to run the Valve Index, but if you have the necessary hardware, then this is one of the best VR experiences you can buy. Everything from the wide field of view, to the room-scale tracking (with base stations), to the quality of the 2880 x 1600 resolution is impressive – and of course being made by Valve, it works rather well with Steam.

It looks a little bit more stylish than a lot of VR headsets – to our eyes at least – and the components inside aren't bad too. You will have to set up your tracking stations and your PC connection to begin with, so it's not the easiest to get up and running with, but the final experience is worth the wait. That extra effort in setting up the tracking results in some really smooth and accurate responses from the controllers.

On the downside, there's no doubt that this is an expensive bit of kit, even if the minimum PC requirements are relatively modest (so you can save money there). It's not the sort of kit you want to buy if you just want to give virtual reality a try, or you're going to be playing for a couple of hours a month.

David Nield
David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.