What’s the best VR headset overall?
At this moment, the Meta Quest 2 is still our favorite all-around headset. The several-year-old self-contained Quest 2 remains the most affordable and versatile VR headset you can buy. It can play games, run creative and productivity apps, be used for surprisingly good fitness apps, and can also connect to PCs and work as a PC gaming headset, too. However, the landscape is changing fast. The upcoming Meta Quest 3, arriving October 10 for $500, could be worth waiting for. The Quest 3 has better graphics and a higher-resolution display, is smaller, and can do mixed reality, blending the virtual and real world with passthrough color cameras like Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro headset (but for far less money). It impressed us in an early hands-on, and it’s backward-compatible with existing Quest apps. Even so, the Quest 3’s higher price means many people will still settle for the Quest 2. Once we review the Quest 3, our top pick may change.
At CNET, we’ve had experience reviewing the VR/AR industry since the arrival of the original Oculus Rift prototypes. We’ve covered nearly every big moment in the industry for well over a decade and have tried demos of every headset we could get our hands on, as well as reviewing all the biggest products in the marketplace. Our comparative understanding of the landscape, and also what’s coming, lets us value the present in terms of the future.
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 doesn’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 for 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
VR and AR sometimes feel like product categories that never quite seem to become mainstream, but change is coming fast to the headset landscape.
Sony’s $550 PlayStation VR 2, which was released earlier this year, delivers a great console 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 our second favorite VR headset available right now, but it’s more expensive than both the Quest 2 and Quest 3, and still needs a PS5 to work.
For PC owners, there are several options. You could use a Quest 2 (or Quest 3), or consider a number of existing devices. The biggest previous players in the PC VR gaming scene (Microsoft, Valve, and HTC) have been quiet on that front lately.
Apple’s (and $3,499) Vision Pro headset — a self-contained, standalone VR/AR device that Apple is positioning as a full spatial computer — isn’t arriving until 2024, but it stands as the highest-priced and highest-resolution experience on the horizon. Based on an early first demo, the hardware definitely impresses, but the software remains more of an unknown. At this point, Apple’s device is very much a wait-and-see product, although its ability to run all sorts of iOS apps and have multiple 3D apps open at once could make it a unique option for someone with a giant wallet.
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 first mainstream mixed reality VR headset that’ll be available, and upcoming expected devices by Samsung and others should be on their way. Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chipset, which enables mixed reality, more AI functions, and better graphics, is making its debut on the Quest 3 but will roll out to other headsets in 2024 and beyond.
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.
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.
If you’re a PC gamer, a PC-connected VR headset still offers the most versatile collection of software for an immersive VR experience, and it also lets you use that headset for creative and business tools. Meta’s Quest headsets can double as PC-connected VR devices. Valve hasn’t had any new VR hardware in a while, and it’ll be interesting to see if anything new gets announced anytime soon.