The Best VR Headset Available in 2019 – A Comprehensive Buyers Guide
Now that the VR industry is coming up in the world, it’s time to assess the best VR headsets in 2019. The last year or so has been rather hectic for this small(ish) niche. There’s been a ton of innovation, and it’s all culminated last month with the highly anticipated arrivals of next-gen VR devices: Oculus Rift S, Oculus Quest, and the high-end Index VR Kit. They’re all proper powerhouses in their own yard, capable of delivering entertaining and highly immersive VR experiences.
Best of all, we’re witnessing the initial price tier forming with several smaller niches occupying the market. We have low-end, mid-end, and high-end devices, alongside Oculus Quest, which represents a standalone VR experience.
But what are the best VR headsets to purchase in 2019? With this new lineup of devices swarming the market, buying a good choice can become confusing pretty quickly. With smartphone-based VR, numerous headsets based on Windows Mixed Reality platform, and the standard Oculus and HTC devices, newcomers to the niche could end up puzzled.
So, before I start listing the best VR headsets in 2019, first I’ll teach you what to look for!
What You Need to Know Before Purchasing a VR Headset
As is the case with every other tech device, VR headsets are differentiated by a wide variety of characteristics. We’re mostly referring to hardware and software choices, as well as game availability and comfort. In fact, let’s go through them real fast so that we’re on the same wavelength once the list kicks off.
Obviously, one of the most important aspects of VR headsets is their display resolution. Since these displays will be right in front of your eyes, it’s important to go with those that have the highest resolution and fastest refresh rate. FOV shouldn’t be taken for granted either. It basically reflects the amount of information you’re able to see at once.
Alongside display resolution and FOV, there’s also this thing called screen-door effect. It’s basically a result of having displays so close to our eyes. Since their resolutions aren’t that good, we’ll experience a bit of pixelization which will be reflected as a “screen door,” hence the name “screen-door effect.”
The screen-door effect in action
However, SDE is becoming a thing of the past with the second-generation VR devices having higher resolutions. It will still be present but at a much lower level than what was the case with the first-gen lineup.
Right now, there are two types of tracking systems incorporated in the VR industry. They’re named after the positioning of their sensors, external and internal. Internal tracking technology, as its name suggests, works from inside the headset itself. There are tiny sensors and cameras placed all around the headset, allowing full six degrees of freedom.
However, internal tracking systems are not nearly as reliable as external ones. These require specialized base stations placed around the room to provide a proper room-scale VR experience.
A big part of comfort is the weight of the device. After all, you’ll have that thing strapped to your head for hours on end. That, however, depends solely on the type of VR platform you’re pursuing. PC and console-based VR devices are much lighter (read comfier) than standalone options.
If you’re buying a VR headset solely for the purpose of gaming, make sure you explore its game library before finalizing your purchase. Mixed Reality platform devices, Oculus, HTC, and Index VR all have pretty big game libraries.
Smartphone-based devices, as well as Nintendo Labo, are somewhat limited in this department. The same goes for Oculus Go, which isn’t a smartphone-based device but still lacks the necessary tracking capabilities to run mainstream VR games.
What About VR Gaming Platforms?
I’ve already mentioned different platforms/niches inside the VR gaming industry. Well, this section will focus solely on the three main platforms which feature VR environments. Alongside them, there are also several lesser-known options which will be briefly covered.
Let’s start with the most important VR platform, PC! It’s where the VR industry took its first steps, so it’s only logical to start off there. When it comes to VR gaming on PC, the first thing you’ll need is a rather beefy rig. While Nvidia’s Maxwell cards ought to suffice, for the most part, it’s recommended to use either Pascal or Turing cards for optimal performance. Of course, they should be paired with at least a mid-range CPU and minimum 8GB of RAM.
A few months ago, the best PC VR headsets were made by HTC and Oculus. Their Vive and Rift models were ruling the market, leaving only bits and pieces for various Windows Mixed Reality devices. Now, with the release of Valve’s Index VR Kit, the situation has been drastically altered.
Don’t get me wrong, HTC and Oculus devices are still the most popular options. However, considering the bells and whistles Valve’s VR headset supports, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slight popularity switch in favor of Lord Gaben, especially if Half-Life 3 gets released as a fully-fledged VR Index Kit exclusive.
When it comes to VR gaming on consoles, PlayStation VR (PSVR from now on) is the only device you should be looking for. If you’re on the green side of the console territory, then I recommend going for a standalone device. If, on the other hand, you already own a PS4 (or PS4 Pro), PSVR headset is the quickest and cheapest way of getting into VR gaming.
As far as the technicalities are concerned, PSVR sports an OLED panel with 960×1080 resolution per eye. With adaptive refresh rate and varying FPS modes, PSVR is indeed capable of satisfying the needs of casual gamers. If, however, you’d like the charms of modding, a much wider game library and other bells and whistles, or you simply don’t own a PS4 yet, then your best option is to go for a PC-based device. They are a bit more expensive but will move you away from filthy casuals.
As far as standalone VR headsets go, Oculus Quest is the only proper option out there. This brand-new VR headset features six degrees of freedom, is relatively comfortable, and comes with the new and improved Oculus motion controllers, not to mention the fact that you don’t need a PC to play VR games. That’s the sole purpose of standalone/AIO VR devices. Yep, this thing is basically a virtual reality console!
Additionally, Oculus Quest doesn’t require any sort of cable management. There’s no tethering here, so you’re free to roam around your room without worrying that you’ll stumble upon the tethering cable and break your tech toy.
In my book, AIO devices will be the best VR headsets in 2019 as far as popularity is concerned. Their initial cost is only a fraction of what you’d have to pay in order to experience PC VR gaming. That’s going to be the deciding factor here, no doubt about it.
Another thing that sparks joy in my tech-driven head is the potential boom in VR gaming. We’re already experiencing it, but I expect another, much bigger one. Now that Oculus Quest is available for purchase, if it proves to be a worthy alternative to the expensive and (often) complicated PC segment, I reckon it could push the entire VR industry into the mainstream. The process has already started, and I hope it’ll evolve into a proper breakthrough.
When talking about other VR gaming platforms, the most important one is the smartphone niche, with Samsung Gear VR being the most prominent specimen. With the recent introduction of motion controllers, Samsung Gear VR seems like a solid choice for casual gamers.
Nintendo Labo is also a platform on its own. It brings forth an innovative approach to VR and, as such, aims at completely different demographics. No worries; we’ll talk about Nintendo Labo further down the line.
Best VR Headsets in 2019 – Buyers Guide
We’ll pick one VR headset per category. That means one for PC, one for console, and one (and only) standalone VR headset. Of course, there will be several additional options in the Honorable Mentions sections.
Let’s be realistic here. PlayStation VR is the only real console-based VR experience. It’s not perfect, however. Just like the PlayStation 4 (and Pro) platform lack proper hardware to push graphically beefier titles, the same limitations are present with PSVR. I guess Nintendo Labo should be included here, but since it sports a totally different approach to VR than all other VR headsets, it deserves a separate category.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat; PC-based VR headsets offer a much better experience — better video quality, superior graphics and tracking, and a lively modding scene. The latter’s perhaps the most crucial factor.
However, if you already own a PS4 or PS4 Pro, PSVR offers the cheapest entry to the world of VR gaming. It might not be ideal, but for console gamers who aren’t used to PC bells and whistles, it ought to be good enough. Right?
The original Oculus Rift was nowhere near the original HTC Vive. However, with several upgrades along the way, Oculus Rift can now provide a fully immersive, room-scale VR experience. And, best of all, it’s not even that expensive anymore, if we’re not counting a powerful PC that can run most of today’s VR titles.
And that’s exactly where Oculus Quest aims to take its share of the cake. For those of you not in the know, Oculus Quest is the world’s first AIO VR headset with six degrees of freedom, based on the Oculus virtual reality ecosystem. As far as the game library is concerned, Oculus Quest won’t have any issues. The Oculus Store will bring forth all top-tier games and will surely continue to drop new titles as time goes on.
The pricing is insanely aggressive: $399 for the 64GB version and $499 for the 128GB version. And the VR headset itself is all you need. There’s no need for a beefy PC and no need for additional tracking base stations and complicated setup process. The Quest handles things with minimalistic brilliance. All you need to set it up is a smartphone. And that’s it. You can game virtually anywhere you want.
However, please note that it works better inside the house than in direct sunlight.
Index VR Kit
The Valve Index VR Kit is hands-down the best VR headset in 2019. But then again, it is the only true high-end model at the moment, sporting a price that reflects its superiority. With two LCD displays, each featuring 1440×1600 resolution and 120hz (up to 144hz), there’s no doubt Index VR Kit has the best visual experience out there.
Gabe Newell with an early Index prototype
Another thing that makes it stand out is its innovative Knuckle Controllers. Their superbly executed design and a whopping 87 sensors per controller give players much more natural hand control. Of course, for this to have any effect in-game, Index VR Kit will require new games capable of using all of its advanced mechanics.
The full package costs a grand. That’s more than double the amount you’d have to pay for the brand-new Oculus Rift S. However, that package comes with full room-scale capabilities as well as the innovative Knuckle Controllers. At the moment, it’s the pinnacle of what the VR industry has to offer. That said, if you’re looking to get into VR gaming and money is not an issue, then Valve Index VR Kit is the VR headset you should buy!
There are several options that could also be viable for the PC segment, mainly the first and second generations of HTC and Oculus VR headsets. Their hardware is pretty solid, their tracking capabilities are off the charts, and the general level of immersion they can provide is still pretty decent. But best of all, their prices have dropped significantly.
I’m talking about HTC Vive (and Vive Pro) as well as Oculus Rift. Even though the S version brings some improvements, it does worse in certain segments, so I’d still choose the original instead. HTC Vive Pro is still relatively expensive, but if you don’t need the extra bells and whistles, the original Vive can be found for pretty cheap.
Lastly, there’s this thing called Labo, which is basically Nintendo’s version of VR. It’s massively different than all other devices out there. That’s nothing surprising considering Nintendo’s reputation, innovation-wise.
Nintendo Labo in action
Nintendo Labo is mainly aimed towards children. With its flashy colors, wacky mechanics, and a highly entertaining building element, Nintendo Labo is the best children-friendly VR experience. If you want your little ones to experience VR in an environment suitable for their age, Nintendo Labo is the obvious choice.
As far as the best VR headsets in 2019 are concerned, I believe we covered all the important ones. Yes, including honorable mentions. Right now, the VR headset market is experiencing a generation change. Models that brought VR gaming into the mainstream (sort of) are now being upgraded. We’re talking about a similar generation change like we’re seeing in the console market every couple of years.
For us VR gamers, this means two things.
First, we’re getting a whole bunch of tech we get to explore and play around with. As you could’ve seen above, these are more powerful devices that are capable of providing greater immersion than their first-gen counterparts.
Second, the prices of first-gen devices are bound to drop even further. With both new Oculus devices sporting aggressive price tags, the competition will have no other way of handling the situation. However, with the arrival of Valve’s Index VR Kit priced at roughly a grand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fork in the market with a whole new tier of high-end devices.
Even though their prices would be relatively high, the end result would still be good for the industry, with more competitive prices across all price tiers as well as a bunch of new games capable of pulling the last bits from the upgraded hardware.
All in all, if you’re looking for the best VR headsets in 2019, I reckon our little list was helpful enough. At the moment, only the listed devices are actually worth getting. Yes, including the honorable mentions from HTC and Oculus.
Even though I don’t believe the VR industry has reached its peak yet, I have to say the popularity boom feels nice. There are a lot more players online, which makes multiplayer games much more enjoyable. That said, I’m really looking forward to the next popularity spike that ought to happen shortly after the second-gen devices go on sale.