VR is finally good! Yes, it’s taken decades of broken promises and disappointment to get here, but we finally have VR that’s not merely competent, but scarily good. It’s also still improving at a very rapid pace, with the latest VR headsets offering a significant improvement over the 2016 generation of proper consumer VR.

The only real issue with VR as it stands comes down to price. Premium tethered VR headsets don’t come cheap, and that’s before you start bringing in all the accessories and the high-end computer you need to push VR visuals properly. If you’re a little lost already, you can head over to my VR headset buyers guide to learn about all the bits and bobs that make up a modern VR setup.

Here we are going to jump straight in and look at some of the top tethered VR headset choices on the market. There are plenty of choices these days, but VR is one of those things you really shouldn’t cheap out on. Yet prices have really come down in just a few years, which means that despite being some of the best headsets you can buy, there are some pretty affordable units here.

HTC Vive Pro

The Vive Pro is the latest and greatest headset from HTC. The original Vive was a solid competitor to the Oculus Rift when it came out, and the Rift and Vive are still basically the two best-known brands of VR headset. They have not stopped selling the original Vive and this isn’t meant to replace it, at least not yet. For now this is the more premium and therefore more expensive option. This headset is not for everyone, perhaps not even the average VR gamer, but HTC has put enough enhancements into its new baby to make it worth paying attention to.

The first, biggest visual change is the addition of two cameras on the front of the headset. These cameras enable mixed-reality functionality for applications that use it. The HMD now also has built-in headphones as the Oculus has had from the start. The head straps are better designed as well, for improved comfort all around.

The biggest reason to care about the Pro, however, comes down to its new screen technology. The resolution has been bumped up by nearly 80%, with each eye being treated to 1440×1600 OLED glory. It also boasts the same 110-degree FoV of the original Vive.

The Pro is being sold by itself here, which is great for owners of the current Vive who want to upgrade. However, if you are buying for the first time, you also need to pick up Lighthouse sensors and motion controllers, which will set you back a few hundred dollars more. If money is no object, the Vive Pro is one of the best systems you can get. It boasts advanced features such as eye-tracking and foveated rendering, which VR power users are certain to be excited about. If you can stretch to the asking price, this is a killer system.

Pimax 5K Plus

Pimax is another company that isn’t playing around in the mainstream space when it comes to VR headsets. Instead, the company is showing us what might be the future of VR with frankly insane specifications for their 5K Plus headset. The “5K”ť refers to the total resolutions of the two screens. Each screen offers a staggering 2560×1440 resolution. Thats 5120×1440 in total. This isn’t squeezed into the same 110-degree field of view as the other premium contenders. No sir. The Pimax boasts a whopping 200 degree field of view. All offered by custom low-persistence screens that you won’t find anywhere else. They’ve also worked hard to ensure that this headset is compatible with software designed for more common headsets such as the Rift and Steam VR headsets. It would suck to splurge on this beauty only to have nothing to play!

There are some downsides, of course. The price isn’t really one of them, since this is pretty much in line with the cost of other high-end headsets. No, the real problem is that you need some mighty hardware to run software at that native resolution. While the minimum GPU requirement is an Nvidia GTX 1070, even that card has no hope of pushing this native resolution at 90 Hz. So it’s best to think of the 5K plus as a headset with a bit of future-proofing built into it. Within two GPU generations or so I expect this resolution to be within reach. At that time you won’t have to buy a new headset to take advantage.

Now, if you had a current system with a top-tier GPU and CPU, it might be possible to get the most out of the 5K Plus screen, but that’s hardly cost-effective. That said, if you already have such an ultra-high spec gaming computer, then this is the headset for you.

The Classic Remastered: Oculus Rift S

Here it is folks, the latest version of the pioneering headset that brought VR into the 21st century. The Oculus Rift S is a significant update over the original consumer edition of the Oculus. Since 2016 there have been a lot of improvements in VR hardware and Oculus has implemented just about all the improvements that the competition has brought to the table in their attempts to beat the original.

The entire system now looks much more modern and professional. While there was nothing wrong with the original headset in terms of functionality, it did look like someone put it together in their garage. It’s best to think of the original Rift as something like the first Macs Steve Wozniak built in his garage. A great product, but still rough around the edges.

Before we get to any of the technical aspects of this headset, let’s talk about ergonomics. I have the original Oculus with its fiddly multi-strap system and I can tell you ergonomics is super important in VR. While the original Oculus never hurt me outright, it definitely isn’t something you’d want to wear for hours. The worst part is, however, the tedium of taking the set off or putting it on. You can’t just quickly dip out of VR to attend to something. The PSVR first showed us the right way, using a brilliant flip up system anchored by a single headband. One of the reasons this design can work is thanks to serious weight reductions in the hardware.

This new Rift uses exactly such a system for a much more comfortable and convenient setup. We also have new motion controllers and, best of all, inside-out tracking. Yes, those external cameras on the headset mean that you no longer need a tabletop IR camera for motion tracking. The system instead looks at the room around you and reverse-tracks your head position in relation to the objects around you.

With the release of the Oculus Rift S, the company is once again the standard against which other headsets are measured. Best of all, this is one of the most affordable headsets on the market. There really is no downside, especially since the Rift is usually the target platform for most PC VR games.

Dell Windows Visor

Microsoft has really done a good job of integrating VR directly into Windows 10. Through its Windows Mixed Reality platform, it’s made a standardized hardware and software ecosystem which is surprisingly affordable.

I spent some time with one of Microsoft’s reality headsets and came away very impressed. While that unit was of a different brand, this Dell headset follows the same basic specification. Since inside-out tracking and advanced motion controllers are standard, I really feel that this could be the future of mainstream VR. One of the pieces of evidence for this is the low-spec alternative mode for these headsets. For certain business applications you don’t need a high-end GPU, with this system working even with certain integrated GPUs. One example is the virtual desktop application.

Looking at this specific hardware, the all-white design of the Dell looks clean and futuristic. Too bad the motion controllers don’t match the color. It uses the headband and flip-up visor design that’s becoming pretty much standard these days. The resolution comes to 1440×1440 per eye with a 110-degree field of view; so up there with the greats like the Rift. Thanks to a special piece of software, it’s also pretty much compatible with any SteamVR app. Which means there’s already a huge library of games out there. You need to add your own headphones, but other than that this is a complete package. Best of all, it’s cheaper than even the Oculus Rift S. If you’re already a Windows 10 user, this is a very compelling VR option, with a bright mixed reality future ahead for it.

The Only Console Option: PSVR

One of the main reasons that premium VR has struggled to take off in the gaming world is the high price of entry. You’re looking at paying hundreds of dollars for a headset and then spending thousands on a high-end gaming computer to make it all work. Not to mention that the unpolished state of early VR products really only made them work for tech-savvy users.

Sony pulled off a miracle then by producing the PSVR, an add-on for the PS4. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that when the PS4 first released, it was a few years before VR would even become a thing. So the folks at Sony had to really put their engineering caps on to get an acceptable VR system from a console that used weak mobile CPUs and a GPU that would not cut the mustard in PC for VR.

Boy, did they succeed. The PSVR experience is nearly as good as entry-level premium VR and great in absolute terms. They’re getting the most out of the hardware, helped along by an external processing unit that comes as part of the headset package. While some PSVR games work just fine with a gamepad, you really need the PS Move motion controllers and the PS4 camera.

Plenty of people have the camera, which came with many PS4 bundles, but the Move controllers were originally a way for the PS3 to compete with Kinect and Wii. They started making them again for use with the PSVR, but they can still be tricky to find. If you don’t have any old ones lying about anymore, then it may be a good idea to pick up a PSVR bundle that includes the camera and motion controllers.

The screen is an OLED model rated for 120fps. Not that any PS4 game is going to push that, but it’s already pretty much been confirmed that the 2020 PS5 console will be backwards compatible with the PSVR. That’s when this headset will really come into its own. Either way, if you already have a PS4 this is by far the most affordable way to get into premium VR, and there are many quality PSVR games to choose from.

Standalone VR Headsets

The headsets we looked at above are the cream of the crop – the premium, full fat, empty-your-wallet options. However, time has moved on and there are mainstream VR options that are better suited to the smartphone generation.

If you aren’t the owner of a powerful PC or don’t have a PS4, there are now some great standalone VR options out there. They don’t cost as much as a flagship phone. The hardware is premium smartphone guts from yesteryear, but this time it’s dedicated to VR only and has room to stretch its legs away from the thermal limitations of a paper-thin smartphone chassis. If you want a great VR experience at a reasonable price with the same ease of use as most mainstream consumer electronics, this is the place to be.

Oculus Go Standalone Virtual Reality Headset

It should be no surprise that Oculus also has a killer product in the standalone space. After Facebook bought it for billions, the company was undoubtedly going to double down on R&D and the Oculus Go is one of the fruits of this new energy.

First of all, this headset is pretty well priced. It costs as much as a low- to mid-end smartphone, but has everything you need for some of the best mobile VR right out of the box. Facebook and Oculus have ensured that there are a ton of games and other apps to choose from right off the bat.

The screen and optics benefit from the years Oculus worked on this technology, with very clear imagery and reportedly no trace of the dreaded screen door effect. The hardware is more than adequate to drive mobile VR games and if you’ve seen how good mobile game graphics look these days, that’s not a bad thing.

Think of the Go as a sort of VR iPhone or handheld console. You’re getting into a specific walled garden but there’s good quality control on both the hardware and software, and you don’t have to know all the technical details. The Go controller is a versatile motion controller that games for this system have been designed for, and so it’s a pretty seamless experience. Make sure the games you want to play are on the Go and then just click the buy button. It’s as easy as that.

Lenovo Mirage Solo

Lenovo went from being a company no one had ever heard of to one of the foremost makers of PC hardware in the world. They’ve also moved into the mobile space with a vengeance and have literally bought IBM’s old laptop division, keeping the ThinkPad brand alive.

The Mirage Solo is Lenovo’s contribution to the next generation Google Daydream VR standard, which means the software ecosystem is backed by the search giant. This is a proper 6DoF headset that uses patented inside-out tracking. It’s running on the SnapDragon 835 system on a chip. That was the top Smartphone chipset a few years before this headset was released. However, don’t let that fool you. Here the chipset is let loose and can outperform any smartphone at VR, using the same hardware. Developers also know exactly what hardware they are developing for, so there’s little performance wasted.

The hardware is pretty great, but the big draw is access to the wonderful Daydream ecosystem. Google has procured some primo apps and titles for Daydream, many of which you won’t find elsewhere.

The Solo may cost twice as much as the Oculus Go, but it’s in a different league. In fact, its competition is something else completely. Which just happens to be our next contender.

Hail to the King: Oculus Quest All-in-one VR Gaming Headset

While the Oculus Go is affordable and good for light VR gaming, it’s not a dedicated gaming system. For that, you want this – the Oculus Quest. It’s priced head-to-head with headsets like the Solo, but for pure gaming I don’t think there is any competition.

It’s bigger than room-scale, and advanced environmental tracking and cutting-edge motion trackers are standard. These motion controllers can actually track gestures, which is pretty insane, actually.

This is running the same Snapdragon 835 as the Solo with a 1440×1600 per eye resolution. The game support and exclusive titles really make this stand out as a gaming platform. Honestly, right now this is the best standalone VR headset and the best VR gaming system for those who don’t have $3000 to spend on the next best thing. If you want to game in VR for a reasonable price, there’s nothing better on the market.