VR Headset Christmas Buying Guide

Whether you’re new to VR or looking to upgrade to the highest spec kits, there is something for everyone in this detailed shopping guide for 2021. When compiling the best of the best, I have taken into account many factors including price, value for money, accessibility, and barriers to entry to name a few. So please enjoy a look at all things Virtual Reality and read to the end to find out my personal recommended pick of the bunch. All prices listed are recommended retail prices as of the time of writing. You may find cheaper if you shop around and look out for the sales. Let’s get into it!

father, mother, and daughter using vr headsets

Oculus Rift S ($300)

Starting to show its age a little at this stage but still offers an amazing VR experience at an affordable price. This one is near and dear to my heart as it was one of the first units I purchased. The price is extremely good value for money however there is another unit on this list that offers more freedom at a cheaper price (we’ll get to it later). The Rift S needs a reasonably powerful PC which may put off some if you are starting with nothing. That said, if you already own a PC that you’ve purchased in the last few years, there’s a good chance you’re already above the recommended requirements to enjoy this VR unit. Oculus has been around for a while and you gain from their learnings over previous iterations. The touch controllers are accurate, intuitive, and comfortable to hold. The only drawback with the touch controllers is that they are still battery-powered. No charging option which seems outdated. Swapping out AA batteries every 10 hours or so is just a nuisance. The inside tracking on offer between the headset and the controllers means no need for stand-alone cameras or sensors and a very easy setup process. The guardian setup is simple and allows you to map out your play area in less than a minute. The video pass-through is also a very welcome experience as it lets you view your surroundings at the touch of a button. Add to that the baseball cap design of the headset and you’ll find overall the Rift S is a very comfortable experience even after long gaming sessions. Using LCD display with high pixel density and a resolution of 1440×1280 per eye. This is a great improvement on earlier models with the screen door effect vastly reduced. That said, you don’t get the darker blacks that you would with an OLED lens. The refresh rate is a lot slower than most units on offer these days too which may lead to more opportunities for motion sickness for newer players. All in all, the Oculus Rift S offers slightly outdated tech but at an affordable price and is still provides excellent immersion. It also opens up countless amazing playable experiences through the Oculus library and SteamVR. Don’t rush out and buy before reading about the Oculus Quest 2 though!

Pros

  • Great affordable price
  • Touch controllers are very intuitive
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Easy to setup

Cons

  • Outdated resolution
  • Slow refresh rate
  • Wireless out of the box option available for same price

PSVR ($350 Bundled with Move Controllers & Camera)

Sony has been one of the only console makers brave enough to enter the Virtual Reality space which is unfortunate. The PSVR went on sale in 2016 and it is now certainly showing its age. It offers one of the weakest VR experiences on this list however the price is still tempting for new users. Add to that the fact that many buyers will already own either a PS4, PS4 Pro, or PS5 and the barrier to entry seems easy to overcome for many. No need for an expensive PC to get up and running here! Sony also takes advantage of old peripherals which is both a blessing and a curse. If you happen to own the PS4 camera and the old PS3 move controllers from 2010 then you can dust them off and use them. Might sound like a reach to expect people to own gear that’s over 10 years old but I was one of those people! I kept all my old PS3 gear and was able to jump right in with the move controllers. However, using old tech causes many restrictions. The move controllers have no analog joysticks which can make movement in VR quite problematic. Teleportation and or button mapping movement can skirt around the issues but nothing offers the same immersion as simply pushing a stick forward. Sure you can use a joypad but you lose all that one-to-one hand movement so neither solution offers the great VR experience we have on other devices. Add to this the narrow vision cone of the front-facing camera and you’ll find you are constantly being pulled out of your immersive experience. There is no 360-degree movement options here, even twisting your head too far can cause the camera to lose tracking which is janky and awkward. Tech specs aren’t overly impressive either. OLED lens gives a resolution of 960×1080 per eye and refreshes rate of 90Hz which is bumped up to 120Hz through interpolation (I don’t know what that means either!). The overall experience is quite blurry especially when trying to view anything in the distance. The screen door effect and goggle visuals due to the low field of view also hampers the experience. The processing power gets bumped a bit if you use a PS4 Pro or PS5 rather than the base PS4 which is nice. This adds a little more detail and clarity to the overall image quality. All of the above may sound like I am ragging on PSVR but that’s not the case. If this is your first VR experience you will still be very impressed and it definitely can offer a lot of fun at a good price. Sony also invested in gaming for the unit which means some of the greatest VR titles have been ‘Sony only’ or timed exclusives. They don’t have the vast libraries to match Oculus or Steam but they do have some really good quality titles such as Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil Village, Firewall: Zero Hour, Blood & Truth, and Rush of Blood to name but a few. So if you don’t have a PC but do own a PS4, you might consider picking up PSVR. Me personally though? I’d wait for a sale or pick up second hand.

Pros

  • Great Price
  • Can re-use old equipment
  • Good library of quality games
  • No PC needed

Cons

  • Limited Hardware
  • Old equipment is restrictive
  • Low resolution & Screen door Effect
  • Need PS4 or above to run

Oculus Quest 2 ($299-$399 Depending on the Storage)

Still staying in the affordable range and ticking many more boxes than those that have come before, the Oculus Quest 2 is a great all-rounder. The biggest draw here is that it works out of the box. No PC or console needed. Just charge it up, pop some batteries in your new touch controllers, and off you go! Also….no wires which is a massive quality of life improvement over almost every other VR unit on the market. Being able to take it with you and play with no fear of getting tangled in wires is very freeing and the ultimate way to experience VR. Specs are also decent here too. A single LCD panel displays a resolution of 1832×1920 per eye with a refresh rate up to 120Hz (recently bumped up from 90Hz through firmware updates). Comfortable to wear and borrowing similar successful tech from the Rift S, this is an impressive overall unit. There are only a few downsides to owning the Quest 2. Storage is the obvious big issue here. You can purchase either 128GB or 256GB storage which you’ll quickly fill up with games having full access to SteamVr and the Oculus store. Also, you will be forced to link your Facebook account before you can even use the unit which is forceful and a bit off-putting (the same applies to all Oculus VR kits currently). However, this is definitely the developer’s pride and joy and their support for the unit is amazing. The jump in refresh rate was beta tested and launched this year, they also have official cables that allow you to link to your PC (optional) which all but removes any storage limitations. There are also rumors of Wifi streaming coming down the pipeline which will allow users to remain wire-free but still benefit from streaming content from their Pc straight to the headset. With the Oculus Quest 2, you really can have the best of both worlds. Freedom of movement without wires and still options to use PC if required. All at a great price. What’s not to love?

Pros

  • Great Price
  • Works out of the box
  • No wires
  • Great games library

Cons

  • Limited storage
  • Lacks power of other more expensive headsets

Pimax Vision 8K X  ( $1299 Headset Only)

Okay so now we are getting into pure enthusiast territory and you need deep pockets to justify a purchase here. The above price only covers the headset itself so you’re looking at adding 499USD for a Vive kit (knuckles and base stations). Pimax have always pushed the envelope on what can be achieved though and here is no different. The specs are hard to quantify which I’ll get into in a minute but on paper, the resolution maxes out at 3840×2160 per eye and the refresh rate can be as high as 114Hz. Clearly one of the best offerings on this list. The display itself offers amazing clarity but sometimes at a cost and the colors are better than any I have seen anywhere else. The variable specs mentioned balance off each other, it seems you can max out resolution but the refresh rate is reduced and vice versa. It’s difficult to find the right balance and to further complicate things, different games will change settings automatically. However, this may be a wanted feature for many experienced users because the range of settings and color options on offer can lead to hours of tinkering to achieve the experience that suits you. It’s the kind of VR headset that invites enthusiasts to really get under the hood and play around with it. One thing you can’t change and wouldn’t want to is the amazing field of view. Pimax have grown famous for having an amazing field of view with all their units and here we have 200 degrees. This means no matter how far you move your eyes, you’ll never see the edge of the screen or the ‘goggle effect’ as I call it. The price is definitely off-putting for anyone other than those really passionate about VR and I think that’s the point. Pimax wants you to tailor your VR experience and you’ll need a rather powerful modern gaming Pc to get the most out of this headset. If you have the money and the powerful Pc, you won’t find a better VR experience on the market.

Pros

  • Amazing Resolution
  • Widest field of view on offer
  • Comprehensive settings
  • Amazing overall VR visuals

Cons

  • Requires high-end Pc
  • Very expensive
  • Settings may be off-putting to some
  • Costs even more to add kit

HTC Vive Pro 2 ($749-$1399)

Not as expensive as the Pimax but not far off, the HTC Vive offers a truly amazing high-end VR experience. The kit price which includes the knuckles and base stations is 1399USD but you can buy the headset alone if you own the other gear for a reduced 749USD. Still very expensive for most and only intended for those with a serious passion for the medium. That said, it is a very premium experience. Resolution 2448×2448 per eye and a refresh rate of 120Hz allow for some amazing gaming experiences. Field of view is also excellent at 120 degrees. As with the Pimax, you will need a modern beefy PC to get the most out of the Vive, and being tethered to your Pc restricts you in ways that the Quest 2 doesn’t. Support from SteamVR is excellent though and for me, the Vive knuckle controllers are the best on the market at the moment. Screen door effect on the headset is all but nonexistent and the consistent image quality with a steady refresh rate leads to some of the best gaming experiences that money can buy. Design quality is something I have not mentioned for any other headset but I’d be remiss not to mention it here. The design and overall aesthetic is beautiful and the end result is that you get a premium quality headset in your hands. From the padding to the strap and headphone options, HTC tries to cater to everyone. If you have the money to spend and a high-end PC, then this is a perfect choice.

Pros

  • Premium build
  • Amazing resolution & refresh rate
  • Good library of quality games
  • Best controllers

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • High-end PC needed
  • Still tethered

My Recommendation

For me, I have to give it to the Oculus Quest 2. The out of the box accessibility makes it a perfect entry point into VR. Add to that the lack of wires and the affordable price and it truly is a winner. The specs aren’t the most impressive on the list but Oculus go to great lengths to optimize the gaming experience on the Quest 2 and you’ll still be very impressed with the overall results. The Quest 2 is the perfect gift and just hard to beat. Will most likely remain top of the list until the Quest 3 … whenever that comes out!

So how about you? Are you looking for a starting point that doesn’t cost the earth or does your budget match your enthusiasm? Let me know in the comments below!   

 

 

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