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  • Oculus Quest 2

  • How We Tested

  • What You Should Know About Buying a VR Headset

  • Other VR Headsets We Tested

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These are the best VR headsets available today.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The Oculus Quest 2 features high-resolution and a solid slate of apps.

Best Overall
Oculus Quest 2

If you’re in the market for a VR headset, Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 is likely already on your radar. As far as standalone hardware goes, it’s pretty dominant in the space right now, lacking much in the way of serious competition. After spending about a month with the Quest 2 (and its considerable software library), we’ve got plenty of thoughts on who it’s for, what its weaknesses are, and things you should keep in mind when you’re ready to buy.

Right out of the box, it’s clear that this is a quality product, both sturdy and well designed. But getting it set up properly is crucial, and you’ll want to be somewhat aware of what you’re getting into. For my part, I’m 31, I wear glasses (my vision is exceptionally poor), I have very long eyelashes, and I’m not generally fond of Facebook as a social-media platform. That last point is a big source of frustration for many would-be Quest users, because Oculus requires a Facebook log-in in order to use its ecosystem. This isn’t ideal for folks who prefer to keep their account deactivated most of the time. And it seems especially unfair to those who never wanted a Facebook profile to begin with. (The only way around this is to spring for the Oculus business model, which costs $799 plus an annual renewal fee of $180). To access the business model, you'll need to fill out a form on the Oculus website.

Fortunately, once you get through a brief but annoying setup process, the Quest 2 is fairly comfortable to use. It comes with a thin plastic “spacer” that you’ll want to install immediately if you wear eyeglasses. The foam cushion, where your face meets the headset, snaps off easily; you then insert the spacer in between the two pieces, creating a little extra distance between your corrective lenses and the ones used for VR. Don’t skip this step. If you’ve got glasses, take the extra three or four minutes to install the spacer, and you’ll be glad you did.

In terms of carrying around a large piece of electronic hardware on your face, Oculus makes the Quest 2 highly adjustable and cozy to have on. But the thought of using one frequently, for years, makes me want to consider switching back to contact lenses. No matter what you do—through no fault of the designers or manufacturers—having either glasses or long eyelashes (or both, in my case) means you’ll be constantly making adjustments and wishing it was the tiniest bit more accommodating. As with the shape of your frames and the thickness of your lenses, though, your mileage may vary. At about $80, it’s probably worth it to just order a pair of VirtuClear Custom Lens Inserts (available at Frames Direct).

For an additional $100, Oculus offers a version with 192 GB extra storage (on top of the usual 64 GB). The company also sells a special carrying case for $40, an Elite Strap for “enhanced comfort” ($49), and other odds and ends. If you buy directly from Oculus, they recommend Anker’s third-party charging dock as well as a pair of Logitech earphones, made specifically for the Quest 2. When you get a stock Quest 2 for $299, it comes with a charging cable and two motion controllers—each of which has three buttons, two triggers, and a thumbstick. I didn’t feel as though I was ever missing out by not having any of those other items, but audiophiles and frequent fliers may find them useful.

The Oculus Quest 2 is a fabulous little system, but it’s no substitution for a high-end PC or the cutting-edge video games you’ll find on the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Virtual reality is a unique medium with a unique set of limitations, and you’ll probably want to do some research about specific software before taking the leap. Some titles only run at 72 frames per second; others run at 90 fps, which can be noticeably better. And each game or experience will have very different requirements for player input and positioning, which is an accessibility issue.

The Oculus library’s full of riches. Amazon’s Prime Video VR app let me watch stuff like "The Big Lebowski," "David Gilmour: Live at Pompeii," and the first act of "The Rise of Skywalker" in a spacious, old-timey movie theater—all without leaving my home. I especially enjoyed Vader Immortal (available at Oculus) and the popular rhythm game Beat Saber (available at Oculus), which runs at 90 Hz. I also tested games like Superhot (an old favorite) (available at Oculus), Job Simulator (available at Oculus), and Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge (available at Oculus). The Galaxy’s Edge game runs at 72 fps and allows for thumbstick-based locomotion; I once made the mistake of trying this while standing up and the resulting nausea abruptly ended my VR use for the day.

If you’re interested in a new kind of filmmaking, immersive experiences like Vader Immortal, or games that use motion controls and player movement, the Quest 2 is a worthwhile investment.

Pros

  • Good-looking display

  • Powerful internals

  • Great price

Cons

  • Facebook integration

  • Only three hours battery

  • Limited adjustability

How We Tested

These are the best VR headsets available today.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

We tested each of the headsets several times, casually browsing different software libraries and taking extensive notes on both objective and subjective factors.

With the Oculus Quest 2 as our clear starting point, we spent some time researching the current market for standalone and mobile-based VR headsets. We reached out to manufacturers, tracked which hardware had been recently discontinued (and which ones might be coming down the road), and got our hands on four of the most widely available headsets.

The Tester

I’m Alex Kane, an editor at Reviewed and the author of the Boss Fight Books volume on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Before coming to work here full-time, I spent five years covering pop culture and video games for publications like Fangoria magazine, PC Gamer, Polygon, Rolling Stone, StarWars.com, and Variety. I work from home in west-central Illinois.

The Tests

Working closely with Reviewed’s chief scientist, we came up with a battery of tests tailored to both the quirks of the VR medium and what you should look for in terms of comfort. Over the course of about a month, we tested each of the headsets several times, casually browsing different software libraries and taking extensive notes on both objective and subjective factors. All of the mobile-based headsets were reviewed using a Google Pixel 3a XL, which has a 60 Hz refresh rate, averaging about 57 frames per second in a 3D benchmark test.

Related content

What You Should Know About Buying a VR Headset

It’s hardly a new concept, but the medium of virtual reality has gained a little mainstream traction over the last five years, thanks to Silicon Valley’s efforts to make the tech more affordable and consumer focused. Like television or video games, VR uses rapidly flashing images to simulate a kind of reality. Yet it relies on lenses close to the eyes, and three-dimensional audio, to trick the brain into an unprecedented sense of being there within a virtual space.

The better the hardware, the faster and more convincing the pseudo-reality; the better the sound and user-comfort level, the more pleasant the experience. Typically, you want at least 72 to 90 fps for more than casual, occasional use. If you’re looking to enjoy VR games, the Quest 2 is likely your only serious standalone option in the current market. Higher performance (and some clever design) helps minimize nausea in users playing more complex games in VR—Vader Immortal, Beat Saber, Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge. But many consider it another kind of filmmaking, or even an art form all its own.

What Is a Standalone VR Headset?

For our purposes, we’ll define a “standalone” headset as one that’s either an all-in-one package like the Oculus’ Quest 2 or one that simply requires a smartphone. This differentiates them from higher-performance “tethered” headsets, which have to be plugged into a gaming PC, PlayStation 4, or PS5.

The Difference Between AR and VR

VR, of course, is different from AR (augmented reality), the most famous example of which is Pokémon Go, the popular game for mobile devices. Still, the technologies tend to get put in the same vague category of “mixed reality,” given the ways they both blur the boundary between material reality and the lives we live in the digital realm.


Other VR Headsets We Tested

Product image of Merge AR/VR Headset
Merge AR/VR Headset

Thanks to its flexible foam construction, Merge’s headset is the most comfortable model we’ve tried. Its heavy-duty yet comfortable velcro straps require minimal fuss, and thick eyeglasses can slip in and out of it with ease, which is often a big concern with other hardware. It’s made with young people in mind and marketed to schools, but the clean black-and-silver aesthetic is really tasteful; it’s not something you’d be embarrassed to be caught using. It’s especially easy to get your phone in and out of.

It has a clever two-in-one design built into the lens housing, too. There’s a pair of buttons on top of the headset that slide from left to right, independently, to position the lenses for maximum image clarity—a degree of adjustability that even the Oculus Quest 2 doesn’t have (the Quest 2 just snaps into three different preset positions). Pressing down on these buttons also allows for touchscreen input, whether you’re interacting with a virtual object, arrowing over from the left to the right (or vice versa), or simply responding in the affirmative.

With any mobile VR headset, both performance and software availability come down to what your smartphone can handle. Without the benefit of motion controllers like the Quest 2’s and limited by a 60 Hz display, I spent most of my time with the mobile headsets testing things you wouldn’t quite describe as games—VR films and “experiences.” The first three apps to check out are Within, Google Expeditions, and YouTube VR.

I really enjoyed watching "The Spacewalker," which is a VR companion to the 2017 Russian film about cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. It's available on Merge, Bnext, and Google Cardboard. Other standout experiences included BreathePeace World, a breathing-meditation game based on a children’s book, and U2’s music video for “Song for Someone,” which incorporates musicians from all over the world.

If you’re looking to enjoy more video-like experiences rather than complex games, the Merge is a great choice. It costs twice as much as Google’s Cardboard, but it may be worth it if you plan on extended sessions in VR. The only prerequisite is a smartphone that can run things like the YouTube app.

Pros

  • Comfortable to wear

  • Sleek design

Cons

  • None we could find

Product image of Bnext VR Headset
Bnext VR Headset

Bnext’s straightforward mobile headset is a top seller on Amazon. It’s got a pair of sliding mechanisms—similar to the Merge’s—that let you fine-tune your lens placement for maximum clarity (based on the natural spacing of your eyes). There are some great free VR experiences that can be enjoyed with something like this, but it’s ultimately unremarkable compared to the elegant simplicity of Google Cardboard—or something a little nicer.

Although the straps are gentle and easy to set up, its facial interface isn’t all that comfortable for lengthy VR sessions and, worst of all, there’s no easy way to use your phone’s touchscreen without taking it back out of the headset. Some apps, like Within, offer a full library of content that lets you input commands simply by holding your gaze in one direction, but this is a big source of friction a lot of the time.

Pros

  • Adjustable

  • Offers free VR experiences

Cons

  • Not super comfortable

Product image of Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard is a wonderful little novelty: inexpensive, accessible, and user-friendly. Like the Merge, it’s easy to slide your phone into, but it also does a pretty good job of holding the device in place. There’s something playful and immediately charming about the simple cardboard construction; it gets the job done, and it captures children’s attention in a way that a fancy Oculus headset doesn’t. At $25 or less, the price of entry is roughly equivalent to buying your kid a toy at Target, and you’re opening them up to a whole new medium—for experiencing places they’ve never been, for seeing things they probably won’t find in 2D filmmaking, for playing different kinds of games, for learning.

It’s smooth, sturdy, and a breeze to put together. It’s held in the proper configuration with strong velcro, and there’s a single button in the upper right corner for basic touchscreen input. Kids and adults alike will appreciate the comfort and ease of access here; it doesn’t have straps or adjustable parts, so it never feels restrictive in the way other headsets do. You can simply remove it from your face at will, which makes it easy to share, check the environment around you, and so on.

If you want to dabble in VR and gain a better understanding of the medium or introduce your children to it, this is the fun, risk-free option you’re looking for.

Pros

  • Accessible

  • Playful design

  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • None we could find

Meet the tester

Alex Kane

Alex Kane

Editor, Search & Updates

@alexjkane

Alex Kane is an editor at USA Today’s Reviewed.

See all of Alex Kane's reviews

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