Playing a video game in VR has become easier than ever as several significant innovators have thrown their hats into the VR ring. While the first generation of headsets has come and gone, the next generation has come with a handful of excellent improvements and some cool new features.
If you're looking for a VR headset, three of the best to choose from are Valve's Index, HTC's Vive Cosmos, and Oculus's Rift S.
It's tough to decide which one of these VR systems stands out as a clear winner.
Each of these machines is a fantastic improvement over what's come in the past, but most gamers are going to look to pick just one of the three. If you're interested in VR, you owe it to yourself to compare these three headsets.
Valve's Index is the newest player on the scene, but it's arguably one that has the most real weight behind it. Valve has been one of the biggest proponents of VR, and perhaps the company that's taken it most seriously. The Index is an incredibly powerful piece of technology meant to push VR to the next level.
The display for the Index is about as good as you're going to find on the market today. At 1440 x 1600 on each eye, it's simply gorgeous. Though the exact quality of the visuals is going to depend on precisely what kind of computer setup you're using to power the machine, there's no denying that this unit pushes the boundaries of what's going to be expected from VR units in the future.
The good news is that the audio for this unit is quite good. The bad news, though, is that the audio can be heard by virtually anyone who's anywhere near you. Valve did a magnificent job building in speakers and making sure that they're useful in building believable game worlds, but the lack of external muffling can be a problem for those playing at home.
The Valve Index makes use of the same Lighthouse setup that the Vive uses, which means that the tracking is pretty good. It's not perfect, though - there are still issues with drift and tracking loss, though games that use the system can do some fun things with tracking behind the player.
No, the Index isn't particularly comfortable. You'll get tired if you wear it for too long since it's both bulky and heavy. This seems unavoidable, though, considering everything that's packed inside this weighty headset. It's almost certainly the least comfortable tethered headset on the market today.
Setup is a nightmare for this machine. Much like the Vive, you've got to use the Lighthouse sensors - a process that is far more complex than it needs to be, though it is ultimately better for the utility of the device.
The Index Controllers are among the coolest additions to the VR set. A massive jump in utility above anything else on the market, it helps players to feel like they are in the game. It does take a bit of getting used to the fact that the controllers can wrap around your hands, but the utility of the controllers can't be beaten.
The Index is, in no uncertain terms, an expensive piece of technology. Priced at just under a thousand dollars, it's the most expensive VR headset on the market today - and that doesn't even include the price of the gaming PC needed to run the machine. While it's understandably an advanced piece of technology for serious enthusiasts, it's still quite expensive compared to the competition.
Learn more: Steam
The Oculus Rift S is the newest upgrade from Oculus, the company that was arguably behind the big spike in interest surrounding VR. It's another attempt to bring VR to the masses, though still one that's tethered to a gaming computer. Though not the most expensive piece of tech on the market, it's nonetheless one that packs in a few innovations on the road to making a more consumer-friendly VR headset.
Weirdly, the display on the Oculus Rift S isn't as good as it was on the old Rift. It might run each eye at 1280 x 1440, but the refresh rate is down a good bit, and the overall experience is less impressive from a sheer power standpoint than the Oculus Quest. The display isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it feels like this new version of the Rift should've shipped with something a little more impressive.
One of the significant changes with the Rift S is that it got rid of the over-ear speakers. Instead, it now has directional speakers that are meant to bring the sound directly to your ears. The good news is that this makes the whole unit feel a lot more comfortable; the bad news is that you're going to continually annoy anyone who happens to be near you when you play. You can always choose to use headphones, though, and you really won't miss out on anything with that choice.
The big change in the Oculus Rift S can be found in its tracking system. The unit uses a new "Insight" tracking system to put all of the tracking cameras on the headset instead of in the play space. This makes playing a lot easier, especially for those who have a limited amount of room to play. Insight feels like a huge step forward for VR gaming.
While the Oculus Rift S isn't exactly the most stylish VR headset on the market, it certainly feels great. Oculus is going after the consumer market with this unit, and as such, it's about as comfortable as you're going to get at this point. The unit isn't too heavy, and it isn't too awkward, though you'll still want to take frequent breaks when playing.
Since all of the tracking hardware is on the headset, the Oculus Rift S is easy to set up. All you need to do is plug in the two cables and follow the directions on the screen - no other work required. Given how tough it can be to set up some tethered headsets, it's nice to see that Oculus put in some work to make the whole process a little easier.
The Oculus Rift S uses the Oculus Touch controllers, which were a massive jump in quality from using traditional video game controllers when they were first introduced. While the new version of the Touch controllers isn't that much of an upgrade, they are still amazing controllers. Though the Index probably has the most exciting controllers on the market right now, the Touch controllers are probably the best overall.
The good news is that the Oculus Rift S costs under four hundred dollars. That's only fifty dollars more than it costs to get the old version of the Rift, which seems like a pretty fair upgrade price. The bad news, though, is that the Rift S still requires a gaming PC, which realistically adds several hundred more dollars to the overall cost of using the unit.
Learn more: Oculus.com
The display on the Cosmos is 1700 x 1440, making it one of the best in the industry. It's absolutely the best of the three headsets on this list, and you'll get some fantastic visuals with a high refresh rate out of this unit. Though there might be a headset or two out there with better overall displays, they're incredibly rare.
The Cosmos includes a set of on-ear headphones that can either be positioned over your ears or moved out of the way so that you can use your headphones. The audio quality here is quite good, and there is minimal sound leak. This is one of the few gaming headsets that you can use with others around and not have to worry about them getting annoyed by the sound of your video games. If you don't like the included headphones, you can move them out of the way and use your own.
Like the Rift S, the Cosmos has moved all of its tracking hardware to the headset. The good news is that this makes playing on a VR headset a lot easier than it's ever been before. The bad news, though, is that the tracking on the Cosmos isn't quite as good as the tracking on the Rift S. It's a huge step up from the Lighthouse tracking systems, though, and a good look at where the Vive is going in the future.
Vive has done an excellent job of ensuring that their headsets are comfortable. Well-padded and with the hard plastic bits covered with faux-leather, it feels about as good as any headset is going to feel. It's surprisingly light and comfortable during long play sessions, though you will still want to take frequent breaks.
Since there are no external tracking cameras for the HTC Vive Cosmos, setup is pretty straightforward. You'll plug the unit into a LinkBox, and then plug that box into your gaming PC. This means that you're going to be able to get into your favorite VR games very quickly and that you're going to get to avoid some of the more obnoxious parts of dealing with external cameras.
While the controllers for the HTC Vive Cosmos aren't the same as the Oculus Touch controllers, they're functionally very similar. From a practical standpoint, that means that they function very well and that they're excellent for most VR games. They're not quite as good as the controllers that they try to copy, though, but they are a considerable step up from some of the other controller solutions that have been implemented in the VR space.
At seven hundred dollars, the Vive Cosmos sits at a bizarre spot in the market. It's a lot less expensive than the Index, but the Index arguably isn't the competition for this unit. Instead, it costs three hundred dollars more than the Rift S - a considerable jump up in price for a system that doesn't necessarily have the power to justify the expense.
Learn more: Vive.com
It's tough to decide which one of these VR systems stands out as a clear winner. While the Vive Cosmos is definitely a very impressive piece of technology, the Valve Index wins for the best when it comes to specs plus it will almost certainly have a lot of support going forward.
The Oculus Rift S feels like it's going to be the best value for the vast majority of players. Though it doesn't quite match the display quality of its competition, the lower price point, excellent controllers, and the wide variety of games available for this proven system make it an excellent system for anyone who wants to play a video game in VR.