Virtual Reality is one of the hottest technology that we have right now. Sure it took a few years for it to be available to the end-users, but now it has finally arrived. And it is here to stay. There are multiple ways a user can get the Virtual Reality experience. It has grown by leaps and bound over the past few years. It has been continuously evolving and improving ever since the technology was introduced. VR has finally arrived at a stage where there are multiple ways of getting a taste of Virtual Reality.
There are VR headsets that connect to a PC so you can fully utilize its hardware capabilities. There are also headsets that connect to a gaming consoles and a few headsets that connect to a smartphone. There are also standalone VR headsets that don’t require to be connected to any other devices in order to enjoy the Virtual reality experience. In this article we are going to look at a few of our top choices when it comes to VR headset for a PC. So let’s dive in.
Best VR Headset For PC
1. Oculus Rift S – Best VR Headset For Desktops
The Oculus Rift S is the successor to the Oculus Rift. What most people who are new to the VR trend might not now, the Oculus Rift was one of the first big names in the VR spectrum. Now with the Oculus Rift S, Oculus has further strengthened its hold in the VR market. Let us see what the Rift S has and what makes it one of the best VR headset for PCs.
Design and comfort: The Rift S, at a first glance may look similar to the Oculus Rift, but there are a few striking differences. The Rift S has a curved mold with a padded cushioning. This cushioning is present in the part where your forehead would normally rest. The cushioning is also placed on the base of the skull. This is different from the one in the Rift where a thin rubbery strap was used. The strap can be tightened using a velcro strap. This strap went around the back of the head and over the crown. This is then placed at two firmer points that are over the user’s ear. The Rift S has still got a Velcro Strap. The only difference is, instead of manual tightening, it is now tightened using a dial that is present in the headrest.
Like most of the VR headsets, the Oculus Rift S is very comfortable. You will be able to use it for a longer period of time without having any fatigue or issues. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that you still feel like something is hanging over your head. While it isn’t a big deal, some users might find it irritating and uncomfortable. This is more of a VR headset issue than it is an Oculus Rift S issue.
The Rift doesn’t have any external motion tracking sensors this time around. This required you to connect to the PC’s USB port and trail the cables throughout the room. Instead of these, the Rift S comes with outwardly facing cameras. These cameras can track the user’s position in the room. It can also detect the movements of the included controllers. This arrangement of the camera makes the Insight system much more efficient in tracking the position of a player.
Sound: The Rift S includes a directional speaker built right into the headband. This inclusion gives a better and a more reasonable sense of direction. This provides a far better understanding of what’s happening in front of you in the game. Since your ears remain unobstructed, you can easily listen to what’s happening outside of the game. This comes in handy you are able to be aware of what’s happening around you. The Rift S also includes a 3.5mm headphone jack that you can use if you want to plug in your own headphones.
Controllers: The Oculus Rift S ships with a pair of touch controllers. They might seem intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of them, they make up for a great gaming experience.
The controllers include a trigger button for use with the index finger, and a separate trigger button to place the middle finger. The thumbs rest next to three extra buttons. There’s also a thumb pad next to the buttons. This has some sensitive touch areas that kind of feel the same as placing together the fingers with the thumb resting on them. The controllers are intuitive and have a very well balanced design. They are not rechargeable. Instead they both have a single AA battery. The tracking ring in the Oculus Rift S sits on the top whereas in the Rift it was present on the bottom.
They also have “a set of capacitive sensors that detect how you’re holding them.” as pointed out by Adi Robertson from The Verge in his Oculus Touch review. He also wrote that “If your forefinger isn’t on the trigger, for example, Touch intuits that you’re pointing it outward. It can tell precisely where on the top panel you’ve rested your thumb, and if it’s raised, put your virtual hand in a thumbs-up position. The options vary a little by experience, but they create a totally new set of very natural gestures.”
Screen: The Rift S comes with a single LCD screen as opposed to Rift’s dual OLED screens. The screen has a resolution of 2560 x 1440. This results in a sharper and clearer picture. The refresh rate of the Rift S is 80Hz, which is less than that of the other VR headset, including the Rift. While you might not notice any difference while using it, the lower refresh rate will affect in a more physical way. It is generally believed that a higher refresh rate decreases the chance of people experiencing motion sickness. This was evident in the Rift S as wearing it for a longer period did invoke some sickness. This trade-off was one of the reasons the Rift S was able to be priced at this price point. So that has to be taken into consideration too.
Connectivity and Set up: The process of connecting the Rift S is fairly simple. All you need to do is install the necessary Oculus software that comes included and follow a few easy steps. You begin by plugging the headset into the PC. Then you need to put the included batteries in both the controllers. Put the headset on and wait till you see a black and white image of your surroundings, captured and fed through the cameras. All you need to do now is set up the Safe Play Space. You do this by using the controllers and pointing towards the ground to draw a safe area.
This safe play space is then represented to you around you and is visible only when you approach the edge of the safe area. The controller then lets you know that you’re approaching the boundaries of the safe area. As a result of the addition of those cameras, using the headset becomes a lot easier. You can plug the Rift S in and can be up and running in no time.
Performance: The Rift S is a Tethered VR headset. This means that the Rift S is not capable of playing anything on its own. It needs to be connected to a PC. This however means that you can make use of the powerful hardware of PC. The Rift S requires at least an NVIDIA GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 480 GPU. If you have anything above the minimum requirement then you will be able to play most of the available titles. The Rift S however did lack stability in some cases. It would remain unresponsive sometime while booting up and display just a black screen. The occurrences of these issues were not that frequent and that is expected, given the price of the Rift S.
Pricing: The Oculus Rift S is available in stores at a price of around $400. That’s considerably cheaper than the price that the original Oculus Rift as well as other premium VR headsets like the Valve Index and the HTC Vive.
Verdict: The Oculus Rift S is comfortable to wear, easy to set up and has a much bigger library of games available. It also includes two touch controllers and a higher resolution all at a great price point. It however, has a slightly less refresh rate as well as a less superior audio. While it might not give the same gaming experience as the other premium VR headsets, but at its price tag it serves as a more approachable entry point into PC-based VR. So if you are someone who is looking for a VR headset for your PC but don’t want to break your bank, then this is for you.
2. Valve Index – Premium VR Headset For PC
When it comes to the VR hardware, some companies are aiming for the mid-range market. Few are trying out their luck in the budget as well as the mid-range segment. And then there’s those like the Valve Index that are aiming straight for the flagship segment with their high-end specs. Let us see what features the Valve Index has and if it is truly one of the best VR headset available.
Design and Comfort: At first glance, the Valve Index looks just like any of the other VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive headset. But this isn’t the case. Sure you would miss it all out if you just take a glance or two. But the significance of the design is all in the details. It has a plastic face plate on the front that has a glossy finish. Below the faceplate are two front-facing cameras for the video feed. These cameras can be used for the passthrough video during the gameplay. In the future, these cameras can be used by Augmented Reality application once that catches up.
When it comes to the fitting mechanism, the Valve Index comes with a solid, mechanically adjustable head strap. This head strap has an uncanny resemblance to the head strap on the Deluxe Audio from Vive. The head strap wraps fit by going around the back of the head. The lower section of the strap mounts to the bottom of the skull. This provides a more secure fitting. On the rear of the strap there is a small dial. This dial can be used to control the adjustment of the strap by making the headband either tighter or looser. Adjusting the size feels smooth and precise. The mechanism has included precision gears which would make it last for a long time.
The Valve Index also has included some high-quality material for the interior cushioning. From a distance, the pattern of the fabric seems like a firm closed-cell foam cushion. That is however not the case as it’s a very soft material. The cushions are not removable. They are made of breathable foam material. An anti-microbial microfiber cloth wraps the cushion making it feel both comfortable and snug. The Valve Index also uses an overhead fabric strap that has a Velcro Strip for making adjustments for a more comfortable fit.
On the left side of the headset there is a dial similar to the one on the rear. However this button is used to change the distance of the lens from your eyes. It allows you to bring the lenses as close as possible to your face or as far as possible, whichever seems better for you. The dial can adjust protrusion of the lenses from the inside. You can adjust the lenses up to a 10-degree difference in FOV along with a 1cm distance.
The Index also supports mechanical IPD (interpupillary distance) adjustment. This means you can control the distance between the two lenses. This is done using the slider found on the bottom left side. The pupil distances range from 58 mm to 72 mm.
Screen: When it comes to the display, the Valve Index coms with two different LCDs. Both the LCDs have a 1440 x 1600 per-eye resolution. Valve has chosen not to disclose the size of these panels so we have no idea about that. In terms of numbers, the resolution is the same as the resolution of Odyssey Plus headsets as well as the HTC Vive Pro headsets.
The Valve Index comes with custom-designed dual-element lenses. According to Valve, these lenses will provide “high geometric stability” and “minimal shape distortion”. This will also allow Valve to “maximize FOV without sacrificing edge-to-edge clarity.” For a more simple understanding, we can say that the Index will make better use of its lenses than any of its predecessors did. The displays in the Index also have a 5-degree outward that is there to maximize the peripheral view.
The Index might have the same screen resolution as the Vive Pro and Odyssey but it uses a completely different display technology. Instead of having AMOLED displays like the Vive Pro and the Odyssey, the Valve Index uses ultra-low persistence LCDs. This means that it will have a better image sharpness and also less screen stutter. However, the presence of LCDs also means that it can’t produce true blacks. So that’s a tradeoff you have to settle with. True to Valve’s claims, the Index produced “50% more subpixels than OLED” displays. This results in a “three times better” fill-factor. The image in the Index headset was very clear and sharp.
Another advantage of having LCD panels in the Index is that now it can have a higher refresh rate. In fact, the Valve Indes is the first PC-VR headset to support up to 120 Hz refresh rate. The Index also has an experimental feature that enables it to operate at a higher 144 Hz refresh rate.
Controls: The controllers included are one of, if not the most exciting aspect of the Valve Index. The controllers strap to your hand. So you don’t need to hold the controllers and also don’t need to worry about dropping and breaking them. You can do actions and gestures like swiveling the arms or something that mimics throwing an object. It also has straps that secure the handle of the controller to the palm. Around the outside of the hands the strap uses a drawstring to wrap and secure it in place. The top of the strap has 4 different positions that can be adjusted to accommodate the hands of different shapes and sizes.
The Index controllers also have pressure sensors that detect how hard the handles are being squeezed. This allows in differentiating a light grip from a much firmer grip. It also has capacitive touch sensors for animated finger movement. The trigger on the controller has a sensor for the index finger. The thumb sensors have a place for two thumb positions. The A and B buttons have space just beside the hand to place your thumb.
Connection and Setup: The Valve Index needs a gaming PC in order to run. In addition to a PC it also needs tracking base stations. These stations monitor the users’ movement in the virtual world which is then relayed to the machine as well as the headset. The headset doesn’t have any complex setup process. It works work right out of the box without any hassles. Also setting up the base station 2.0 is much faster than it used to before. However if there are any changes in the room, you’ll have to go through the whole setup process and also re calibrate the base station again.
Performance: The performance of the Valve Index was beyond amazing. Most of its features worked fine with the older GPUs that just about meet the minimum requirements. The games looked very good because of the high resolution and the controls were very intuitive. This means that it’s not necessary to upgrade your GPU as long as your GPU meets the minimum requirements.
Pricing: The Valve Index is very expensive. At the time of its release it was priced at around $1000. The Index however justifies its expensive pricing with the performance and the features it has.
Verdict: The Valve Index is a next-generation VR headset that has almost everything one needs to have the best possible Virtual Reality experience. It has great hardware that has a no of features that other headsets lack. The controllers are intuitive and it has a great display. Overall it is one of the best VR headset available. It might even be the best option but its steep price tag means that it isn’t available for everyone. But if you have the budget for the Valve, this will no doubt give you the best VR gaming experience.
3. HTC Vive Cosmos – Great VR Headset For PC
HTC Vive Cosmos sits somewhere between the Oculus Rift S and the Valve Index. On paper, the HTC Vive Cosmos seems like a really capable VR headset. It has some solid specs, motion tracking and an awesome-looking design. While it may not be able to match the more expensive Valve Index, it can easily take on the Oculus Rift S. Lets us look at the features due to which it has been included in our list of the best VR Headsets.
Design: The Vive Cosmos has a colorful and playful body design. The outer has a dark blue color and is covered in a repeated triangular pattern. On the front there are two forward-facing cameras that are kind of similar to our eyes. In addition to these two cameras, there are four more cameras that are mounted on the top and bottom edges of the front, and on the left and right sides of the visor.
The top part has a traditional halo type design which also includes a velcro strap. There’s also a hinge that is connected to the arch on the front of the three-point headband. The Visor is mounted on this hinge. Around the back of the skull, there is the extended headband with a different plastic arch that has a clicking wheel on it. This clicking wheel is used to loosen and tighten the headband. Since both the arches are made of plastic, they have been padded with foam and are covered in faux leather for comfort. An elastic strap goes around the back arch to the front to ensure a more secure fit. The strap is connected to itself with hooks and loops.
The limitation of this design is that the lenses are kind of limited in their movement. They can’t be moved forward and backward like in the Valve Index. As a result of this, the 110-degree field of view isn’t sufficient to fill up the whole visual area of the user. Shifting a little to the left or right will result in seeing black edges on the picture. This isn’t helpful at all for a good immersive experience. On the upside, there is very negligible light leakage around the nose.
On the sides of the headband there’s a set of on-ear headphones resting on the arms. It can be flipped up and down and also slide vertically to adjust it according to the ears. The result of this arrangement is a very front-heavy headset where most of the pressure is on the forehead. This might get uncomfortable at times. But the chance of that happening are very rare.
Screen: The HTC Vive Cosmos two 3.4-inch LCD screens. Both these screens are capable of displaying at a resolution of 1440 x 1700 pixels per eye. Its total pixel count is 2880 x 1700 which is higher than the pixel count of the Rift S as well as the Vive Pro.
Other than the pixel count, the Vive Cosmos also has a higher refresh rate. It comes with a 90Hz refresh rate and also a 110-degree field of view. This is better than the Rift S.The Vive Cosmos also comes with IPD adjustment (lateral lens adjustment or repositioning). It has a manual adjustment wheel that can be used to adjust the distance between the lenses. This ensures that the lenses match the distance between your pupils.
Connection and Setup: The Vive Cosmos isn’t a standalone headset. This means that it needs to be connected to a PC to function properly. This is done through a Link Box which is connected to the PC. The Link Box is a small plastic box. It has a gray-colored body and is similar to a smartphone in its size. On the back of the box is a Power button. Also, present on the back is the USB ports as well as the Display ports. The Link box needs a power source for itself two.
The Link Box is connected to the computer using a USB 3.0 cable and also a Display Port cable. A full-size DisplayPort connection means that a desktop PC with a dedicated graphics card is required. In order to properly connect the HTC Vive Cosmos, you need to have a high specs PC. The minimum requirements fo the headset is at least an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 CPU. It needs to have at least 8 GB of RAM, a DisplayPort 1.2 output and also a USB 3.0 port. For graphics requirement it requires either an Nvidia GTX 1060 or a Radeon RX 480 graphics card.
The HTC Vive Requires a fairly powerful PC for it to work. But if you meet the minimum requirements however, you will get a great gaming experience.
Controls: When it comes to controllers, HTC Vive never had a good track record. This however changes a little with the controllers included along with the Vive Cosmo. For the first time HTC has used an inside-out tracking system. The Cosmos’s Controller has light-up ring circles around the face buttons. It also raises the front of the controller to a slight extent. The buttons include the standard ABXY that is found in an Xbox One gamepad controller. It also two control sticks, a trigger button and a grip button. In terms of controlling comfort the Cosmos comes close to the Valve Index but it isn’t as intuitive as the Index.
To controllers are power by four AA batteries. Two batteries each for both the controllers. The battery life of the Controllers is pretty good because of the optimization and they seem to last for a week. The controllers however have poor ergonomics and they don’t seem like they are reliable for long-term usage.
While gaming, the controllers seemed difficult to hold. The handles on the controllers are pretty thick. Ignoring these tiny detail, the controllers are comfortable enough, they don’t have the most secure hold. This is something that could have been a little improved.
Pricing: The HTC Vive Cosmos was first released in October 2019. The price for its base package is around $700. This package includes a six-camera tracking faceplate.
For a better hand-tracking, you can opt for the Vive Cosmos Elite which will cost around $900 for both the headset and faceplate. If you want to buy just the faceplate, that will be available for around $200.
Verdict: With the Vive Cosmos HTC has finally improved the controllers that come with the VR headset. It is comfortable to wear, is capable enough and can be considered as an alternate to the Oculus Rift S. The Vive Cosmos also includes a new inside-out tracking mechanism that finally gets rid of the base station. It also has a modular front plate, which means that it can be upgraded in the future. It also has integrated speakers, a flip-up visor design and a great pixel display which is sharp and crisp. All these make it a very impressive VR headset. It however has its own fair share of problems and compared to the Oculus Rift S, it is a bit expensive. Overall the HTC Vive Cosmos is very appealing and should you choose it, it will provide you a satisfactory gaming experience.
Throughout this article we looked at three different VR headsets for the PC. All of these were impressive and had their own positive. Do let us know which one of these is your favorite. Also let us know if we missed any other headset. Cheers, and Take care. Until next time.
Last update on 2020-05-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API