Winston is a VR developer focused on creating immersive storytelling experiences. Contact him on Twitter: @VRHeavenNews
August 30th, 2022

What to Look for When Buying a VR Headset (5 Factors)

5 Factors to consider when buying a VR headset

If you’re new to VR, this guide will show you the ropes on how you can choose the best VR headset, tailored to your own personal preference. It’s aimed at people who’ve never used VR before.

Let’s get started:

The 5 main factors you should consider when choosing a VR headset:

  1. Immersion
  2. Comfort
  3. Platform
  4. Tracking
  5. Cost

1. Immersion

Immersion is one of the most important factors when choosing a VR headset. You want a headset that’ll immerse you so much that your brain will think you’re actually in the metaverse and forget about reality.

4 things can influence immersion:

  1. Resolution
  2. FOV
  3. Wireless capabilities
  4. Audio

Resolution

Resolution is very important, but there are diminishing returns once you get past a certain point.

Since the lenses are so close to your eyes, you’ll see the individual pixels on most headsets (called screen-door-effect). This is a bad thing:

what is screen door effect

You want a headset that has high enough resolution to where there is no screen door effect.

Once you reach this point, having a higher resolution can still improve immersion, but it’s not as important as before.

The break off point is around the Quest 2’s resolution: 1832×1920 pixels per eye. The screen-door-effect is almost not noticeable anymore. You’ll have to focus really hard if you want to see the individual pixels.

Here’s a table of the resolution of the best VR headsets:

Headset (highest to lowest) Resolution (per eye)
Pimax 8K X 3840 x 2160
HP Reverb G2 2160 x 2160
Meta Quest 2 1832 x 1920
Valve Index 1440 x 1600
HTC Vive Pro 1440 x 1600
Oculus Quest 1 1440 x 1600
Oculus Rift CV1 1080 x 1200
PSVR 1 960 x 1080

FOV (Field of View)

FOV is the most important factor when it comes to immersion. It’s even more important than resolution.

What is FOV?

diagram explaining what is FOV

FOV, or field of view, is basically how far you can see horizontally and vertically.

Imagine this: You put on a pair of binoculars. You only see a small portion of the image.

You put on another pair with larger lenses. You get to see more of the image (higher FOV).

Human vision FOV is around 220° horizontally. The Pimax 8K X is the only headset that comes close to this.

Here’s a chart showing the FOV of today’s best VR headsets:

Headset Vertical FOV Horizontal FOV
Quest 2 95 95
HTC Vive 102 103
HTC Vive Pro 2 96 116
Valve Index 109 109
Pimax 8K X 103 160
HP Reverb G2 90 98
Quest 1 93 93

Note: In order to get a headset with high FOV, you’ll need to be willing to spend $1000+

Wires

I can’t stress enough about how convenient it is to be wireless.

Imagine having a 5 meter cable dangling from your headset, connected to the back of your PC.

As you swing your arms around or move around the room, you always have to be in constant fear of not pulling the cable or tangling the cable. This can make the experience less immersive.

If you plan on getting a wired headset, I recommend getting a pulley system. It’s not as good as wireless, since it can still get tangled, but makes cable management 10x easier.

2. Comfort

Comfort should be the second most important factor when choosing a headset.

Some headsets are so heavy and uncomfortable that you won’t even be able to wear them long.

3 factors that affect a VR headset's comfort: weight, face padding and strap

  1. A heavier headset will put more pressure on your cheeks and cause neck strain.
  2. Bad face padding will feel very rough on your face and make the headset feel heavier than it really is.
  3. A bad strap will not distribute the weight evenly, putting all the weight on the front of your face.

Important: The strap and the face padding can be changed with comfort mods. Headset weight cannot be changed.

If a headset is uncomfortable due to the face padding or straps, you can easily fix that. However, if a headset is uncomfortable due to its weight, that cannot be fixed.

Here’s a table analyzing the comfort for each headset:

Headset Comfort Rating (no mods) Comfort (with mods) Headset Weight
Quest 2 3/10 9/10 1.1 lbs
Quest 1 4/10 6.5/10 1.25 lbs
HTC Vive 6/10 7.5/10 1.7 lbs
Valve Index 6/10 7/10 1.78 lbs
Pimax 8K X 4/10 6.5/10 1.87 lbs
HP Reverb G2 8/10 9/10 1 lbs
PSVR 2 ??? ??? ???

Overall, since the Quest 2 is one of the lightest headsets, even though the face padding and strap design is horrible, those can be fixed with comfort mods. Due to its light weight, adding comfort mods will make it the most comfortable headset out there. The HP Reverb G2 is also really comfortable.

Which comfort mods should you get? I recommend the Kiwidesign Elite Strap and VRCover’s Facial Interface Replacement. They make a world of difference! Read more about Oculus Quest comfort mods here.

3. Platform (PC, Console, Phone or Standalone)

Most headsets require a VR-ready computer to run, or a console (PS4 and PS5).

The exception is the Quest 1 & 2 which is completely standalone. If you don’t have a powerful PC, these are your only two options.

4. Tracking

What is VR tracking? Tracking means how well the headset can track where your controllers are.

There are 3 components to tracking:

  1. Accuracy
  2. Tracking Type: Inside-out vs. outside-in tracking
  3. Full body tracking

Accuracy

Most headsets today are quite accurate at tracking your controllers. Only the HP Reverb G2 suffers a little bit.

Since most headsets are so similar in their tracking, the only time it really matters is if you want to become a master at competitive games like Beat Saber.

At the highest levels of Beat Saber, a tiny improvement in tracking will yield noticeable improvements in score.

So if your plan is to climb the leaderboards in a competitive game, then you want to prioritize headsets with Lighthouse tracking. Lighthouse tracking is the most accurate tracking available.

Valve Index and Pimax headsets have lighthouse tracking. HTC Vives and HP Reverb G2’s can get lighthouse tracking if you buy Valve Index controllers and base stations.

Lighthouse tracking headsets are generally more expensive and require you to set up external sensors on the walls.

For those interested in getting a VR headset for competitive purposes, read my guide about best VR headsets for Beat Saber.

But if you don’t care about getting top leaderboard scores in Beat Saber, I wouldn’t worry too much about tracking accuracy.

Most headsets can track very well and you’ll not notice any difference between them until you reach a high skill ceiling.

Tracking Type: Inside-out vs Outside-in Tracking

The type of tracking determines if you need to set up external sensors on your walls or not.

  • Inside-out tracking = Don’t need external sensors, as there are in-built cameras in the headset which detect where your hands/controllers are.
  • Outside-in tracking = You’ll need to set up external sensors on the walls (called base stations) to track your movements. Outside-in tracking is a little bit more accurate, but requires putting sensors on your walls and troubleshooting them can be annoying.

Most people prefer inside-out tracking, since it’s so much more convenient.

Which headsets requires external sensors?

Headset Tracking Requires External Sensors?
Oculus Quest 1 Inside-out No
Oculus Quest 2 Inside-out No
HTC Vive Pro Outside-in Yes
Valve Index Outside-in Yes
Oculus Rift Outside-in Yes
Oculus Rift S Inside-out No
PSVR 2 Inside-out No
Pimax headsets Outside-in Yes
HP Reverb G2 Inside-out No

Full-body tracking

Full-body tracking is important for VRChat. If you don’t plan on playing VRChat daily, then you can ignore this section, as most games don’t support full-body tracking.

Full-body tracking will allow you to dance and move your feet in-game. Normal tracking only tracks your headset and controllers. With full body tracking, you can track your knees, feet, elbows, waist and more. You DO need to buy trackers for each part you want to track and these are very expensive.

You also need a headset with outside-in tracking to track your body.

It’s possible to get full-body tracking on a Quest 2 with inside-out tracking, but the tracking is significantly worse than outside-in tracking. There’s more latency and the tracking isn’t as accurate.

5. Cost

In terms of cost, it’s not even debatable that the most ‘bang-for-your-buck’ headset is the Quest 2.

In fact, this headset is so good that it rivals those headsets which cost over $1000.

One Last Thing

Another thing to consider is the IPD of the headset. IPD is the distance between your eyes (or pupils to be exact). You want your IPD to match the headset’s.

Most people fit within the normal IPD of VR headsets, but if you have very large or small IPD, you might have issues.

Here are the IPD of different headsets:

Headset IPD range (mm)
Oculus Quest 1 56 – 74
Oculus Quest 2 59 – 68
Valve Index 58 – 70
HP Reverb G2 60 – 68
HTC Vive Pro 57 – 72

If your IPD is slightly out of this range by a few mm, it should be fine as well.

I hope that helps you out in choosing the best VR headset!

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