What’s the best PC VR Headset?

With the holidays coming up I figured I’d throw together a quick consumer Virtual Reality guide.

Basic Terms
Play Space: area you’re going to be using your VR in.
Seated/Standing Only Scale: game/headset is meant to stay within a fixed central point of the play space.
Room Scale: means the headset is capable (even required) of being moved around a large area. This is a large play space you’re meant to be able to explore and move around in.
DoF: Degrees of Freedom: How many ways can the system translate your real movement into virtual movement.
3DoF: Rolling, Pitching, Yawing. Tilting your head side to side, tilting your head back and forth, and Turning your head from left to right.
6DoF: 3DoF plus (X axis) Strafe, (Y axis) Elevation, (Z axis) Surging. All the above, plus moving from side to side, moving up and down, moving forward and back.
Inside Out Tracking: means the tracking in 3 dimensional space is done from the perspective of the headset using cameras or sensors on the headset to calculate the position based on the location of external objects or signals. SLAM (Simultaneous location and mapping), Lighthouse, Oculus Insight.
Outside In Tracking: means the tracking is done external from the headset often using cameras outside the play space. Oculus Constellation.

The Software
There are three main software ecosystems for consumer VR:
Facebook Oculus (Rift and Rift S for PC. Go and Quest are android based) which only supports Oculus hardware.
Windows Mixed Reality (Hololense and WMR headsets) which only supports WMR hardware
Valve SteamVR (Valve OpenVR sdk) which runs any hardware compatible with the OpenVR standard. Originally built for HTC Vive but including Oculus Rift(and S), WMR, and the new Valve Index.

The Hardware
At the middle of consumer VR, Facebook is currently offering two styles of 6DoF headsets; A PC only headset (Rift v1, Rift S v2) and an all-in-one android based headset called Quest that is (or will be) usable with a PC. The Oculus Rift S and Quest both use Oculus Insight, an Inside Out tracking solution that uses cameras that map your surroundings to track your head’s position and that of your controllers. If you do find yourself with an Oculus Rift or Rift S, I recommend making most of your purchases on Steam so that you don’t get locked into Facebook’s store and hardware.

Oculus Rift S $349
Requires a low end gaming PC.
Minimum GPU: gtx 1050ti
Min CPU i3-6100
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

Oculus Quest $399 – $499
Requires a smart phone to set it up with the Oculus Mobile App.
It’s lower powered and and without the PC hookup has limited offerings compared to PC VR.
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

Oculus Go $149 – $199
Facebook also offers an older 3DoF android headset that has limited offerings and a single 3DoF controller that is more like a virtual laser pointer. It’s not bad for consuming media. Watching porn, Netflix, etc. But not really a full VR experience.

I personally have a Rift v1 I got from their Development program Oculus Start. #Sponsored. But I really don’t use it for more than doing dev stuff. My hands are too big for the Touch controllers and cv1 requires a third not included camera to get decent tracking from all 360 degrees. It’s not bad, but it’s not the greatest either, and also Fuck Facebook. I also got a free Go from Oculus Start #Sponsored Not bad either, but I don’t use it for anything but porn, dev, and there’s a decent fishing game that’s pretty cute.

Windows Mixed Reality (WMR)
Microsoft’s version of VR. They basically designed a headset standard and then licensed it out to a handful of companies for production. WMR headsets are all based on a 2 camera inside out tracking solution that is the grandad to the Oculus Insight system Facebook is currently using. It has it’s flaws in that it can’t track location of your controllers behind your head or very close to your face, but it’s not a bad system and what I use most of the time. Because it doesn’t use any external sensors or cameras, it’s super portable. The controllers are not the most ergonomic, but they’re reasonably usable. You can often find WMR headsets and their controllers for pretty cheap on facebook marketplace, craigslist, and ebay because Microsoft often runs deals on them to try and flood the market. I paid $150 for mine and I use it more than the Rift I got for free. Again, buy on Steam not Microsoft’s store to avoid getting locked into their hardware.

Samsung Odyssey+
Once the high end of the WMR ecosystem, but priced reasonably low; Often on sale for $250 brand new. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced VR solution and you have a decent gaming PC this is what I would recommend.
Minimum GPU: GTX 1060 or greater. AMD Radeon RX 470/570.
Min CPU i5-4590 quad-core or better. AMD Ryzen 5 1400 quad-core or better.
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

HP Reverb
Higher End than the Samsung Odyssey+, aimed more at developers and whatnot. Runs about $600, if you’re spending that kind of money you’re better off throwing a few bucks more in and going for the Valve Index. Unless you want the portability of the WMR tracking.
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

There are also Lenovo, HP, Dell, and Acer version of the WMR headsets. They’re almost identical, lower end versions of the WMR standard, and in abundance on ebay.

At the heart of most consumer VR tech is Valve research, they basically bootstrapped much of Oculus’s early tech. When Facebook bought Oculus, Valve then took their own tech and began licensing it out to other manufacturers. The first consumer headset with their tech was the HTC Vive. Valve VR runs on an Inside Out tracking technology called Lighthouse that uses light sensors on the headset and controllers to track pulses of light from external beacon much like… Lighthouses. It’s a very precise technology and is currently on its second, more versatile, expandable, hardware version. You can use new headsets and controllers with old lighthouse beacons, but you can’t use old headsets and controllers with new lighthouse beacons. They also make extra trackers for lighthouse that allows you to do things like track the rest of your body in certain VR experiences and use specialized controllers like this totally not a Nintendo Light gun

HTC Vive refurbished. $349 on sale
Minimum GPU: GTX 1060 or greater. AMD Radeon RX 480.
Min CPU: i5-4590 or AMD FX™ 8350, equivalent or betteri5-4590 quad-core or better. AMD Ryzen 5 1400 quad-core or better.
Decent VR headset, HTC’s customer service is not the greatest tho. The controllers are rather big, so unless you’ve got gargantuan hands like mine, you may find them a bit unwieldy. Uses the original Lighthouse 1.0 hardware.
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

HTC Vive Pro $799
An updated version of the HTC Vive, but not really worth the money. Resolution is comparable to the Samsung Odyssey+ and it still uses Lighthouse 1.0 hardware.
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

HTC Vive Cosmos
I’m only mentioning this to include a link and a warning. It’s an HTC Vive PC headset using inside out camera tracking. It gets horrible reviews. You probably don’t want this, no one does.
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

Valve Index $999
Min GPU 970+ but you’re gonna want at least a 1080ti to take advantage of it
If you’ve got the cash and the GPU, this is the system. It uses the Lighthouse 2.0 hardware, has the new Valve Index controllers (formerly code named “Knuckles”), and it’s capable of running at 144hz. There’s a couple other SteamVR/lighthouse headsets out there from Kickstarters and whatnot, but to me this is the top end of the consumer VR market. Feel free to order me one.
Has handheld 6DoF Controllers

If you’ve got the cash and the hardware Valve Index is the way to go, if you’re on a budget I’d recommend the Samsung Odyssey+. Stick to Steam for your purchases and avoid getting locked into any specific hardware. Be sure to check the hardware requirements before making any purchases, WMR is finicky as to how old your processor can be, the newer headsets require a USB 3.0 along with a display port. There are hardware check apps available to run on Steam, the Vive site, and in the Windows Store.

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