Consumer VR has only been around for a few years, but that hasn’t stopped it from improving (and sometimes failing) at breakneck speeds. We’ve come a long way from the early days of 2016 VR being limited to expensive, tethered-only HMD’s and room-placed trackers as the only option.
Now more than ever, we’re witnessing a generational leap—everything from the amazing market penetration of standalone HMD’s such Meta’s Quest 2 (It’s still an Oculus Quest in my heart) to proposed new tech in PlayStation’s VR 2 and Valve’s patent sprees. Not to mention the idea of a “Metaverse” becoming an actual possibility that is actively being worked on by big names in the industry.
There’s a whole lot to cover—which is exactly what I’m hoping to do in this piece: give the reader some summarized insight into what is happening in the world of VR, and then some recommendations on the best headsets currently available!
There are a lot of big names who have either expressed interest in the metaverse, have active projects contributing toward building the metaverse, provide technology services or content that may become a vital part of the metaverse, or are doing related business in the VR space.
An Overview of the VR Metaverse
It has become impossible to have any sort of discussion about VR without first talking about the idea of a ‘Metaverse’ or a networked collection of virtual worlds (almost a little bit like the Internet with webpages). Talk and work towards such a virtual world was kicked off when Meta, formerly Facebook, made a radical change in its business to focus on building The Metaverse (or at least their idea of one).
This supposed work towards Meta’s Metaverse is something that has exploded across the industry. But it is much more accurate to say that work towards a Metaverse Idea has exploded. Whether it’s building the software and tech to access a virtual world with companies such as Meta, Tencent registering metaverse-related terms in China, or Epic announcing a $1 Billion funding round to support the long term vision of a Metaverse.
Even apple is supposedly working on their own VR/AR googles with hints of a new OS called “realityOS” found in source code. Needless to say, the metaverse has spurred development like little else recently, but it’s not all good news…
The Dark Side of the VR Metaverse
Whether this is your first-time hearing about the Metaverse or not, I wouldn’t hold it against you if you’re a little confused on what exactly a “Metaverse” would be. It is commonly described as an interlinked collection of worlds built with VR and AR technologies in which people will work and play. Or alternatively, images of the OASIS—a metaverse in the dystopian 2011 sci-fi novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Although those concepts to the fundamental core of what this industry-wide trend is about, they are woefully lacking in the details. So far, most projects on the software side are just rehashing old ground by building MMO-like or VRChat-like experiences with little regard to how it fits into any existing business or entertainment formats. This article by Bloomberg summarizes the idea in the following exceptionally succinct way:
“When tech executives like Zuckerberg preach the metaverse, they are promising visions that either already exist, are ill-defined or that nobody actually wants.”
I’d also add that it’s pretty wild to use a dystopian sci-fi book about an environmentally crumbling world (moreso than ours) that uses a virtual world to escape… as an inspiration to build the next generation of social technology. Uh, isn’t that supposed to be something we’re trying to avoid?
But if we step back from the whole metaverse thing and back into the realm of just enjoying ourselves with a few VR games, maybe we can set this heavy stuff aside.
What does this mean for VR Gaming?
The good news is that the VR space—both because of its vital role in this Metaverse stuff, and because of the steady growth of VR gaming as a market segment—is experiencing rapid growth. So, expect big announcements and loads of funding being poured into VR Content in general.
But also expect some changes for the worse; NFT-like systems are set to be the de facto standard for ownership in the Metaverse, and I would expect that this will inevitably affect VR games to some extent in the future. NFTs are obviously not a manifestation of pure evil like they often are portrayed, as the technology could clean its act up and be a powerful tool for ownership of digital resources… but there is also the possibility of them just becoming glorified VR microtransactions, or continuing to act as wildly unstable investment properties.
Whatever the future may bring, though, the current VR space is filled with a plethora of good games and incredible experiences. I would personally recommend giving VR a try in that light, and speaking of giving it a try:
VR Hardware–Best VR Headsets in 2022
The consumer VR gaming market currently consists of 3 platforms or market segments, for lack of a better phrase. Those are traditional VR headsets tethered to PCs (although not necessarily with a physical cable), mobile headsets with all computing onboard, and console VR that is like PC-tethered but with a console instead. It should be noted, though, that mobile headsets also tend to support tethered PC VR.
With all that in mind, here is a short overview of some top headsets currently on the market and widely available to buy.
1: Oculus Quest 2 / Meta Quest 2 | King of Mobile Headsets
The Quest 2 has only gotten better since its release in early 2020. The Quest 2 is an exceptional headset for the price, and has had massive adoption at its $299 price tag for the 128GB model. And honestly, it’s no wonder. The Quest 2 (originally software-locked to 72Hz) now offers a 120Hz with a respectable 1832×1920 per-eye resolution in a small and light package.
It even supports tethered PC VR both through a USB C cable and over Wi-Fi 5. The Quest 2 is jam-packed with features and, except for some gripes over its less-than-ideal straps and Meta’s involvement in it, it is arguably one of the best VR Headsets on the market for both budget-conscious enthusiasts and beginners just getting into the VR scene. Sure, it’s not the best of the best graphically, but for a mobile headset it doesn’t lag too far behind.
2: Valve Index VR Kit | The PC VR all-rounder
The index released in 2019, and may no longer be the absolute best in some regards (even the Quest 2 beats its 1440×1600 resolution, although the Index still has the advantage of a higher FOV of 130 compared to the Quest’s comparatively puny 89). Still, it has held onto its throne as one of the most comfortable and most all-around high-quality headsets.
Particularly big features that stand out are the phenomenal built-in audio, best-in-class comfort, and arguably the most ergonomic controllers that you can easily buy. It’s quite price, with a full kit including 2 room tracking sensors costing $999. Not to mention the inherent cost of PC VR needing a powerful VR-capable PC. But even so, the Index is still a strong option to consider now in 2022.
3: HTC Vive Pro 2 | Best Resolution on the Market
Both of the last two entries boast respectable, generally-high-end displays that one would expect in a modern headset. But if you’re looking for the best of the best, then the Vive Pro 2 is the headset for you.
A 5K / 4896 x 2448 resolution coupled with 120Hz refresh rate and a 120 FOV leave the competition’s displays in the dust. But that’s about all that the Vive Pro 2 brings to the table that’s new; it is essentially a Valve Index with an improved display, and is perfectly poised as an upgrade to it. But, as you might expect from that description, it’s got a steep $1,399 price tag, which is noticeably higher than the Index.
VR Headsets to Look Forward To
Those were the headsets you can buy now, but there are also a couple particularly exciting headsets to be aware of, that are coming in the future:
1: Meta’s Project Cambria | A higher-end Quest Alternative
Meta’s announcement at last year’s Connect Conference gave a glimpse of their new upcoming headset, set to be a more premium mobile headset that would still support the Quest’s library of games.
Not much is known, but Meta has confirmed features such as eye tracking, face tracking, color passthrough, redesigned controllers, and new lenses. If you’re in the market for a mobile headset and don’t mind dropping a bit more cash than the cost of a Quest 2, then Cambria might be a great alternative to wait for.
2: PS VR2 | Next-gen Console VR
One of the most exciting VR announcements happened this year during CES 2022, when PlayStation has announced a new VR headset to go with the PS5. We have had a few specs revealed but so far, but we’re still sorely lacking in the details about how the headset is actually going to look.
What we do know is that the headset will boast a 2000×2040 OLED display per eye at 120 FPS, single cable connection, haptic feedback on the headset itself, and eye tracking. Needless to say, if you’re looking for a console VR experience then waiting for the PSVR2 is the way to go.
And that’s it! There are a few other arguably noteworthy headsets not mentioned here, such as the upcoming Pimax Reality 12K OLED (a monstrous enthusiast-level tethered headset promising 200Hz with 6K resolution per eye at an FOV of 200), the HTC Vive Flow (which is available now, but is more content-consumption-focused or enterprise-focused, rather than gaming-focused), and the HP Reverb G2 (which is also available now, and has a very impressive display, but which has several drawbacks in quality of tracking and overall support).
But the list above covers what we feel are the best current and near-future options for the vast majority of VR users. Do leave a comment, though, if you think we missed something, or just to let us know your thoughts on the future of VR and its role in the mystical metaverse!