Best VR Headset For Half-Life: Alyx And More (March 2020)

Best VR Headset For Half-Life: Alyx And More (March 2020) nmprofetimg 1497

Half-Life: Alyx is out now on Steam, making it a particularly exciting time to shop for the best VR headset. The fact that this is Valve’s first big VR game is only eclipsed by the fact that Alyx is the first entry in the Half-Life series since 2007. Because of that, interest in VR gaming has spiked considerably. Valve’s own Index headset was restocked a little while ago, but if you place a new order now, you’ll need to wait about eight weeks before your headset ships. Unfortunately, that’s the case for most VR headsets these days, most of them being sold out at all retailers.

Yes, the Valve Index is a popular VR headset, but it’s not the only one out there. Each VR headset out there right now has unique qualities like high resolutions, AMOLED displays, or built-in speakers. Most also come with touch and motion controllers, VR headphones, and more. We know it can be an intimidating purchase if you’re not already plugged into the VR gaming community. That’s why we’re on the case to help you figure out which of the best VR headsets is right for you, depending on your needs.

Whether you’re looking for a VR headset you can play anywhere, a high-end headset for the most immersive experience on your gaming PC, or something in between, there are plenty of options to choose from. While the early days of VR headsets had us choosing between the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, more companies have entered the space. Valve stepped out on its own with the Index, Samsung created a Windows Mixed Reality headset with the Samsung HMD Odyssey+, and Sony released its PS4-only PlayStation VR.

Half-Life: Alyx is compatible with a wide array of headsets, so we’ve noted which of the best VR headsets are compatible with Valve’s upcoming game. Please note that all pricing seen below indicates the product’s standard list price and does not reflect any discounts or other price fluctuations.

Quick look: The best VR headsets for 2020

Best overall VR headset

Oculus Quest | $399 for 64GB; $499 for 128GB

Compatible with Half-Life: Alyx

Oculus Quest VR headset  Best VR Headset For Half-Life: Alyx And More (March 2020) 3628884 quest
Oculus Quest VR headset

The Good:

  • Completely wireless VR experience
  • Capable of wired connection for gaming PC VR
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Access to Oculus’s store and exclusive VR apps
  • Experimental features illustrate exciting future

The Bad:

  • Experimental features aren’t always stable

The Oculus Quest is a standalone VR headset that has everything you need for a great VR experience tucked inside the headset itself. You don’t need to connect it to a PC or insert a smartphone into it. You don’t need to set up any sensors, either, as it utilizes four cameras on the front of the headset for inside-out tracking. All you need to do is put on the headset, draw yourself a safe playing area with the included Touch controllers, and start your VR gaming experience. You can also manage your apps and browse the store on your iPhone or Android phone, which makes it even more portable.

As for specs, the Oculus Quest’s combined OLED display resolution comes in at 2880×1600 with a refresh rate of 72Hz and 2-3 hours of battery. The 72Hz is surprisingly low for a VR headset, but throughout all of my testing, it didn’t feel noticeably slow. The Quest’s battery life also felt adequate for the length of my sessions; as long as I charged the headset after every use, I was able to have an enjoyable session the next time I put it on.

The Quest’s store includes some of VR’s best games–and latest releases–and playing them wirelessly feels liberating. In a lot of ways, the Quest is what moving around in a virtual space should be. Being able to turn around and move through your playing space without worrying where your headset’s cable is makes the experience much more immersive. The downside, of course, is that the Quest’s specs aren’t as powerful as your typical VR-ready, high-end gaming PC, which means it can’t play some of the most demanding VR games and content on its own. However, there is a solution for that.

Oculus is working on a number of features that should make the Quest even better. The first is called Link, a feature that lets you connect your Quest to a PC with a high-quality USB-C cable. This makes it so you can use the Quest as if it were any other PC headset, which means you can play more demanding Oculus games and access SteamVR games like Half-Life: Alyx. It may only be in beta, but it’s still impressive. I’ve tested it extensively, and I’m impressed with how good the experience is–it’s nearly flawless and stacks up well against other PC VR headsets. There have been cases where actually starting up Oculus Link has been a little troublesome, or where the VR headset disconnected from the video feed, however. Any blips like this were easily fixed, but they were blips that took me out of the experience nonetheless. Thankfully, since it is in beta and the rest of the experience is so good, there’s reasonable hope these infrequent moments can be ironed out.

Second, Oculus is working on hand-tracking to round out the already-impressive motion controls of the touch controllers, which currently only works in select VR apps and the Quest’s main menu. It’s in beta and can be a little finicky when selecting menu options, but being able to see and use your real hands in VR feels futuristic and immersive in the best ways.

With Link, the Oculus Quest is an easy VR headset to recommend for both immersive apps and gaming. It’s hard to understate how good the completely wireless experience is, and the fact that you can plug it into a PC and use it with SteamVR games and Oculus’s PC games makes it a lot more appealing. The specs aren’t on par with some of its PC counterparts, but the freedom you gain from its versatility more than makes up for it, and it’s a huge step up from other, smartphone-reliant mobile headsets like the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream.

Best budget PC VR headset

Oculus Rift S | $399

Compatible with Half-Life: Alyx

Oculus Rift S VR headset  Best VR Headset For Half-Life: Alyx And More (March 2020) 3628887 rift s
Oculus Rift S VR headset

The Good:

  • Sensor-free, inside-out tracking
  • Access to Oculus’s store and exclusive games

The Bad:

  • No wireless option
  • Feels slightly unnecessary next to the Quest

The Oculus Rift S is the company’s PC-powered headset, which means it can’t be used wirelessly like the Quest. However, you still don’t need to worry about sensors. Oculus has gone all-in on inside-out tracking, so all of its headsets are free to roam any space that has enough room–or that the Rift S’s cable is long enough to reach.

The Rift S comes with its own Touch controllers and has access to the Oculus Store’s VR apps, in addition to any other compatible game or app from any storefront on PC. This includes the vast majority of SteamVR games. The resolution comes in at 2560×1440 with a refresh rate of 80Hz.

The big question is, why would you go with the Rift S if the Quest can connect to a PC, do everything the Rift S can, and also live as a standalone headset? Well, the main reason is that the Quest’s Oculus Link is still in beta and, while impressive, is not always the most stable experience, especially if you step outside of the Oculus ecosystem of apps. If you want a perfectly stable PC VR experience right now and access to the Oculus Store’s apps, then the Oculus Rift S is one of the best VR systems you can get.

Best high-end VR headset

Valve Index | $999

Compatible with Half-Life: Alyx

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Valve Index VR headset

The Good:

  • Up to 144Hz refresh rate
  • Widest field of view
  • Compatible with Vive controllers and base stations
  • Includes free copy of Half-Life: Alyx

The Bad:

In terms of pure technical prowess, the Valve Index is without a doubt the best VR headset on the market. It doesn’t increase the resolution past 2880×1600 on its LCD display, but the Index nails VR where it’s most important: refresh rate and field of view. Boasting a max 144Hz refresh rate and a field of view of 130-degrees, it makes for the best, smoothest-feeling experience in virtual reality. With the higher field of view, you can see more of the game at any one time, as opposed to the relative tunnel vision found in other headsets. And Index and a good gaming PC will provide the optimal VR experience, assuming you’re okay with a few wires and spending big.

Another key aspect of the Valve Index is its unique controllers, which feature individual finger tracking. There aren’t a lot of applications for this yet, but finger-tracking is a great way to make your virtual reality experience more immersive–games like Boneworks use it well. And while it’s absolutely usable in seated or stationary settings, it excels most with room-scale VR. Thus, gamers without a lot of space may find it hard to push the Index to its full potential.

The Valve Index also needs to be powered by a PC with a wired connection. At the moment, there is no option for wireless use, as the Vive Wireless Adapter–made for HTC’s Vive headsets–is incompatible. However, the Valve Index is compatible with the HTC Vive’s controllers and base stations, so Valve offers the Index headset on its own and in a kit. Additionally, the Valve Index’s controllers and base stations are compatible with HTC’s Vive headsets.

The Valve Index VR kit comes with the headset, controllers, and base stations. Every purchase of the Index kit, headset, and controllers also comes with a complimentary copy of Half-Life: Alyx.

Valve Index accessories

  • Valve Index headset + controllers — $749
    • Also compatible with Vive and Vive Pro base stations
  • Valve Index headset — $499
    • Also compatible with Vive and Vive Pro controllers and base stations
  • Valve Index controllers — $279
    • Also compatible with HTC Vive Pro and HTC Vive
  • Valve Index base station — $149
    • Also compatible with Vive Pro

Best display

HTC Vive Pro | $1,199

Compatible with Half-Life: Alyx

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HTC Vive Pro VR headset

The Good:

  • Beautiful AMOLED display
  • Capable of wireless VR with separate adapter
  • Compatible with Valve Index controllers

The Bad:

The successor to the original HTC Vive, the HTC Vive Pro is another high-end VR headset, and while the Valve Index features a higher refresh rate and wider field of view, the Vive Pro boasts something no other headset does: an AMOLED display. This means you’ll see brighter colours and better contrast than the Valve Index. The Vive Pro is more expensive than the Valve Index, so you’ll need to decide if that outweighs the Index’s high refresh rate and 130-degrees field of view.

One thing that’s great about the Vive Pro is that the Index’s unique hand controllers will work with it (and the original Vive), so you don’t have to drop the cash to upgrade to the full Index kit–you can simply spend $279 to get the Index controllers. And if you want to go wire-free, HTC does feature a capable wireless adapter–though it is sold separately for $300.

Every purchase of a new HTC Vive headset comes with a six-month subscription to Viveport Infinity, which is a service that gives users access to a library of VR games and apps. Being able to test a bunch of different VR headset experiences before making any purchases is extremely valuable, especially if you’re new to the technology. For example, it can be difficult to know how you’ll be able to handle certain games and different types of locomotion. Some of the games featured in Viveport Infinity at this time include Superhot VR, I Expect You To Die, and Pistol Whip, the latter of which was one of GameSpot’s best VR games of 2019.

Best modular VR headset

HTC Vive Cosmos | $699

Compatible with Half-Life: Alyx

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HTC Vive Cosmos VR headset

The Good:

  • Sensor-free, inside-out tracking
  • Capable of wireless VR with separate adapter
  • Headset flips up for easy removal
  • Removable faceplate allows for mods…

The Bad:

  • …but there’s only one mod for external tracking
  • Very expensive

The Vive Cosmos is HTC’s answer to Oculus’s line of VR headsets. Like the Quest and Rift S, it utilizes inside-out tracking, which means no sensors are necessary. However, it does feature greater specs than the Rift S, boasting a 2880×1700 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate–for reference, the Rift S features a 2560×1440 resolution and 80Hz refresh rate.

Another thing the Vive Cosmos has on the Rift S is its modular capability. Its front face-plate can be removed and replaced with different mods, though there is only one announced at this time: the External Tracking Faceplate, which lets you use the Vive’s controllers and base stations with your Cosmos. And like the Vive Pro, the Cosmos can also make use of HTC’s wireless adapter.

One of the greatest conveniences with the Cosmos is the ability to flip the head-mounted display upward, freeing your view for the real world. VR can be an isolating experience, so being able to easily flip it up when your smartphone starts ringing or someone knocks on your door is a feature that’s easy to appreciate.

Unfortunately, the Cosmos comes at a much higher price than its closest competition, the Oculus Rift S. The Cosmos costs $699, $300 more than the Rift S’s $399 price tag. That price includes a six-month subscription to Viveport Infinity.

Best Windows Mixed Reality VR headset

Samsung HMD Odyssey+ | $499

Compatible with Half-Life: Alyx

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Samsung HMD Odyssey+ VR headset

The Good:

  • Sensor-free, inside-out tracking
  • Beautiful AMOLED display
  • Often discounted

The Bad:

  • Can be uncomfortable to wear, especially for long sessions
  • Only recommendable when on sale

Windows Mixed Reality combines virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into one headset, though the vast majority of its applications are in VR. The best of the mixed reality headsets is definitely the Samsung HMD Odyssey+, however.

The Samsung HMD Odyssey+ features dual AMOLED displays, which produce vibrant colours. Additionally, it boasts a combined resolution of 2880×1600, 110-degree field of view, and refresh rate of up to 90Hz. Like the Rift S and Cosmos, it utilizes sensor-free, inside-out tracking and must be powered by a PC. It’s compatible with the vast majority of SteamVR games, in addition to Microsoft’s own Windows Mixed Reality software.

Unfortunately, it’s not the most comfortable to wear, and the headset and controllers don’t feel as well-made as the competition’s hardware. It’s a hard sell at the regular price, especially when the Oculus Rift S and Quest (64GB) can be picked up for cheaper. Thankfully, Samsung’s HMD Odyssey+ is regularly discounted. We’ve seen it for as low as $230, which is an excellent deal for what you get. If your heart is set on the HMD Odyssey+ and you’re patient, then it’s worth picking up at that lower price.

Best console VR headset

Sony PlayStation VR | starts at $300

Not compatible with Half-Life: Alyx

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PlayStation VR headset

The Good:

  • Great library of exclusive games
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Compatible with all PlayStation Cameras and PS5

The Bad:

  • Low resolution and pixel density causes screen-door effect
  • Tracking can be non-responsive at times

PlayStation VR is only compatible with the PS4 at the moment, though PlayStation 5 lead architect Mark Cerny confirmed to Wired that it will also work with the PS5. Nothing has been confirmed as of yet, but it’s likely that Sony will release a new version of the PSVR headset specifically for use with the PS5 in the future.

As of now, PSVR is the lowest-end headset in terms of specs: 1920×1080 combined resolution, 90-120Hz refresh rate, and a 100-degree field of view. The low resolution and pixel density cause a significant screen-door effect–you see the black space between each pixel. It makes it look like you’re viewing the game through a screen door. This can be frustrating for experienced VR users, but with no other VR headset on the PS4, it’s an issue you just have to deal with. But where PSVR falls short in its specs, it makes up for in its exclusive games. These titles feature some of the best experiences in VR and are well worth playing if you own Sony’s VR headset. The PlayStation Move controllers are required for some games–like Farpoint and Concrete Genie–but there are plenty of great titles that use the DualShock 4, including Astro Bot: Rescue Mission and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

The PSVR requires the PlayStation Camera for tracking, but thankfully it’s included with the headset in most bundles. And if you already own a PlayStation Camera for the PS4, then you’re ready to go no matter which version of it you have. The tracking isn’t up to par with PC VR options, especially when turning your face away from the camera, though it does work fine for most gaming. Thankfully, wearing the headset is extremely comfortable, which makes longer sessions much more manageable.

PSVR bundles

PSVR accessories