The Best Standalone VR Headset of 2020

Virtual reality was a gimmick for thus long it will be hard to imagine it as serious entertainment that may compete with the various other available options. But after carrying the Oculus Quest Best Standalone VR Headset in a purse across Manhattan and witnessing everyone at a party jostling to urge a turn to play, I’m certain the hunt is the best standalone VR headset—and the best and cheapest path to a compelling VR experience. Full-fledged games like Beat Saber, convincing hand tracking, and a cord-free design make it a breeze to line up and a pleasure to use.


Our Pick

The best standalone VR headset

$540
*At the time of publishing, the price was $622.
The Quest has a cord-free design and convincing hand tracking, so it’s easy to use and immersive, without needing an expensive PC.

Sensors built into the Oculus Quest Best Standalone VR Headset pair with the Oculus Touch, our favorite VR controllers, to create a system that can track both your body and your hands as you move across a room. There are no external sensors to set up or wires to trip over. The fact that the quest doesn’t require a rich gaming PC or smartphone makes it a comparatively inexpensive—but still exhilarating—way to play many of our favorite VR games.


The Research


How we picked and tested

desktop-vr-headset
Sensors in the Oculus Quest headset track your location as you move, so you don’t need to set up any external equipment. Video: Signe Brewster

In 2018, we tested the Oculus Go and also the Lenovo Mirage Solo against mobile VR headsets. In 2019, we added the Oculus Quest to our testing lineup. We evaluated each headset for the following features:

  • A good, high-resolution screen: The screen should look crisp, demonstrate minimal “screen-door effect,” and render both dark and lightweight colors well.
  • Room-scale tracking: Headsets which will track you as you move around a room—or a minimum of as you lean or turn in any direction—create a more immersive experience.
  • Variety of content: There should be a healthy mixture of movies, games, art, and other apps available within the app store. There should even be evidence that developers are continuing to develop for the headset.
  • Comfort: We tested to fit and luxury, including how lightly a headset rests on the face and whether it effectively redistributes weight to the rear of the top. We also monitored nausea level; VR makes some people experience a sort of sickness, usually when moving inside the headset doesn’t match up with their physical movement.
  • Good controllers: we expect two controllers are better than one, so we favored headsets that track both hands. Controllers should even be comfortable to carry and intuitive to use, and reliably track the situation of your hands.

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Our pick: Oculus Quest

Photo: Signe Brewster
Our Pick
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Oculus Quest

The best standalone VR headset

$540
*At the time of publishing, the price was $622.
The Quest has a cord-free design and convincing hand tracking, so it’s easy to use and immersive, without needing an expensive PC.

The Oculus Quest Standalone VR Headset makes it easier to offer VR a try—and fun enough to be worth it—compared with headsets that need cables and expensive PCs. The Quest has two capable controllers and is compatible with a number of our favorite games. It’s also small enough to toss into a tote bag or a backpack, so you can break it out at the office or a party. You can set it up and start playing in less than a minute; thanks to built-in sensors that track the two Touch controllers and your other movements, you can navigate a whole room, and therefore the headset won’t ever lose your location. And with an Oculus Link cable, the search is often connected to a PC for more full-featured VR experiences.

There’s plenty to do inside a Quest headset. We welcomed the return of several of our favorite games, including the addictive Beat Saber, which on its own might be justification to shop for the search. We also just like the Matrix-like Superhot, the 3D-painting experience Tilt Brush, and therefore the adventure-puzzle game Moss. If you have a PC, you can plug in the Quest and play the highly anticipated Half-Life: Alyx (using the separate Oculus Link cable).

Oculus Quest Best Standalone VR Headset overview
The Quest’s Oculus Touch controllers have advanced hand tracking, which helps make the headset more immersive and realistic than other standalone headsets. Photo: Signe Brewster

When you’re exploring a virtual world, it’s also freeing to possess the power to steer around an area without the headset losing your location. PC headsets are attached to a computer by a cord (unless you buy an expensive wireless adapter), which both limits the area where you can walk and creates an annoying trip hazard. But Oculus’s Guardian system presents a virtual fence when you’re close to run into a wall or other object. An area of a minimum of 5 feet by 7 feet is best for Quest, though we were also ready to play games with just a couple of feet available to us. However, a smaller space means you have to be more conscious of your surroundings—it’s easy to end up punching a wall if you’re caught up in chucking ninja stars while playing Superhot.

The Quest’s screen displays 1440×1600 pixels per eye, which beats out the first Rift screen. It’s hard to try to do an apples-to-apples comparison to the only displays on the PC-connected Oculus Rift S and therefore the lower-end standalone Oculus Go, but we slightly prefer the screen on the Rift S Best Standalone VR Headset, and rank the Go’s screen last. You may still notice the Quest’s “screen-door effect,” which may be a light grid laid over your field of view. The Quest features a maximum refresh rate (think of this because the VR way of claiming “frames per second”) of 72 Hz, which is a smaller amount than the Rift S’s 80 Hz and the Cosmos Elite’s 90 Hz. But the difference is small enough that, to our eyes, it wasn’t noticeable. However, higher refresh rates are generally believed to decrease the likelihood that users might experience kinetosis while employing a VR headset.

Best Standalone VR Headset watching
The Quest is heavier than other standalone headsets, but it’s still comfortable enough for hour-long play sessions. Photo: Preston Conners

Weighing 571 grams (1.26 pounds), the Quest is a hair heavier than we prefer our VR headsets to be (it’s like hanging a 20-ounce soda bottle from your face). But due to cushy foam padding that rests on your face and adjustable straps that reach around to the back of your head, the Quest is fairly comfortable to wear for hour-long play sessions, though we had to twiddle the fit catch on to take a seat correctly.

The Quest’s Touch controllers, which are almost like the first Rift Touch controllers, are our favorite sort of VR controller. The two controllers are molded to take a seat in your hand, together with your pointer fingers resting on triggers and your middle fingers resting on “grip” buttons. Your thumbs can reach a little joystick, plus A, B, and residential buttons. Sensors built into the headset track the situation of the controllers, so moving your hands physically moves them in VR. The Quest’s Touch controllers are intuitive to use and straightforward to carry for long periods.

It’s like hanging a 20-ounce soda bottle from your face.

Like the Oculus Rift S Best Standalone VR Headset, the Quest does not have built-in headphones. Instead, it’s built-in speakers that direct 3D sound toward your ears. The Quest’s audio quality is sweet enough for immersive VR, though it isn’t as clear as you’d get with a pair of nice headphones. Thankfully, there are two spots to plug in your own headphones. Oculus also makes $50 earbuds that connect to every side of the headset, if you don’t want to affect long headphone cords. We do just like the open-ear setup during a social setting, where the speakers can clue onlookers in on what the person wearing the headset is seeing.

Oculus advertises that the Quest’s battery lasts two to 3 hours, which we found to be accurate. That’s plenty of time for solo play. However, once we used the headset with friends, it always ended up running out of battery power. You can use the Quest while it’s plugged in, though obviously, you won’t be able to move around as much when you’re connected to a cable. We managed to play Beat Saber with the headset plugged certain a short time, but we eventually ripped the cord out of the socket.


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Flaws but not dealbreakers

Although the Quest’s Touch controllers are the simplest standalone headset input method by a mile, they lost sight of our hands more often than an Oculus Rift S Best Standalone VR Headset setup, which uses exterior sensors you place around the room. As long as a room is well lit, this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.

The Quest estimates 571 grams, which is over 1¼ pounds. The easily adjustable straps work well to redistribute the load to the rear of your head, but the search remains noticeably heavier than the 470-gram Rift.

The Quest’s Snapdragon 835 processor is powerful enough to handle many of our favorite games, but it can’t match the ability of headsets that plug into a PC. As a result, it doesn’t support a number of the simplest titles available for VR, like data. Other games, like Robo Recall, are stripped down so as to be ready to run on the search. If you’re a significant gamer who likes playing action games or chasing hordes of zombies, you ought to consider upgrading to a PC headset. And though you’ll connect the search to a PC to spice up its abilities, it costs quite the Rift S if you think about the value of an Oculus Link cable. For anyone who plans to primarily play PC games, the increased specs of the Rift S might make more sense to prioritize than the Quest’s portability.

As is that the case with the other VR headset, it feels hot inside the search. The foam face pad can quickly become soaked with sweat when you play an active game like Beat Saber. If you propose to share the headset with friends, it’s going to be an honest idea to select up a couple of disposable masks.

Finally, it’s worth questioning whether you’re willing to drop $400 on what is still very much an emerging technology. If you already own a PlayStation and care more about getting a cheap headset than one with the best specs, it may make sense to save some money by buying a PSVR system ( though we aren’t big fans of its screen or controllers). You can also get a Rift S (Best Standalone VR Headset) for an equivalent price because the Quest if you already own a compatible PC.

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