Selecting the Right VR Headset for Academic Research
DOF or Degrees of Freedom simply means how you move in 3D space. The movement is governed by main axes (rotational) and secondary axes (translation). The former consists of Pitch, Yaw, Roll and the latter consists of Sway, Heave and Surge.
3DOF: VR headsets with 3 DOF have rotational movements. It should be used when you want your participants/users to be an observer of VR content or want to restrict movement.
6DOF: VR headsets with 6DOF have translation movements. It should be used if you want participants/users to move back and forth and interact fully in the 3D space.
Now that we have talked about the prerequisites, let’s deep dive into some of the VR headsets for academic research.
How to buy the best virtual reality headset
Virtual reality (VR) isn't a far-off concept anymore. The technology that can transport you to a different digital world from the comfort of your lounge room is here to stay.
We no longer test virtual reality equipment, but we will continue to update this buying guide to provide a general product overview for anyone interested in buying a headset.
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What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality headsets put your point of view in the centre of a digital space, which can be a photograph, a video, an animation or a piece of software such as a video game. Once you put on the headset, you're free to turn around and look at everything within the virtual sphere.
Say you're looking at footage of a farm on TV. There's a lovely green pasture in front, but if you turn around and look over your shoulder, you'll see your lounge room. In VR, you could watch the same footage, turn around and see a herd of cattle behind you. This is how 360° content works.
Passive vs active
There are two types of VR experiences: passive, which involves looking at a 360° photo or video from a fixed perspective, and active, which lets you interact with the virtual world as you change your perspective. For example, instead of looking at the interior of a car on a 2D screen, you're "sitting" in the drivers seat in VR.
Either option can trick your brain into believing you're in the digital environment which leads to some interesting physical reactions. Riding a VR rollercoaster, for example, can give you the same feeling in the pit of your stomach, even though you're nowhere near a theme park.
How does VR work?
The quality of the picture, and the headset's capabilities, depend on two factors. 1) the technology and build quality of the headset and 2) the device used to power it. None of the headsets on the market are self-contained, they all require an external device such as a smartphone, PC or games console. Prices start at around $30 for entry-level models, and can go as high as $2000 for top-of-the-line kits.
Dual lenses inside the headset simultaneously process two images to create the illusion of depth. Motion-tracking equipment, either built into the headset (or the device powering it) or connected externally, picks up head movement and in some cases body movement.
VR quality depends on what's powering the headset. Most fall into one of these categories:
Entry-level : Headsets that act as a case for a smartphone. You can use any smartphone in an entry-level headset within the manufacturer-specified size limit.
: Headsets that act as a case for a smartphone. You can use any smartphone in an entry-level headset within the manufacturer-specified size limit. Mid-range : Better quality image that requires a specific smartphone, such as a Samsung Galaxy model, or games console to run.
: Better quality image that requires a specific smartphone, such as a Samsung Galaxy model, or games console to run. High-end: Advanced, powerful headsets capable of producing a high-quality image, which requires a top-tier PC.
A headset device that needs an $800 phone or $700 console to work may not sound "mid-range", but this is the case in the grand scheme of VR. In addition to the hefty price tag for a top of the line kit, a PC that's capable of powering one can set you back as much as $2000 or more.
Sit down, stand up
You can interact with the virtual space in a few different ways, depending on the headset. Most mid-range models support a controller or keyboard and mouse, but higher-end setups use a camera and motion-sensing controls. These detect full-body movements within a small, fixed space and while there isn't enough room to walk around, you can stand up, sit down, crouch, lean, turn around and so on
Room-scale experiences are as good as it gets. These require at least two cameras placed a few metres apart, to create a VR play space that tracks your whole body. This gives you the freedom to "walk around" in VR and offers the most immersive feeling when combined with motion controllers.
Of course it also depends on whether the software supports all these functions. Some, for example, permit movement but don't give you the option to walk around even if you have a room-scale setup. However, most games/experiences do give you the option to chose between motion controls, a games controller or keyboard and mouse.
Bear in mind that although full-body and room-scale options can provide a better experience, they are harder to set up. This is one area where mobile VR has an ease of use advantage. Most VR doesn't require a lot of 'working' space though and you should usually have enough room for your headset of choice, unless you want to try the Vive's room-scale setup.
Games, software and entertainment
Though VR is synonymous with gaming, you can find software for all sorts of things including education, real estate, tourism and online shopping. Tourism is particularly fun, as VR lets you 'travel' to another location, without leaving your home. You can even make your own travel content, with consumer-grade 360° cameras.
There's plenty of 360° video online as well. YouTube is just one popular service that supports VR, and most headsets have their own 360 video libraries. You can even watch 2D content in a VR headset if you really want to. Most brands distribute software online (aside from PlayStation, which sells PS VR games in retail stores), and this can be a problem, as Australian internet speeds are still pretty average. You may have to wait some time for software to download, as well as system updates and drivers, before you can do anything with your headset.
Although there's a broad range of software available for each tier, you'll find that the headset quality and experience is indicative of the kind of software it supports. An entry-level, smartphone-based headset, for example, is best used for short, simple, passive experiences with average image quality.
Health and safety
Given that it's still early days for VR, most manufacturers are taking a cautionary approach to health and safety. No one knows what will happen if you use VR for hours at a time, every single day, though it is generally advised against. Most manufacturers recommend regular breaks. Sony, for example, suggests 15 minutes rest for every hour inside PS VR.
You're likely to experience some discomfort after a while, especially with the top-end models, as they're quite heavy. Straps, and padding between the headset and your face, are the main contact points that cause discomfort. The lenses on some models will fog up after a while as well, especially during full-body and room-scale experiences.
VR may even make your stomach churn at first. The sensation can be similar to motion sickness. While technology improvements, such as higher video refresh rates, have reduced the likelihood and impact of nausea, you may still feel a little queasy after an extended or vigorous stint in VR.
There are too many variables including brand, software and level of immersion, to say exactly how you'll be affected. However, our testers have increased their tolerance after repeated use over several weeks. This, of course, isn't to say you'll be affected, or that you'll adapt if you are, but our experience suggests that it's possible. The best way to tell is to try a headset yourself. You'll know fairly soon if you can handle it.
Not quite child friendly
VR seems like the perfect gift or holiday distraction for children, but only to a point. All manufacturers put an age restriction on their headsets, and though most brands don't specify why these restrictions apply, we suspect this has to do with protecting young and still-developing eyes. Make sure you check the age limit before you buy, otherwise you could put your child at risk.
General limitations of VR
VR is an emerging technology, and there are a few technical shortcomings that affect all brands. The most prominent problem is the 'screen door effect', which is faintly visible horizontal and vertical lines appearing in the picture. Advertised resolution is also the total number of pixels spread across both lenses. This means the horizontal resolution is effectively halved in practice.
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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.
Best VR headsets 2022: Meta Quest 2, Valve Index, PSVR, and more...
Enter the virtual world with the best VR headsets of 2022, from the Meta Quest 2 to the Valve Index.
Once the stuff of science fiction, VR is now a reality. It's as affordable and accessible as it’s ever been. Sure, your feet may be planted on the floor but virtual reality, games and experiences alike can transport you to another world. You can strap on a headset and, within moments, be taking down enemy starfighters or floating around in the International Space Station VR experience .
There’s certainly no shortage of quality VR apps for space fans, whether it’s sci-fi games or VR space experiences you crave; thanks to the ever-growing popularity of VR , you really are spoilt for choice.
But the same is true of the hardware market itself. There are a lot of headsets to choose from, from the super-portable HTC Vive Flow, the more powerful but still stand-alone Meta Quest 2, right through to the high-end PC-based Valve Index. It helps to have a budget in mind but, even within the same price band, features can vary. Our VR headset deals page can help you get more bang for your buck.
It’s important to consider what you want out of a VR headset; the Valve Index will give you spectacular graphics (provided you have a powerful enough PC), but the wireless Meta Quest 2 will let you roam free without a cable anchoring you to reality. The good news is that because most headsets support Steam VR, you’re not going to purchase a headset and find you’ve nothing to play on it.
So, to help you choose a headset that’s right for you, we’ve rounded up some of the best VR headsets currently on the market, including their specifications, pros and cons and more.
1. Meta Quest 2
(Image credit: Future)
Meta Quest 2 The best VR headset Specifications Platforms: Platforms: Oculus Store (standalone, and via PC) Price: From $399 / £399 Resolution: 1832 x 1920 per eye Field of view: 90 degrees Refresh rate: 120 Hz Controllers: Oculus Touch / Xbox One and Series S/X controllers Today's Best Deals View at Meta Quest (opens in new tab) View at Amazon (opens in new tab) View at Best Buy (opens in new tab) Reasons to buy + Reasonably priced + Wireless and portable + Excellent games library with PC support Reasons to avoid - Not the final word in clarity
Wirefree and self-contained, the Meta Quest 2 (formerly the Oculus Quest 2) is an excellent introduction to the delights of virtual reality. Relatively affordable, this wireless headset has everything you need to get into VR gaming right out of the box, without the need for a PC. It’s powerful enough to run some of the most enticing VR experiences without breaking the bank, and taps into Oculus’s impressive library of exclusive virtual reality titles, including the Quest 2 exclusive Resident Evil 4 VR.
Its screen isn’t the sharpest, but its wireless nature makes it one of the simplest to use and most comfortable to wear. And, for those really invested in the virtual reality scene, it will even work with titles originally designed exclusively for PC VR players. This is thanks to the Meta Quest 2’s flexible support for additional wired gameplay through a PC. An experimental feature, Air Link, adds wireless PC streaming connectivity, though results may vary between games.
The Meta Quest 2’s price has recently gone up by $100/£100 which makes it a little less competitive than it once was. But, right now, it’s still a great way to experience the joys of VR, wireless or otherwise.
Read our full Meta Quest 2 review.
2. Valve Index
(Image credit: Valve)
Valve Index Best powerhouse VR headset Specifications Platforms: Steam VR (PC) Price: $999 / £919 Resolution: 1440 × 1600 per eye Field of view: 130 degrees Refresh rate: 144 Hz Controllers: Valve Index Controllers, HTC Vive, and Vive Pro Controllers Today's Best Deals View at Amazon (opens in new tab) View at Newegg (opens in new tab) Reasons to buy + Incredibly immersive screens + The best VR controllers out there + Great over-ear speakers Reasons to avoid - No wireless functionality
If you’re after the most luxurious of virtual reality experiences, you’re going to want to invest in a Valve Index headset. It’s one of the pricier devices on this list – not just because of its high specifications, which include a super-sharp screen and additional tracking stations that need to be dotted around the room, but also because there’s the expectation that you’ll be hooking this headset up to a relatively high-spec PC. There’s no wireless option with the Valve Index kit.
What you get instead is arguably the most immersive VR experience to date, thanks to the Valve Index’s wider field of view, high-resolution display, and ‘knuckle’ style controllers which allow you to use each of your fingers and thumbs individually in a VR environment. It’s the model for VR devices to come, and the perfect companion to the best VR experience yet – sci-fi horror adventure Half-Life: Alyx, which was made in conjunction with the Valve Index headset. It can be hard to come by, selling out regularly, and we’re expecting a refreshed model to turn up before long. But, if you can afford its price tag and accommodate its PC and room requirements, it’s the best VR experience money can currently buy.
Read our full Valve Index review.
3. PlayStation VR
(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC)
PlayStation VR The best VR headset for consoles Specifications Platforms: PS4 / PS5 Price: $299 / £250 Resolution: 960 x 1080 per eye Field of view: 100 degrees Refresh rate: 90 Hz Controllers: DualShock 4, DualShock 5, PlayStation Move, PlayStation Aim Today's Best Deals View at Walmart (opens in new tab) View at Amazon (opens in new tab) View at Best Buy (opens in new tab) Reasons to buy + Runs on a games console you (probably) have + Superb exclusive games Reasons to avoid - Move controllers aren’t great - Low resolution screen compared to competition
Considering the relatively low-powered PS4 console it’s tied to, the wired PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset still offers a damn good time for gamers. Leaning on its first party development studios and publishing pals, Sony amassed a great library of exclusive titles to play, including the delightful Astro Bot Rescue Mission, terrifying Resident Evil 7 (with PSVR-exclusive virtual reality mode), and James Bond-baiting Blood & Truth.
However, the PlayStation VR gear is now starting to look a little long in the tooth. Though regularly bundled with games well below RRP, its screen resolution is low, its controllers (based on an old PS3 motion controller design) are behind the pack, and its cable-laden breakout box is a faff to set up.
And while its hardware and software are compatible with the new PS5 console, a PSVR 2 has already been confirmed to be in the works at Sony HQ. If you’ve not already bought into the idea of VR on your PlayStation, it may be worth holding out for the sequel at this point, which promises much-improved controller ergonomics and far more detailed displays. There’s no release date for it yet, but we’re expecting to find out more later this year.
Read our full PlayStation VR review.
4. HTC Vive Pro 2
(Image credit: HTC Vive)
HTC Vive Pro 2 The best high resolution VR headset Specifications Platforms: Steam VR (PC) Price: $1,399 / £1,299 Resolution: 2448 × 2448 per eye Field of view: 120 degrees Refresh rate: 120 Hz Controlleres: HTC Vive and Vive Pro Controllers Today's Best Deals View at Amazon (opens in new tab) Reasons to buy + Superlative resolution + Wide field of view Reasons to avoid - Does get hot - Expensive
If you’re after sheer fidelity from your PC VR gaming experiences, you’ll struggle to find a better headset than the HTC Vive Pro 2. With a stonking 5K resolution, it’s about as sharp as VR headsets get before entering truly niche enthusiast territory. With a fast refresh rate and wide field of view, you’ll really be able to see every detail from your time in VR, to the point where you begin to approach photo-real quality in some high-end apps.
Alas, clarity like this comes at a high price, and we’re not just talking the expense of the HTC Vive Pro 2 kit itself. To be able to power this headset at any sort of stable framerate, you’re going to need a very high-specification PC and graphics card, which may make the whole endeavor prohibitively expensive.
And, considering the future-gazing spec sheet of the actual display technology in here, other elements of the package feel a little bit dated. A tethered unit, HTC hasn’t updated its wireless control sticks in a long time, and the power-socket-hungry base stations which track your movement (though accurate) can be frustrating to set up. That screen can run hot too – unsurprising, given the power needed to run it. It’s an incredibly premium experience from a visual perspective, but be aware of its limitations elsewhere.
Read our full HTC Vive Pro 2 review (opens in new tab)
5. HTC Cosmos Elite
(Image credit: Future)
HTC Cosmos Elite The most customizable VR headset Specifications Platforms: Steam VR (PC) Price: $899 / £899 Resolution: 1440 x 1700 per eye Field of view: 110 degrees Refresh rate: 90 Hz Controllers: HTC Vive and Vive Pro Controllers Today's Best Deals View at Adorama (opens in new tab) View at Amazon (opens in new tab) View at Dell (opens in new tab) Reasons to buy + Solid tracking + Great screens Reasons to avoid - Dated controllers - Expensive compared to similar competition
A bit older than the HTC Vive Pro 2, think of the HTC Cosmos Elite as its cheaper, less flashy sibling.
Though it doesn’t have the showstopping specs of the newer Vive Pro 2 model, it still has a lot going for it. Its base stations track movement well, its field of view is relatively wide, and its library of games (through both the Steam VR marketplace and HTC VIVEPORT subscription service) is deep and entertaining.
However, the failings of the Vive Pro 2 are apparent here also – it’s the same unwieldy controllers, and you’re still going to need to find places to pop its motion-tracking base stations around a room, too. All things considered, it’s still a solid VR choice though, especially if its advancing age means you can pick it up at a bargain price.
6. HP Reverb G2
(Image credit: Future)
HP Reverb G2 The best mid-range VR headset Specifications Platforms: Steam VR (PC) Price: $549 / £530.80 Resolution: 2160 x 2160 per eye Field of view: 114 degrees Refresh rate: 90 Hz Controllers: HP Reverb G2 Controllers Today's Best Deals View at HP (US) (opens in new tab) View at Amazon (opens in new tab) View at BHPhoto (opens in new tab) Reasons to buy + Reasonably priced + High resolution display Reasons to avoid - Inconsistent tracking - Higher refresh rate would be appreciated
The HP Reverb G2 occupies an unusual place on this list. On the one hand, its high-resolution screens make it strong competition for the Valve Index and HTC Vive Pro 2, but then its lowly refresh rate means it can’t match the natural-feeling smoothness of the Index.
Then there’s its price – at $549 / £530.80, it’s in the same ballpark of affordability as the Oculus Quest 2 and PSVR. But it doesn’t come with controllers in the box, and its wired nature means you’re still going to need a rather powerful (read: expensive) PC to pair it with. And yet, it has a physical IPD slider (letting its lenses more accurately match the distance between your pupils), whereas the Oculus Quest 2 does not.
Throw some tracking issues into the mix, and a relatively tight field of view, and the whole package doesn’t quite come together. If you really must have a high-resolution display in your PC VR headset, and don’t want to totally break the bank, it’s a good option. With that said, there are more complete and satisfying set ups elsewhere on this list.
7. HTC Vive Flow
(Image credit: Future)
HTC Vive Flow Truly mobile VR that's great for movies and experiences Specifications Platforms: Android Price: $499 / £499 Resolution: 1600 x 1600 per eye Field of view: 100 degrees Refresh rate: 75 Hz Controllers: Android phone Today's Best Deals Check Amazon (opens in new tab) Visit Site (opens in new tab) Reasons to buy + Lightweight and portable + Ideal for mindfulness exercises Reasons to avoid - Requires Android phone to use - Lacking in gaming potential
The HTC Vive Flow may look like something a supervillain would wear, but these clever VR glasses make virtual reality much more lightweight.
Marketed as an on-the-go wellness aid, this stylish headset is aimed at those who want to embrace mindfulness or otherwise find their peace, whether through meditating, walking through nature or embracing the Flow’s more abstract experiences.
The Flow resembles mirrored ski-goggles and, due to its small size, should easily slip into a bag or big pocket. Games are supported, though since it’s less powerful than the Meta Quest 2, don’t expect great gaming performance (or a huge library of games). You can also use the Flow as a virtual cinema of sorts, so you can watch Netflix on a huge virtual screen no matter where you are.
However, there’s no built-in battery; it requires powering via a power-bank, USB charger or phone. And while it doesn’t require a PC, you do need a compatible Android smartphone (opens in new tab) (which is also your controller). You can read our HTC Vive Flow hands-on preview for our full impressions.
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