Top Pick for
Budget VR headset
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Our editorial team selected the products on this list based on our own experience using these products, extensive research and real customer reviews. For each category, we carefully selected parameters based on our research and identified the products with the highest review score within those parameters.
Note there have been a number of headsets announced in early 2021 that may see us revisit this list in the future. For more information, check out our pages on the PSVR 2 headset, the HTC Vive Pro 2 and the HTC Vive Focus 3.
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If you've never experienced virtual reality but are curious about whether it's for you, there's no better low-commitment way to dip your toes into the virtual waters than Google Cardboard. It's literally made of cardboard and two cheap plastic lenses, comes flat-packed in the mail and costs less than a cafe brunch.
Once the Google Cardboard has been assembled, you simply download a smartphone app and slot your phone inside the headset. The phone then serves as the screen and GPU powering the VR experience.
For a headset that resembles the result of a toddler's arts and crafts time, it does provide a surprisingly revealing and tantalising approximation of the real deal. You can't play the big-budget, high-profile VR games on it, but there are a number of interesting experiences available for free on the various app stores that will at least give you a decent idea of what the more expensive headsets are capable of. Proper VR enthusiasts should steer clear, but the hesitant/curious have very little to lose!
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More often than not, the Oculus Rift S is given the edge by professional reviewers over its main direct competitor, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. It also holds a higher Google user score of 4.4 from more than 2,500 reviews. While the Cosmos Elite does have more impressive tech specs in a few key areas, on balance, particularly when price is factored in, the Rift S represents a better purchase for most people.
Oculus Rift S is a premium piece of kit. It has a great (but not best in class) 2560x1440 overall resolution, a good 110-degree field of view and a solid 80Hz refresh rate. Where it really moves ahead of the Cosmos Elite, though, is in the comfort department. I've found it noticeably lighter, with softer, more forgiving padding, making it far easier to wear for extended play sessions.
Tracking performance is also very impressive. Given that the Rift S doesn't require external cameras, it relays your movements astonishingly well. (Cosmos doesn't technically require external cameras either, but in reality, they're almost essential – hence their inclusion in the Cosmos Elite bundle.)
If you have a powerful PC and don't mind being tethered to it by a wire, Oculus Rift S is currently the best option available in Australia for playing high-end VR games.
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If you want a wireless full-room standing VR set-up and are willing to sacrifice both the money and a not insubstantial portion of your living space, the Vive Cosmos Elite is the premium wireless high-end option available in Australia (though if you can manage to import a Valve Index headset from a reseller, consider doing that instead).
The Elite version of the Cosmos utilises external trackers, combined with handheld "wands", to capture your movements as you wander around a 3.5x3.5 metre play space, free to interact with your surroundings in whatever ways the software allows. It's a different, more immersive way of experiencing VR than the seated options, but it does require significant set-up and a decent amount of space in your home.
Under the hood, it packs an impressive punch: the 2880x1700 overall resolution, 90-Hz refresh rate and 110-degree field of view are top-of-class specs. The flip-up screen, which allows you to switch between virtual reality and actual reality in an instant, is also more practical and helpful than you'd imagine without having experienced it – few things are more disconcerting than not being able to quickly work out what just brushed past your arm while you're in VR!
There are more convenient, better value options available, but if you want to experience the VR effect in its most powerful and convincing form – standing, without a wire, powered by a high-end PC – this is a solid choice.
The Oculus Quest is far and away the best standalone VR headset. It sits on 4.8 stars from more than 5,000 Google reviews and has secured countless accolades from professional critics. The bad news: it's officially discontinued. The good news: Oculus released the Quest 2 earlier this year.
Quest headsets are as close as VR gets to being convenient: no wires and clutter, no cameras to configure and no expensive PCs or consoles to maintain. This might seem like a trivial concern, but, speaking from a lot of personal experience, the single biggest barrier to using VR regularly is the hassle of setting it up each night.
The Quest 2 improves upon the specs of the original, with 1832x1920 pixels per eye (up from 1440x1600), and a 90Hz refresh rate (up from 72Hz). It still isn't as powerful as Oculus's premium Rift S but that requires a beefy gaming PC to operate. However, the Quest 2 can be given a bit more grunt via the "Quest Link" function, which allows you to tether it to a PC, which then lets you play more graphically demanding games, making the experience more comparable with the Rift S.
For more information, check out our full review of the Oculus Quest 2.
PlayStation VR takes this category practically by default on account of being the only dedicated console VR headset. Fortunately, for PlayStation 4 owners, it's a fun, relatively affordable option for diving into VR.
PlayStation VR's ace is that it's significantly cheaper than PC VR or standalone VR (provided you already own a PS4). There's also a good library of exclusive games not available on other platforms: Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Resident Evil VII, Dreams and Ace Combat 7 among many others are all well worth your time.
Being cheaper, and now slightly older, there are a few downsides. Each eye has a resolution of 960x1080, which is lower than newer Oculus and Vive headsets, so you will notice the "screen door effect" more. It doesn't ruin the illusion… but it doesn't help it either.
Having heavy cords draped across the living room floor from the PlayStation isn't exactly ideal, either. Still, on balance, PlayStation VR is a fantastic, cheaper option and definitely the best value VR option for PS4 owners.
For more information, check out our full review of the Playstation VR.
Consumer-friendly virtual reality has been on humanity's wishlist for decades. Science fiction, from Star Trek's holodeck to Ready Player One, has planted tantalising seeds of being able to slide into a digital world without the illusion-shattering impediment of seeing a screen in front of you. Simply put on a headset and experience games in the most immersive way possible.
In 2012, this vision grew closer to reality when Oculus raised US$2.5 million on Kickstarter for its Oculus Rift prototype. Facebook swooped in, acquired Oculus for US$2 billion, and the VR arms race began in earnest. Mainstream media began paying attention. HTC and Valve partnered to produce a competing headset called the VIVE. Google dipped cautious toes into the water with its budget-priced Cardboard range. And Sony introduced a cost-effective option for PlayStation 4 owners called PlayStation VR. The VR age had begun.
Inside a virtual reality headset, two slightly different 2D images are presented to the wearer, one for each eye. Your brain then combines these images to create the perception of 3D space. It's the same principle behind how normal eyesight works – you're just "seeing" spaceships and fantasy realms instead of the real world.
But that's not all a VR headset does. Not only do you need to see a 3D digital world, but you also need to be able to manipulate it. To achieve this, gyroscopic sensors, accelerometers and magnetometers track and relay your head's movement and orientation back to the device powering the experience (be it a PC, console or phone). To increase the accuracy of positional data, cameras pointed at the wearer track LEDs on the headset and the controllers in your hands. The goal of all this is a 1:1 re-creation of your movements inside the virtual world.
If you're looking at picking up a VR headset, these are the most common options in Australia:
A common truism in the video game industry is that for hardware to be successful it needs a "killer app". VR's killer app may have finally arrived.
To the frustration of just about everyone, Valve's revered Half-Life series has lain dormant since 2007's Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Half-Life: Alyx is a brand-new game set within the Half-Life universe. (In the US, following the announcement of Alyx, nearly all VR headset stock sold out.)
Set before the events of Half-Life 2, Half-Life: Alyx follows Alyx Vance as she fights back against the Combine aliens that have conquered Earth. Half-Life's iconic Gravity Gun has been replaced with a Gravity Glove that you manipulate using your real hand. Combat encounters, puzzles and platforming challenges have all been designed specifically for VR, so don't expect a traditional PC port to ever arrive.
In fact, Valve built Half-Life: Alyx to take full advantage of its own virtual reality headset, the Valve Index. The Index differentiates itself from other headsets thanks to its controllers which track the movements of your individual fingers, instead of just your hands. Half-Life: Alyx uses this to enable a wider range of interactions like twisting and crushing objects, as well as deliver increased precision for basic actions like holding, dropping and throwing items.
That said, Half-Life: Alyx is compatible with a wide range of PC-based VR headsets other than the Index, including the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift and VIVE Cosmos. Some interactions in the game may play out differently depending on the specific headset and its controllers, but Valve has been bullish about the fact that the game supports multiple play styles.
When choosing a VR headset, consider the following factors.
Choosing between seated VR and room-scale VR will have a huge impact on your experience. With seated VR, you're confined to a chair while wearing the headset. Your head movement is tracked and reproduced on-screen, but locomotion (i.e. the movement of your in-game character through the digital world) is handled using a controller. Seated VR is typically cheaper.
With room scale, multiple cameras are set up around the play area. These track your body's position, allowing you to walk, jump or even dance and have that motion reproduced in the game. It's more expensive and can be impractical for a lot of homes because it requires a somewhat empty, dedicated room.
Standalone VR has only recently hit the market, so most VR headsets need another device to power them. In the case of Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you'll need a powerful PC with a beefy graphics card. PSVR runs on the PlayStation 4, while Google's entry-level Cardboard headsets use your mobile phone. It's worth factoring these devices into your cost equations if you need to pick up extra hardware.
Note that Sony has announced a PSVR 2 headset is in the works for the PlayStation 5.
The resolution of VR headsets, like televisions, is measured in pixels. Because the screen inside a VR headset is situated so close to your eyes, lower resolutions are particularly noticeable. You'll see the gaps between pixels prominently, a visual phenomenon called the "screen door effect". Higher resolutions are always better.
When comparing VR headsets, consider the relative pixel counts of devices. Just be cautious: some manufacturers list the "per eye" resolution, while others list the combined resolution. If one model seems like it's double the resolution of another, it's almost certainly using the combined measure.
A lot of VR games are platform exclusives, meaning you'll need to check carefully that the one you're interested in actually works on your platform. As an example, Star Wars: Vader Immortal is only available on Oculus Rift, while Resident Evil VII can only be played in VR on PSVR.
Refresh rate is measured in Hz and determines how many frames are displayed per second. Faster refresh rates create smoother motion without flickering between frames and can even help reduce VR sickness. It's worth remembering that even though an Oculus Rift or VIVE is capable of hitting 90-100Hzs, you'll still need a PC capable of outputting at that frame rate. This is also the one spec where the PSVR comes out on top, running at a buttery 120Hz.
It shouldn't come as a surprise but strapping a heavy block to your face isn't the pinnacle of pleasantness. When it comes to VR comfort, the lighter the better. You'll also want to pay attention to the materials used for padding; VR headsets become sweaty after prolonged use, so make sure it's easy to clean and as breathable as possible
We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you're interested in before making a decision.
The Valve Index competes in the premium virtual reality market, but is finger tracking enough to make this VR headset worth it?
While the HTC Vive Pro 2 offers the best VR experience in the market, it's held back by a reliance on old technology.
Everything you need to know about the Vive Focus 3 virtual reality headset.
VR still isn’t for everyone, but Oculus’s Quest 2 bridges the gap between PC-based VR and standalone solutions with ease.
What you need to know about PSVR 2 Australian pricing, specs, games, reviews and news.
Bringing HoloLens and a range of new virtual reality headsets under the one banner
Can Sony's VR play find a foothold in the real world?
Entering the brave new world of virtual reality is easy with the new Kaiser Baas VR-X headset.
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