Which Headset Should You Buy? PCVR vs Standalone vs Console
Virtual Reality (VR) has been gaining popularity in recent years as a new way to experience immersive games, movies, and other interactive content. There are several different types of VR headsets available on the market, each with its unique features and capabilities. In this article, we will explore the key differences between PCVR, PSVR2, and standalone VR headsets for those of you looking to purchase your first headset.
First, a few terms you might see throughout this article, and what they mean:
Guardian: In VR, a guardian is a virtual boundary that is created to help keep you safe while you are in a VR environment. The guardian acts as a reminder to let you know when you are approaching the physical boundaries of the space you are in, such as a wall or a piece of furniture. It also helps to prevent you from accidentally bumping into objects or tripping over anything while you are fully immersed in the VR experience. The guardian can be customized to fit the space you are in and can be adjusted to suit your needs. Overall, the guardian is an essential safety feature in VR that helps to make sure that you have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Passthrough: Passthrough is a feature in virtual reality systems that allows the user to see the real world through the headset’s cameras. This can be helpful in situations where the user needs to quickly navigate their environment without taking off the headset. For example, if someone needs to grab a drink or answer the doorbell while using VR, they can activate passthrough mode to see their surroundings without completely exiting the virtual world. This feature is also useful for developers who want to test their VR experiences in real-world environments. Overall, passthrough VR is a convenient and practical feature that enhances the VR experience.
Mixed Reality: Mixed reality is a combination of both virtual reality and augmented reality. It allows users to interact with both real and virtual objects in a seamless and immersive way. Mixed reality is achieved through the use of advanced technology that incorporates elements of the physical world into a virtual environment.
Now, which headset type is right for you?
Most popular headsets:
- Quest 2 ($399.99)
- Meta Quest Pro ($999.99)
- Pico 4 ($499-$599, not available in all countries)
- HTC Vive XR Elite ($1,099.00)
Standalone VR headsets are self-contained and do not require a computer or console to run. These headsets offer a wireless experience, making it easy to move around and play games without any restrictions. Standalone VR headsets also have a built-in battery, which requires the headsets to be charged after a certain amount of time.
Most standalone headsets require you to also have a phone app associated with the headset brand to assist in setup. Once downloaded, the app will walk you through the initial steps, including creating a guardian (play space) which is usually done by simply drawing out the area you are designating as 'safe' with your controller.
Each standalone headset has its own store where you can buy and download games and apps. For example: the Meta Quest store, Pico's store and Viveport for the Vive XR Elite. The content on each company's store might be different, so check out each before purchasing the headset to make sure it actually has content you would want to play and use.
One of the main advantages of standalone VR headsets is that they are portable and easy to use, making it a great choice for those who want to experience VR on the go. However, the downside is that they have limited graphics and processing power when compared to PCVR and PSVR2.
(A comparison video of Quest vs PCVR graphics that UploadVR did of the game Medal of Honor)
If you decide to go with a Meta Quest headset, I also recommend you check out the popular program SideQuest, in which you can find many more Quest games and apps not officially out on the Meta Quest store, many of them free. I've written several articles on how to create an account, sideload (add these games to your Quest) and more, so check those out if you're interested!
That being said, if you do have a powerful gaming PC, you don't necessarily have to be limited to the headset's library. Depending on the headset type, you can use apps like Virtual Desktop for Quest and Pico, or Vive's streaming app to connect your headset to your computer. This will allow you to play SteamVR games. Make sure that your computer can handle the processing power of a SteamVR game first (see recommended min specs in the PCVR section of this article). All of the processing power will be handled by your compute allowing you to achieve excellent quality graphics through your standalone headset.
Mixed reality games and apps are also starting to catch on to standalone headsets, which you currently won't find on other types of headsets. Games like Demeo and Spatial Ops allow you to have video game elements in your real home or room.
Standalone VR headsets are perfect for individuals who want to experience virtual reality without needing a powerful PC or a game console. They are designed for people who want to have a hassle-free VR experience wherever they go, without the need for additional cables or equipment. These headsets are great for those who enjoy immersive gaming, virtual travel, or watching movies in a 360-degree environment. They are also ideal for individuals who want to try out VR without investing in expensive equipment. So, whether you are a tech-savvy gamer or a casual user, standalone VR headsets can be a great fit for you!
Most popular headsets:
Only two currently exist, both from Playstation:
- PSVR (Between $100-300 used)
- PSVR2 ($549.99 not including the required PS5)
The original PSVR can only be found used or second hand, so I would highly reccomend going with the PSVR2 as it will have the latest games and support going forward.
PSVR2 is the latest VR headset from Sony, and it is specifically designed for PlayStation 5. The headset connects to the console via a single cable, which provides high-quality graphics and a comfortable gaming experience. PSVR2 also has advanced haptic feedback features, which provide a more immersive experience.
One of the main advantages of PSVR2 is that it is designed specifically for PlayStation 5, making it a great choice for gamers who already own the console. However, the downside is that it has limited games and applications when compared to PCVR.
Because all the processing comes from the PS5, the PSVR2 is a wired headset but the wire is pretty thin and light, and connects from the back of the headset to the front of your PS5. This allows the PSVR2 to have great graphics comparable to that of PCVR, without the need to fuss around with individual game settings. Colors may actually appear crisper thanks to the PSVR2's OLED displays making blacks blacker and colors much brighter.
Setting up the headset is easy and very much comparable to standalone, much easier than PCVR. You don't need to worry about setting up outside hardware (base stations) as the PSVR2 has inside out tracking - meaning the headset tracks the controllers through cameras on the headset itself. Setup includes creating a guardian but the method is similar to that with standalone, perhaps even simpler. You just use move the headset to scan around your room, a guardian is then automatically created which you can draw to be larger or smaller if needed.
The PSVR2 features eye tracking which can be found on only a few other existing headsets, the Meta Quest Pro and the Vive Pro Eye (along with a few other very high end PCVR headsets, but we won't mention them here). However there currently seems to be more games with eye tracking support on the PSVR2.
Completely unique to the PSVR2 is the use of their haptics built into the headset itself, as well as the same adaptive triggers used in the DualSense controllers brought over to the VR motion controllers.
I wrote a full blog post overview of the PSVR2 when it came out if you're interested in reading more which you can find here.
Most popular headsets:
- Valve Index ($999.99)
- HTC Vive Pro 2 ($799.00)
- HTC Vive Cosmos Elite ($749.00)
Note: All these prices are for the full kit, base stations included. Prices will be cheaper if you just buy the headset itself but base stations are required for these headsets to be useable.
PCVR, or PC-based VR, requires a powerful computer to run the headset. The headset connects to the computer via a cable, which provides higher resolution and better graphics when compared to other VR headsets. PCVR headsets also offer a wide range of games and applications, making it a popular choice for gamers and enthusiasts.
The current minimum PCVR minimum requirements (based on Steam VR) are as follows:
OS: Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1 or later, Windows 10.
Processor: Intel Core i5-4590/AMD FX 8350 equivalent or better.
Memory: 4 GB RAM.
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or better.
Steam also offers a free app you can download in order to test and determine if your current PC is VR ready. You can find it here.
Setting up a PCVR headset can be a little more complicated because these headsets require base stations, or "light houses" in order to track the movements of the controllers and headset. The base stations are generally screwed into adjacent walls for maximum visibility. The upside to base stations is that the tracking quality is higher and less sensitive to light changes like the inside out tracking (built into the headset and controllers) that standalone and console headsets have.
Although I don't recommend rough treatment with any headset, PCVR headsets tend to be a little sturdier and can withstand a bit more wear and tear, hence one of the reasons VR arcades tend to go with these types of headsets (along with the flexibility and licensing of the Steam library).
PCVR headsets primarily will use the Steam library, and one of the benefits of being a more open platform are the many performance and enhancing apps available. For example, if you want to become a VR influencer, content creator or live-streamer, there are many different ways you can capture your headset view to your audience, customize it and read chat in your headset. These types of capabilities aren't available on standalone or console headsets quite yet. If you are looking to create mixed reality content, have the ability read chat in your headset, or possibly use full body tracking as a Vtuber in VR Chat - having a PCVR headset is going to make this much easier.
One of the main advantages of PCVR is its ability to run high-end games and applications, making it the best choice for those who want an immersive experience. However, the downside is that it requires a powerful computer, and in some cases addition hardware, which can be expensive.
In conclusion, choosing the right VR headset depends on your needs and preferences. If you’re a hardcore gamer or professional looking for the best performance and graphics, a PCVR headset may be the right choice for you. If you’re a PlayStation 5 owner looking for an easy-to-use VR headset, the PSVR2 headset may be the way to go. And if you want a wireless VR experience that is highly portable, a standalone VR headset like the Oculus Quest 2 may be the perfect fit. Whatever your preference, VR technology is rapidly evolving, and we can expect to see even more advanced VR headsets in the future.