Best PC-connected VR Headsets

To get the most. To enjoy the fullest. To pay a lot. That characterizes PC-connected (or tethered) headsets the best. Being the most powerful, these helmets can show the full capability of virtual reality and make you believe in what you see.

What is a tethered headset?

First of all, it is the most important element of any VR experience. A headset is the very thing that fools your senses and makes you believe you traveled to another world. A PC-connected headset is what performs this task the best. 

Tethered VR is the most accurate name as these headsets are physically connected to the computer with wires and cables, tied to it, so to say. PC-connected is also a good name, but we have to bear in mind that there is a device that connects to a gaming console.

This type of HMDs is the most powerful and immersive of all. Especially comparing with mobile headsets. They stand out among others with amazing quality and exceptional interactivity abilities. Controllers, sensors, cameras, base stations, treadmills — all that is created to give the user the freedom of interaction with the virtual environment.

How to know tethered VR headset is for you:

  1. You have a powerful computer. 
  2. You have tried VR before and want to know its full potential.
  3. You are ready to spend a decent amount of money.
  4. You expect to use VR for no more than one person at a time.

However, to enjoy a quality immersive experience, one needs a rather powerful computer. PC-connected devices require a lot to run a video or graphics smoothly and seamlessly. You can check the recommended system requirements published by the headset manufacturers and see if your hardware is compatible with the HDM of your choice.

A corresponding disadvantage of tethered headsets is their bind to the computer. The user has to be always aware of cords and wires and can’t leave the playing area while wearing a helmet. 

The biggest drawback for many is the price. The headsets alone are not budget-friendly and many require additional accessories: controllers, sensors, and cameras to begin with. If you want to go further, there are also treadmills, gloves, backpacks, headphones, and the list goes on.

As long as you decided tethered headsets is what you need, it’s time to choose one. Here are the best VR headsets for PC on the market.

Oculus Rift S

Oculus Rift S review and specs

A living legend. The one it all started from. Oculus Rift. 

Its story started with a Kickstarter campaign back in 2012 where it raised $2.4 million. Later it was bought by Facebook for $2 billion. Oculus is the company that basically made VR what it is today. Their Rift headset set a trend for virtual reality, made it mainstream and encouraged people to invest in it.

And while we were praising its glory, it got substituted with an even better version. In 2019 Oculus presented a next-generation headset — Oculus Rift S.

Oculus Rift S has taken all the best the original Rift had and sprinkled some new features on top. As well as Rift, Rift S is created for a quality immersive experience. It has integrated audio, accurate tracking, great controllers and, what is essential, its own VR platform. Although Oculus does not support Steam VR, it has its own content library which is rather various and has grown significantly in the last few years. 

Rift S comes with a pair of new Oculus Touch controllers which were also updated. Each has five different elements of interaction: buttons, a stick, a touchpad, a trigger, and a grip button with an Oculus button on the right controller and a menu on the left. Finger tracking in the controllers adds a lot to their functional use.

A great step up for Rift S from the predecessor is a new sensor system. Now it is built in the headset so you don’t need to set up any additional bases around the room. Five cameras make it possible to detect all your motions as well as to see the room in case you need to look around while in a headset. The cameras themselves give Rift S 6DoF and the controllers have the same feature.

Degree of freedom (DoF) is a way to measure types of movement that a device can provide. 3DoF provides rotational freedom (turning heads). 6DoF is a more advanced room-scale tracking. It provides rotational and positional freedom (up/down, left/right, forward/backward). 

Resolution: 2560 x 1600

Field of view: 110 degrees

Controllers and sensors: Oculus Touch, built-in Insight tracking system

Degree of freedom: 6DoF

Price: $400

Advantages:

  • great resolution and refresh rate;
  • easy set-up with no external sensors;
  • advanced motion controls.

Disadvantages:

  • doesn’t support Steam VR;
  • some may find it bulky.

HTC Vive

HTC Vive review and specs

Vive is a headset created by the HTC company together with Valve. The collaboration was quite unexpected yet successful and HTC Vive instantly became one of the favorites on the market. One of the reasons for such popularity is that HTC Vive has access to Valve’s Steam VR platform which currently is the biggest library of VR content. There is also HTC’s own Viveport app store.

The headset exterior has a futuristic design and the device is told to be comfortable due to well-thought weight distribution and adjustable straps. Lenses can also be adjusted to your preference and comfort with a set of triggers on the headset.

HTC Vive comes in a bundle with earbuds, two controllers, and two base stations. The controllers have 24 sensors, a multi-function trackpad, a trigger, and a bunch of buttons. Together with the base stations, they provide the headset 6DoF with precise position and room-tracking. When base stations are installed, they let the user move around the chosen space and this movement will be represented in the virtual experience. Although some say it to be a drawback —  a long game session can turn into an exhausting physical exercise. 

Another disadvantage is the set-up. The base stations are rather demanding in being properly positioned. But once you have them set you can enjoy your experience without any trouble. HTC bothered about safety measures: a front-facing camera lets you see what is around even when you are in a helmet and the Chaperone system warns you when you step out of the play area.

If you really liked what Vive offers and want even more, the company provides with a lot of accessories to enhance your experience. There are blasters and rackets, a headphones addition, a unique Vive tracker and, what is the most exciting, a wireless adapter. It turns Vive into a kind of a wireless headset with more movement freedom as the player is not afraid to trip over the wires. The battery is enough for a 2-hour game session.

Resolution: 2160 x 1200

Field of view: 110 degrees

Controllers and sensors: HTC Vive Wand Controllers, Vive base stations, SteamVR Tracking, Vive Tracker, Chaperone technology

Degree of freedom: 6DoF

Price: $500

Advantages: 

  • excellent motion tracking;
  • a lot of additional accessories;
  • access to the SteamVR library.

Disadvantages:

  • complex set-up;
  • needs a lot of space (6’6’’ x 5’ min. room size).

HTC Vive Pro

HTC Vive Pro review and specs

If you think that Vive is not good enough for you, here you have Vive Pro. The most recent development of HTC and Valve launched in 2018. The headset is marketed as a premium version of the previous device.

The main thing which makes Vive Pro better than Vive is screen resolution: it is more than 50 percent improved and the graphics look cleaner and makes the experience as immersive as it can be. However, it also means that the requirements for the PC connected are more demanding.

Another improvement is about the comfort of usage. Vive Pro has more padding and better weight distribution to minimize you feel it while in VR. Yet again, the same as Vive, Vive Pro has all types of adjustments you can do to make it fit better.

On the outside, Vive Pro looks like a brother of the earlier version – the same futuristic design, but this time in blue, with two cameras in front instead of one, and in-build headphones. The last ones are of very good quality and add to the experience. Having two cameras in the very center of the headset makes it usable as an augmented reality tool as well: you can see a digital image and the real world surrounding at the same time. A wireless adapter is available for this headset also.

The headset is sold out in three options: Vive Pro HMD (the device itself), Vive Pro Starter Kit (the device in a bundle with controllers and base stations version one), VIVE Pro Full Kit (the device together with controllers and base stations version two). Version one accessories are what you get with the original Vive. So if you already have it, you can buy the headset only. If you want to have an improved pair of controllers and sensors, a full set may be too expensive, which is a main issue with the Vive Pro.

Resolution: 2880 x 1600

Field of view: 110 degrees

Controllers and sensors: HTC Vive Wand Controllers, Vive base stations, SteamVR Tracking, Vive Tracker, Chaperone technology.

Degree of freedom: 6DoF

Price: Vive Pro HMD – $800, Vive Pro Starter Kit – $1100; VIVE Pro Full Kit – $1400

Advantages: 

  • high resolution;
  • exclusive comfort;
  • access to the SteamVR library.

Disadvantages:

  • complex set-up;
  • expensive;
  • doesn’t come with controllers or sensors.

Sony PlayStation VR

PSVR headset review and specs

This one is the reason why we called this article “Tethered headsets” and not “PC-connected”. Sony PlayStation VR is a helmet designed to work with PlayStation4 family exclusively. 

Unlike other headsets mentioned in this article, PSVR has a lot of brightness to it combining dark elements with the white ones. It also differs from others with its weight – it is the heaviest of all. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make it uncomfortable. The helmet can be adjusted to fit perfectly and the weight is distributed quite well. Lenses position can also be changed to your liking.

Display resolution in PSVR is quite low, but the image quality is surprisingly good. Because of its higher subpixel count, this headset can still impress with what you see. Build-in audio and Mirror Mode contribute to a fascinating immersive experience. Mirror Mode allows other players to watch the user in a game or play with him. 

The biggest advantage of PSVR is its price which is the lowest of all. However, for three hundred dollars one can have the headset and connecting cables only. To enjoy virtual reality with PlayStation you should additionally buy a camera and controllers which enable motion tracking. The headset is compatible with standard PS Dualshock 4 and has two more, exclusively VR, options: PS VR Aim controller and PlayStation Move motion controller.

Motion tracking is actually a weak point of PSVR. It is not as precise as in HTC Vive, for example, and the camera may lose track of controllers if you move them in the wrong direction. However, that may soon change as there are rumours on PSVR 2 coming out in 2020.

Resolution: 1920×1080

Field of view: 100 degrees

Controllers and sensors: PS VR Aim controller, PlayStation Move motion controller, PlayStation Camera

Degree of freedom: 6DoF

Price: $300

Advantages: 

  • high image quality;
  • affordable;
  • easy set-up.

Disadvantages:

  • doesn’t come with controllers and sensors;
  • only PlayStation compatible.

Valve Index

Valve Index review and specs

The one we never knew we needed. Index isn’t Valve’s first experience with VR hardware as it is one of the Vive developers. But nobody expected the company to launch own VR headset which, on top of it, appeared to become one of the best on the market. 

The headset is designed in the best traditions of futuristic-looking devices with a glossy front panel and two built-in cameras. It isn’t the smallest of the HMDs, but one of the most comfortable — adjustable straps and great weight distribution make it comfortable even for continuous wearing. The lenses are adjustable as well so every user can find the perfect headset configuration.  

In terms of specs, Valve Index is rather impressive. It is equipped with two 1440×1600 RGB LCDs with a refresh rate of 120Hz. The choice of displays allowed to minimize a screen door effect almost to zero.

A screen door effect is a visual artifact of displays when the user can see thin lines between pixels which leads to a mesh-like image. It is a big issue for VR headsets as it usually appears when the display is viewed from a very short distance which is typical for HMDs. 

Another feature that makes Index stand out among other headsets is the audio. Valve decided to go the other way and instead of headphones added speakers to its headset. Hovering over the ears, speakers provide great spatial audio while giving an opportunity to hear what happens around. And it also feels rather comfortable without any pressure on the ears.

The best thing about the Index is the controllers. Innovative knuckle controllers with advanced finger tracking. The things are strapped to the hands giving a lot of freedom for hand and finger gestures. There are various controlling options: a few buttons, a trigger, a thumbstick, and a bunch of sensors. Many call Index controllers the best we have today.

The worst thing about Index is price. Quality costs some money and in case of Index, it is $500 for the helmet itself and $1000 for a kit of a headset, controllers, and two base stations. In case you already have Vive, you can spend less as the base stations are the same. And the setup process is also the same — long and tiresome, especially comparing to Rift S. But once completed, you can enjoy your VR experience in its full potential.

Resolution: 2880 x 1600

Field of view: 130 degrees

Controllers and sensors: Index controllers, SteamVR 2.0 sensors, 2.0 Base Stations

Degree of freedom: 6DoF

Price: Valve Index headset – $500, Valve Index Kit – $1000

Advantages: 

  • best tethered headset on the market;
  • comfortable to wear;
  • little to no screen door effect;
  • advanced controllers.

Disadvantages:

  • expensive;
  • complex setup.

Tethered headsets comparison

NameResolutionField of viewDegree of freedomPricePlatform
Oculus Rift S2560 x 1600110 degrees6DoF$400Oculus
HTC Vive2160 x 1200110 degrees6DoF$600SteamVR, VIVEPORT
HTC Vive Pro2880 x 1600110 degrees6DoF$800SteamVR, VIVEPORT
Sony PSVR1920×1080100 degrees6DoF$300PlayStation
Valve Index2880 x 1600130 degrees6DoF$500SteamVR

The choice of the headset depends on what kind of experience you want to have and how much you are ready to pay. While choosing, pay attention to the quality of images, comfort and, if you want to use it besides your own project, the number of apps available for each headset.

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