3 people trying out different types of VR headsets

The 3 Types Of VR Headsets – Which Is Best?

Virtual reality headsets come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and capabilities, but they can all be classified into three main types. In this guide, we’ll look at the three types of VR headsets and the pros and cons of each. It will help you decide which is best for your needs.

What are the three VR headset types?

Virtual reality headsets are categorized into three groups. They can be powered by a smartphone, tethered to a PC, or use built-in computing power to function on their own. 

1. Smartphone VR headsets

Modern smartphones can provide its owner with a VR experience. They can either be used as a headset or handheld. Keep in mind that the quality will vary greatly depending on the type of phone. Newer, high-end phones can take advantage of more computing power and enhanced screen resolution.

Smartphone VR Headset: Headsets can be purchased that allow the phone to slide into a space in front of the user’s eyes. These can cost more than one hundred dollars although there are cheaper options on the market.

The headset will include lenses that provide a sense of depth. The phone’s built-in accelerometer and camera are also used by any VR apps used.   

Smartphone VR Handheld: Handheld VR increased in popularity when Google introduced its original cardboard product. There is a wide range of handheld options offering a cheap way to use VR. The idea is similar to smartphone headsets, except that the user must hold the screen up to their face. This setup is fine for the occasional quick VR session, like casual gaming and social apps. Anyone that wants to try out VR before committing to more expensive options may want to use this as a gateway option. You can also watch movies but it has its limitations for longer viewing. 

Smartphone VR promised to be a popular, low-cost option. But as other technologies reduce in price, using VR with your mobile appears to be fading away. Most manufacturers aren’t putting much into their R&D or marketing efforts for this category.

Pros

  • Low-cost option
  • Simple to setup and use
  • Easy to watch wherever you are

Cons

  • Less immersive than standalone or PC options
  • Not as comfortable to wear or hold
  • Can drain a phone batter fast
A woman holding up a Google Cardboard smartphone VR headset
Google Cardboard was a popular Smartphone VR Headset.

2. VR headsets tethered to a PC

Some VR headsets are designed to be connected to a computer using a USB or HDMI cable. A tethered virtual reality headset offers the highest quality experience that’s incredibly immersive and realistic.

In addition to a VR headset, you’ll need a high-powered PC with a quality graphics card. Although this setup is relatively expensive to acquire, new headsets are being released each year that require less-powerful hardware.

Tethered VR can be used for almost any purpose although wires add some movement restriction. It is well-suited for professional use like business meetings as well as education and the arts. This type of VR is most used in the gaming sector; gamers looking for the best graphics on offer and a truly immersive experience will be impressed.

Pros

  • A good selection of VR content
  • Virtual reality at its best

Cons

  • Limited movement due to wires
  • Most expensive option
  • Requires some technical skills to setup
  • Takes up more space than a simple headset
A VR set tethered to a laptop.
A VR set tethered to a laptop.

3. Standalone VR headsets

A standalone virtual reality headset is super-easy to get started with. It is an all-in-one solution that has the computing power built into it, so there’s no need for wires or any other hardware. Battery, sensors, display, processors, and memory are all part of the set.

To get started, you’ll need to connect to the internet and create an account, if you want to access some VR platforms. For example, if you’re using Occulus Quest then you’ll need to log in with a Facebook account to get started.

Standalone headsets don’t compare to the tethered option when it comes to power. You’ll find the graphics and refresh rates are good, but not as impressive as if you were tethering.

Some all-in-one headsets give you the option to connect to a PC or gaming console as well. This gives you the best of both worlds. You get the freedom of movement when needed and a high-end experience by going the tethered route.

The future looks good for wireless VR, with major tech companies pumping huge resources into this segment of the market. It seems inevitable that companies like Meta, HTC, and Google will drive this product category forward until it dominates. Certainly, this makes sense as no VR user wants to be tethered to a computer if they don’t have to be.

Standalone VR headsets are likely to appeal to a wide audience. It’s liberating being able to use it anywhere you like. Anyone looking for social experiences will enjoy this freedom. Gamers, movie-lovers, and anyone looking for a regular VR experience without a huge price tag will appreciate this technology.

Pros

  • Easy to setup and use
  • Freedom to use anywhere there is space and internet
  • No unexpected extra costs

Cons

  • Not as immersive as tethered headsets
An untethered virtual reality headset
Standalone VR headsets are a popular option.

Summing up

If you’re looking to get started in virtual reality, you’ll find there are three types of VR headsets currently available. 

Smartphone headsets are affordable, but you won’t get the full experience from one of them. They’ll give you a feel for what to expect with minimal setup fuss.

A standalone headset is where the industry is focusing its resources. There are plenty of new devices hitting the market which makes sense; what better way to be part of a virtual world than to do it unencumbered by wires.

For gaming purists, you still won’t beat a tethered headset. Also, anyone that relies on crisp, clean pixels will appreciate a tethered headset.    

No headset type is perfect. The user needs to find the ideal balance of use case, budget, and experience quality.

Be sure to check out our guide on the history of virtual reality to learn more about where this ground-breaking technology began.

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