Valve returned to its most legendary franchise in style with Half-Life Alyx, but you'll need a VR headset to play. This page is designed to make choosing the best VR headset for Half-Life Alyx as simple as possible, giving you the information you need to find the headset that fits your needs, at a price you can afford.
Just looking at all of the options available can be daunting, especially if you're a newcomer to VR, with eight SteamVR headsets that are officially compatible with Half-Life Alyx. Here are those eight options, not including first-gen VR headsets like the original HTC Vive and Oculus Rift CV1 that have disappeared from retail:
- Valve Index
- HTC Vive Pro
- HTC Vive Cosmos
- New: Oculus Quest 2 (w/ Link Cable)
- Oculus Rift S
- Oculus Quest (w/ Link Cable)
- Windows Mixed Reality
- New: HP Reverb G2
With different physical designs, screens, tracking solutions and price points, there's plenty to discuss about each option. Thankfully, once you get to know a little about each of them you'll quickly be able to narrow in on the right one for you. That makes choosing the best VR headset for Half-Life Alyx fairly straightforward - as long as you're equipped with our recommendations.
Of course, these recommendations will also be more widely applicable to other VR games, like Beat Saber, Tetris Effect, Superhot and so on. In general, fast-paced games will benefit from a higher refresh rate, while slower-paced games and VR experiences will benefit from a higher resolution and field of view.
So: here is our guide to the best VR headsets for Half-Life Alyx and other VR titles, including the specs and features you need to know about, plus the best prices we've found on every headset listed.
First, let's look at a summary, presented in a convenient table form:
|Headset||Summary||Best Price (Full system)|
|Valve Index||The best VR headset for HL Alyx||£459/$499 on Steam (HMD only)
£689/$749 on Steam (w/ cons)
£919/$999 on Steam (full kit)
|HTC Vive Pro||Another strong premium option||£599/$899 on Amz (HMD only)
£899/$1199 on Vive (starter kit)
|HTC Vive Cosmos||High fidelity, with some issues||£699/$699 on Vive
£899/$899 on Vive (Elite)
|Oculus Quest 2||The best value option||£299/$299 (64GB) on Amazon
£399/$399 (256GB) on Amazon
|Oculus Rift S||Good value PC VR, soon discontinued||£394/$399 on Amazon
£399/$399 on Oculus
|Oculus Quest||Standalone VR, but discontinued||£342/$390 (64GB) on Amazon
£409/$445 (128GB) on Amazon
|Windows Mixed Reality||Best budget option for Alyx||£193/$449 on Amazon
£380/$230 on Microsoft
|HP Reverb G2||An upcoming hi-res headset||$599 (pre-order)|
If you're in a hurry, here are our rapid recommendations:
- We think that the Valve Index is the best option on the market, thanks to its excellent display, great tracking and finger-accurate controllers. This is how at least one member of Digital Foundry played the game, and had an excellent time doing so. Unfortunately, the Index is expensive and high demand means that it can take weeks to arrive.
- If you're not interesting in investing nearly a grand on your VR habit, the Oculus Quest 2 stands out as the best value choice thanks to good controllers and excellent tracking with no base stations required, with both wired, wireless and standalone operation modes.
- The Oculus Rift S is another solid good value option that comes configured for PC play out of the box, but it's set to be discontinued in early 2021 and stock should dry up soon.
- Finally, Windows Mixed Reality headsets are often (but not always) the cheapest option; I picked up one for £150 a few Black Fridays ago. Tracking is good and visuals are pretty strong too, though the controllers are a bit bulky. Unfortunately, stock levels are low so it can be hard to find one of these headsets at a suitably low price.
For the full details, scroll on or click on the headset you're interested in to learn more - and see the best deals we've found in the new and exciting days following the release of Half-Life Alyx!
- Valve Index: Specs, Info and Best Deals
- HTC Vive Pro: Specs, Info and Best Deals
- HTC Cosmos: Specs, Info and Best Deals
- Oculus Quest 2: Specs, Info and Best Deals
- Oculus Rift S: Specs, Info and Best Deals
- Oculus Quest: Specs, Info and Best Deals
- Windows Mixed Reality: Specs, Info and Best Deals
- HP Reverb G2: Specs, Info and Best Deals
Valve Index: Specs, Info and Best Deals
2880x1600 LCD screen ● 130° field of view ● 80/90/120/144Hz ● Base Station tracking
The Valve Index is the best way to play Half-Life Alyx, as the game has been developed to take full advantage of the Index's hardware. The 130-degree display has a combined resolution of 2880x1600, and uses a true RGB subpixel arrangement that makes for a sharper image than you'd find on the AMOLED Pentile screens commonly used for VR. The Index's screen is also capable of higher refresh rates than other headsets, topping out at 144Hz, making for a much smoother experience but requiring a more powerful PC to realise its potential. If you already have a powerful rig, then the Index is a natural choice.
The Index relies on base stations to operate, allowing for excellent tracking but requiring some setup, while the Knuckle controllers are the best available at the moment thanks to their per-digit tracking. Audio is a strong suit too, with the built-in speakers providing a convenient and immersive experience. All of that means the Valve Index is the VR headset to get for Half-Life Alyx. Expect stock of this headset to be hard to find, despite this being one of the most expensive options.
- HMD only: £459/$499 on Steam
- HMD + controller: £689/$749 on Steam
- HMD + controller + base stations: £919/$999 on Steam
HTC Vive Pro: Specs, Info and Best Deals
2880x1600 OLED screen ● 110° field of view ● 90Hz ● Base Station tracking
The Vive Pro is another hi-fidelity option, and the full system can be easier to find online than Valve's Index. The AMOLED display is a bright point, with a resolution of 2880x1600, and the refresh rate of 90Hz is good too. However, the 110-degree field of view is slightly narrower than that of the Valve Index and the Pentile subpixel arrangement means that you do lose some fine detail despite the high resolution.
Tracking is accomplished using base stations, which require setting up but can offer more accurate tracking. The Vive Pro's controllers aren't as advanced as that of the Vive Cosmos or Valve Index, but it is possible to buy Valve's Valve Index controllers separately (£259/$279) to use with this system if you want that individual finger tracking. Overall, a strong option for most people, especially given the availability issues faced by the Index at the time of writing.
- HMD only: £599 on Vive (no longer available in US?)
- HMD + controllers + base stations: £899/$1199 on Vive and Amazon, respectively
HTC Vive Cosmos: Specs, Info and Best Deals
2880x1700 LCD screen ● 110° field of view ● 90Hz ● Inside-out tracking
The Vive Cosmos is another high-res headset, at 2880x1700, and hits the same 90Hz refresh rate as the Vive Pro. HTC opted to move from AMOLED to LCD with the Cosmos, so you get a full three subpixels per pixel, boosting clarity of fine details. Another big change is that the headset uses inside-out tracking rather than relying on external base stations. (Although some later variants work differently; see update below).
This is convenient, as you don't need to pay for or set up this additional equipment, but this has unfortunately reduced tracking accuracy compared to the Vive Pro. For example, the Cosmos can lose track of the controllers if they're too close to you - which can be irritating and immersion-breaking if you're trying to aim down the sights of a weapon to shoot an encroaching headcrab. The tracking is also more light-sensitive than other options, so expect to game in a well-lit living space for optimal results.
While the tracking is a step backwards in some respects, the physical design is demonstrably better than the earlier Vive Pro, with the option to flip up the goggles - handy if you want to drink some tea or make sure you aren't about to kick your cat. The controllers here are decent, despite a lack of top sticks, although sadly there's no easy option to upgrade to Valve Index controllers. If visual fidelity trumps hand tracking accuracy for you, then this could be a good choice.
Update: The Cosmos Elite is now available. It supports tracking via external base stations, solving the headset's biggest weakness, but comes at a higher price of £899/$899. If you already have a Cosmos, the external tracking faceplate is available separately for £199/$199.
- Vive Cosmos: £699/$699 on Overclockers and Amazon, respectively
- Vive Cosmos Elite: £899/$899 on Vive.com
Oculus Quest 2: Specs, Info and Best Deals
3664x1920 LCD screen ● 90° field of view ● 72Hz (90Hz TBA) ● Inside-out tracking
Interestingly, the Oculus Quest 2 replaces both the original Oculus Quest and the Oculus Rift S. By default, it's a standalone VR headset with a (fast) mobile phone processor inside, allowing it to connect to the internet and download apps or games. Playing VR untethered is a great experience, even though the graphical fidelity of mobile titles doesn't quite measure up to what you can produce with even a mid-range gaming PC. For wired PC play, you'll need to buy a high-spec USB-C cable - either the official fibre-optic Oculus Link cable (£89/$79) or one of several (much cheaper) traditional USB-C cables (eg £33/$26).
So: how does the Quest 2 compare to the original? Well, the screen is dramatically higher resolution (3664x1920 versus 2880x1600) and Oculus promise a 90Hz refresh rate will be possible soon (up from the Quest's default 72Hz). It's also more powerful, with a Snapdragon XR2 chipset paired with 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 256GB of storage. More importantly, the comfort of the unit has improved substantially, solving the only major issue with the headset. That's accomplished through a lower weight and an improved optional head strap that make it much more comfortable for long play sessions. Another key differentiator is price - the Quest 2 is $100/£100 cheaper than its predecessor, making the cost of entry to premium VR lower than ever before.
Overall, if you can stomach signing in with a Facebook account, this is a great VR headset that opens the door to some truly exceptional experiences, whether in tether-free, standalone games running direct on the Quest 2 or when attached to a gaming PC with a Link cable.
Oculus Rift S: Specs, Info and Best Deals
2560x1440 LCD screen ● 90° field of view ● 80Hz ● Inside-out tracking
The Oculus Rift S is the most advanced PC-centric headset from Oculus, and is considerably cheaper than HTC or Valve's options. That makes it the best value VR headset for Half-Life Alyx by a considerable margin. However, other headsets do offer slightly better screens, as the Rift S uses a single 2560x1440 LCD display that operates at 80Hz. Tracking is a strong point for the Rift S, with a strong inside-out tracking solution that doesn't require external base stations yet still offers excellent accuracy. Another point in the Rift S's favour is that the price includes two touch controllers. These perform just fine in-game, despite lacking the advanced single-finger tracking of the Valve Index controllers. Overall, the Rift S is a great budget option that doesn't sacrifice too much in terms of visual fidelity, usability or performance - a solid choice. Unfortunately, it's set to be discontinued in early 2021, so if you're interested then pick one up soon, before stock disappears.
Oculus Quest: Specs, Info and Best Deals
2880x1600 OLED screen ● 90° field of view ● 72Hz ● Inside-out tracking
The original Oculus Quest is intended as a standalone handset, hence the integrated storage, but it can also connect to a PC for use with games like Half-Life Alyx with the official lightweight fibre optic Oculus Link Cable (£89/$79) or one of several (much cheaper) traditional USB-C cables (eg £33/$26). A beta update even allows the connection to work using more readily available USB 2.0 cables, although USB 3.0 is still recommended. You can also use the Quest with PC wirelessly with a little tinkering*.
The display is a bit better than the Rift S, at 2880x1600, but as it is an OLED screen with a Pentile subpixel arrangement you do lose out on some fine detail. In addition, the refresh rate of 72Hz is the lowest of the options available and connecting via USB means dealing with some compression artefacts, which are mainly noticeable in darker scenes. However, the headset still produces an immersive experience.
The Quest uses inside-out tracking, with no base stations required, and the tracking is more reliable than that of its contemporaries. The Quest comes with two controllers which work well for Half-Life Alyx, although they don't possess as many buttons or the single finger tracking of the Valve Index controller. In terms of comfort, the Quest is a little front-heavy, making it tiring for long sessions, but this can be fixed with relatively simple modifications if it bothers you. Audio is also not great, so you may want to use in-ear headphones. Overall, this is a great budget option if you can find it at a good price, despite some limitations.
*In order to play Half Life Alyx wirelessly on the Quest, you'll need the Oculus Quest Store version of Virtual Desktop (version 1.9.6 or later). From here, use SideQuest to patch Virtual Desktop and unlock this feature. Upload VR have instructions for doing this here.
The Oculus Quest has now been replaced by the better Quest 2, so unless you can find a good deal on a used model we recommend opting for the Quest 2!
Windows Mixed Reality: Specs, Info and Best Deals
2880x1440 LCD screen ● 105° field of view ● 90Hz ● Inside-out tracking
Finally, Windows Mixed Reality headsets are the cheapest way to play Half-Life Alyx - if you can find them in stock. These are available from a range of manufacturers, such as HP, Microsoft and Lenovo, and can differ slightly in their specifications. Normally, you can expect a resolution of 2880x1440, at a refresh rate of 90Hz - pretty good! Tracking is performed without base stations, and controllers are included with each headset.
Retail availability is incredibly spotty, but Microsoft's store sometimes has headsets in store for excellent prices so do check both of the links below. If nothing is available, the Oculus Quest 2 is our next-cheapest pick - and going for a single well-supported headset definitely has its advantages.
HP Reverb G2: Specs, Info and Best Deals
4320x2160 LCD screen ● 114° field of view ● 90Hz ● Inside-out tracking
The HP Reverb G2 is an upcoming Windows Mixed Reality VR headset that deserves its own section. It was produced in cooperation with Valve, who contributed lenses and Index-style near-field speakers to the design. The high resolution display (2160x2160 for each eye) should offer excellent clarity, although the 90Hz refresh rate here doesn't quite compare to the Index's 120Hz or 144Hz modes. The controllers have been redesigned from the previous generation WMD designs, removing the trackpad in favour of two extra face buttons to more closely resemble Oculus Rift controllers. These upgrades should make this the best Windows Mixed Reality headset ever.
We'll have to wait for the first reviews to see how this headset performs, especially in terms of its four-camera inside-out tracking, but for $599 the Reverb G2 look like a promising alternative to the Valve Index at a substantially lower price. Note that UK/EU pricing and availability is yet to be announced.
- $599 on HP (pre-order)
With that, we reach the end of the PC VR headset deals and all-around best prices for the VR headsets that are compatible with Half-Life Alyx. We'll keep this page up to date ensure we recommend the best deals for these headsets as they appear, so check back soon!
If you find a Half Life Alyx compatible VR headset at a better price than we've listed here - or if you'd like to know how these headsets compare in another way - then please let us know in the comments below! Should we be covering other options too, like the Pimax 5K or first-gen Oculus and Vive headsets? Get in touch. We'll also be checking tweets to @wsjudd or @digitalfoundry.
In the meantime, why not read more about Half-Life Alyx in articles by Eurogamer? So far, we've covered our first look at Half-Life Alyx and also why Half-Life Alyx is a VR exclusive. You can also hear Digital Foundry's John and Alex discuss the reveal in video form above.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of €5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry