Best VR headset for Half-Life Alyx 2020

Our guide to the VR headsets compatible with Valve's next game.

Valve returns to its most legendary franchise on March 23, 2020 with Half-Life Alyx, but you'll need a VR headset to play this game when it comes out on PC. 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 six SteamVR headsets that are officially compatible with Half-Life Alyx. Here are those six 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
  • Oculus Rift S
  • Oculus Quest (w/ Link Cable)
  • Windows Mixed Reality

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.

So: here is our guide to the best VR headsets for Half-Life Alyx, 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
£919/$999 on Steam (w/ base stations)
HTC Vive Pro Another strong premium option £599/$599 on Vive (HMD only)
£899/$899 on Vive (w/ base stations)
HTC Vive Cosmos High fidelity, with some issues £699/$699 on Vive, £699 on Amazon
Oculus Rift S The best value VR headset £394/$399 on Amazon
Oculus Quest A tenable option £399/$399 (64GB) on Amazon
£499/$499 (128GB) on Amazon
Windows Mixed Reality Best budget option for Alyx £340/$310 on Amazon
£380/$230 on Microsoft

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. Unfortunately, the Index is expensive and goes out of stock quickly.
  • If you're not interesting in investing nearly a grand on your VR habit, the Oculus Rift S stands out as the best value choice thanks to good controllers and excellent tracking with no base stations required.
  • Finally, Windows Mixed Reality headsets are often (but not always) the cheapest option; I picked up one for £150 last Black Friday. 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 time for the release of Half Life Alyx!

Valve Index: Specs, Info and Best Deals

index

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.

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 (see Valve statement below), despite this being one of the most expensive options.

Valve has confirmed to Road to VR that the COVID-19 outbreak has hampered their production of the Index: "...we are working hard to meet demand for the Valve Index and want to reassure everyone that Index systems will be available for purchase prior to [HL Alyx's] launch. However, the global coronavirus health crisis has impacted our production schedules so we will have far fewer units for sale during the coming months compared to the volumes we originally planned."

HTC Vive Pro: Specs, Info and Best Deals

vivepro

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.

HTC Vive Cosmos: Specs, Info and Best Deals

cosmos

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: February 20th. HTC recently announced three new Vive Cosmos bundles based around different faceplates, each with their own trade-offs. The Cosmos Elite supports base station external tracking, which should solve the headset's tracking concerns, but comes at a higher price of £899/$899. Conversely, the Cosmos Play is a cheaper alternative to the standard Cosmos, but comes with four inside-out cameras instead of the six on the standard model. The Cosmos XR is the final edition, but it's more intended for the professional market with a similar feature set as Microsoft's HoloLens. The faceplate here contains high resolution pass-through cameras which allow for improved AR capabilities. If you already have a Cosmos, the external tracking faceplate will be available this summer for £199/$199.

Oculus Rift S: Specs, Info and Best Deals

rifts

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.

Oculus Quest: Specs, Info and Best Deals

quest

2880x1600 OLED screen ● 90° field of view ● 72Hz ● Inside-out tracking

The 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 another high-spec USB-C cable (£7/$19). 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.

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.

Windows Mixed Reality: Specs, Info and Best Deals

mixed

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. 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 spotty, but Microsoft's store often has headsets in store for excellent prices. Right now, the best deal we've found is on the higher-end Samsung Odyssey+, which is $230 on Microsoft's American store. (While it shares the majority of its features with other WMD headsets, the Odyssey+ includes a higher-res 2880x1600 AMOLED screen and wider 110° field of view.) In the UK, the Lenovo Windows Mixed Reality headset has dropped as low as £150, although we haven't found anything close to that price at the time of writing.

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.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2.

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