The term “metaverse” has recently gained immense popularity, but the concept itself is not new. The first rudimentary ideas associated with the metaverse emerged back in the 19th century when Sir Charles Wheatstone pioneered “binocular vision” in 1838, combining two images for each eye to create a three-dimensional impression.
In 1992, author Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in his science fiction novel Snow Crash to describe a virtual world where people interacted with each other and software agents using avatars. Stephenson envisioned the metaverse as a virtual space that mimicked the real world, complete with virtual real estate and currency.
While Stephenson’s metaverse was fictional, it inspired many entrepreneurs and researchers to begin working on creating an actual metaverse. In 2010, Palmer Luckey designed an early prototype for virtual reality (VR) headsets that had a field of view of 90 degrees, laying the groundwork for affordable consumer VR. Luckey went on to found Oculus VR in 2012, which was later acquired by Facebook for $3 billion in 2014.
That same year, Samsung and Sony announced their own VR headsets, Google released Google Glass and low-cost Cardboard VR viewers. This flurry of VR hardware development marked 2014 as a pivotal moment, priming the world for accessible virtual worlds.
The next major milestone came in 2021 when Facebook announced its rebranding to Meta, signaling the company’s full embrace of the metaverse concept. This rebranding sparked a new wave of interest, development, and investment into metaverse platforms and technologies.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse refers to a network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. This emerging “virtual-reality-based internet” will allow users across the globe to interact, play, collaborate, and shop in shared virtual spaces.
While often used synonymously with VR, the metaverse is not constrained to just VR headsets. It can incorporate augmented reality, mixed reality, 3D holographic avatars, and more. The key aspects that define the metaverse include:
Persistence – The metaverse exists continuously and in real-time regardless of whether users are engaged with it.
Interoperability – Experiences, avatars, digital goods and currencies can be transferred between metaverse environments.
Scalability – Support for a significant number of simultaneous users in a shared virtual space.
Accessibility – Metaverse platforms are accessible through smartphones, PCs, game consoles, VR/AR headsets.
Embodied Interaction – Users interact through virtual representations of themselves (avatars) that allow realistic expression, communication and agency.
Proponents believe that the metaverse will grow to encompass many aspects of our social, work and entertainment lives in the coming decades. But accessible, immersive VR hardware is crucial for mass adoption.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality (VR) refers to computer-generated environments that mimic the real world and allow users to interact with it. VR uses stereoscopic displays and motion tracking to make users feel fully immersed in digital worlds.
VR headsets track the wearer’s head movements and update the imagery accordingly, creating the illusion that the user is actually inside a video game or virtual world. This creates an immersive experience that transports users to entirely new environments.
The concept of virtual reality has been around for decades in science fiction and early prototypes. But the expense of hardware and limited graphics capabilities prevented VR from taking off earlier.
Recent advances in consumer electronics, graphics processing power, and motion tracking sensors have finally allowed convincing and affordable VR systems. Major tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft now view VR as the next computing platform.
VR is currently used primarily for gaming and entertainment. But researchers and enterprise users see potential applications for VR technology in training, product design, tourism, healthcare, education, and more. As VR headsets improve and become mainstream, the technology may fundamentally transform how we interact with information and each other.
What are VR Headsets?
A VR headset is a head-mounted device that provides users with a completely immersive virtual reality experience. VR headsets typically contain display screens and motion sensors that allow the device to track a user’s head movements.
They also come with lenses that act as a stereoscope by sending a unique image to each eye to create a lifelike 3D scene. VR headsets completely obscure a user’s view of their real surroundings and replace it with a virtual landscape.
Most consumer VR headsets must be powered by a gaming PC or console to generate the complex 3D environments of VR games and apps. Some VR headsets like the Oculus Quest are standalone devices that don’t require a separate computer.
Early VR devices were bulky and uncomfortable, but new models are increasingly sleek and ergonomic. Prices range considerably for VR headsets depending on their capabilities and target platform. Google Cardboard versions turn smartphones into basic VR devices for under $20. Higher-end headsets with built-in graphics and tracking exceed $600.
As VR hardware improves and content libraries expand, virtual reality is poised to become a mainstream technology with applications across gaming, live events, training simulations, healthcare, design, and more. Next generation headsets will be smaller, wireless, and integrate augmented and mixed reality features.
Top 8 VR Headsets for the Metaverse
Here are the top contenders when it comes to VR headsets for fully immersing into the metaverse:
1. Meta Quest Pro
- 37% thinner than Quest 2
- Pancake lenses with 37% more viewable area
- Eye tracking and face tracking
- Full-color pass-through mixed reality
- 12GB RAM, 256GB storage
- Snapdragon XR2+ platform
- Starts at $1,499
The newly announced Meta Quest Pro represents the next evolution of Meta’s VR headsets. It‘s designed to enable mixed-reality experiences that blend virtual elements into real world environments.
The Quest Pro features high resolution pancake lenses with a 37% larger field of view than prior models. It also incorporates inward-facing cameras for robust eye and face tracking. This allows the headset to reflect user‘s facial expressions and eyes onto their avatars for more natural social interactions.
Meta is positioning the Quest Pro as an immersive productivity device for collaborators and creators. Its enhanced mixed reality capabilities, powerful hardware, and stylish design make it a top-tier headset for both enterprise use cases and the metaverse.
2. HTC Vive Pro 2
- 5K resolution (2448 x 2448 per eye)
- 120hz refresh rate
- SteamVR tracking
- Compatible with Vive console apps
- Integrated headphones
- Starting at $799
The HTC Vive Pro 2 is designed for VR enthusiasts and enterprise users that want cutting edge visual fidelity. It offers an ultra-sharp 5K resolution display with vibrant colors powered by two 2.5K LCD panels.
The headset also features a 120hz refresh rate for smooth performance and minimal motion blur. Built-in headphones with 3D spatial audio make for deeply immersive experiences. SteamVR tracking allows for large room-scale movement.
For business use cases, the Vive Pro 2 supports multi-user collaboration in VR through Vive Sync. It‘s a versatile pick for high-end VR gaming, design workflows, and location-based entertainment.
3. Valve Index
- 1440 × 1600 per eye resolution
- 120hz / 144hz refresh rates
- 130° field of view
- Integrated headphones
- Console-style controllers
- SteamVR ecosystem integration
- Starting at $999
The Valve Index demonstrates how much visual clarity matters for immersion in VR. It uses dual 1440×1600 LCDs for high fidelity graphics made even sharper by its wide field of view.
Valve optimized the Index for fast action gaming with refresh rates up to 144hz. Its SteamVR controllers feature capacitive sensors for extremely accurate finger tracking. Audiophile-grade off-ear headphones complete the premium experience.
While the Index still requires a gaming PC, Valve‘s SteamVR software provides easy access to hundreds of supported titles. The base model is pricier than many competitors, but the Index delivers an industry leading VR experience.
4. Meta Quest 2
- 1832×1920 resolution per eye
- 120hz refresh rate
- Built-in speakers and microphone
- 6DOF motion tracking
- Hand controller with haptic feedback
- Access to Rift game library
- Starts at $399
The Meta Quest 2 (formerly Oculus Quest 2) has been a game-changer for standalone VR. It doesn‘t require a PC or console yet provides crisp visuals and lightning fast response times.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 platform gives the Quest 2 enough processing power for advanced physics and graphics. Oculus has cultivated an extensive content library for the Quest 2 spanning gaming, exercise, social, entertainment and productivity.
At just $399, the 64GB Meta Quest 2 model delivers fully immersive virtual reality at a fraction of the price of many competitors. With its wireless freedom and approachable price, the Quest 2 has made quality VR attainable for the masses.
5. HP Reverb G2
- 2160 × 2160 resolution per eye
- 90hz refresh rate
- 114 degree field of view
- Flip up visor
- Adjustable headset & lens spacing
- Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem
- $599 MSRP
Boasting ultra-sharp 2160×2160 resolution and integrated headphones, the HP Reverb G2 provides stellar visuals and audio. It uses LCD panels with full RGB sub-pixels to minimize screen door effects.
The Reverb G2 tracks head movements with four built-in cameras, but does require external controllers. While made primarily for Windows PCs, it‘s also compatible with SteamVR.
Comfort-enhancing touches include a flip up visor, glasses friendly design, and the ability to adjust lens spacing. The HP Reverb G2 delivers premium resolution at an attractive price point under $600.
6. Sony PlayStation VR
- 1080p display (960 × 1080 per eye)
- 120hz / 90hz refresh rate options
- 100° field of view
- PS4 and PS5 compatible
- Integrated headphones
- PlayStation VR game library
- $299 MSRP
Console owners have access to compelling VR experiences through the Sony PlayStation VR headset. It provides crisp 1080p graphics and responsive head tracking powered by the PS4 or PS5.
The extensive PlayStation VR game catalog spans popular franchises like Resident Evil, Skyrim, No Man‘s Sky and Hitman. Upcoming PSVR 2 will bring even greater improvements, but the original model remains a cost-effective way to enjoy VR gaming.
Between exciting PS VR exclusives and playable titles from other VR platforms, there‘s plenty of immersive adventures to occupy both casual and serious gamers.
7. Google Daydream View
- Works with Daydream-ready phones
- Soft, lightweight cloth design
- 3DOF motion tracking
- Handheld controller for interaction
- Curated Daydream mobile VR apps
- Discontinued in 2019
- Last retailed for $99
Aimed at making entry-level VR as accessible as possible, the Google Daydream View headset was designed for use with compatible Android smartphones. The headset‘s soft, fabric exterior made it lightweight and comfortable to wear.
The included controller allowed users to interact with VR apps downloaded from the Daydream mobile app store. While Google discontinued Daydream in 2019, the platform helped pave the way for phone-based VR experiences.
8. Oculus Go
- Fast-switch WQHD LCD display (1280 × 1440 per eye)
- Built-in speakers
- 3DOF motion tracking
- Handheld controller
- Standalone – no PC/phone required
- All-in-one Oculus platform
- Discontinued in 2020
- Originally $199
The Oculus Go pioneered the idea of an all-in-one VR headset that didn‘t require a PC or phone. It packed the display, processor, battery, and motion sensors into a compact package.
While lacking 6DOF tracking, the Go provided quality VR experiences without cables or external devices. It gave many users their first taste of dedicated VR hardware with access to Oculus apps and games.
Facebook has since discontinued the Oculus Go line to focus on the Quest headsets. But the Go‘s run helped bring standalone VR into the mainstream and systems like the Quest 2 continue improving the concept.
The Future of VR Headsets
Thanks to intense competition between major tech giants, the performance and capabilities of VR headsets are rapidly advancing. Here are some exciting innovations coming down the pipeline:
Smaller and sleeker designs – The bulky look of early headsets will give way to lightweight, wearable models.
Higher resolution displays – 4K per eye and beyond will make virtual worlds look sharp and realistic.
Wider field of view – Immersion improves with peripheral vision filling more of our natural FOV.
Foveated rendering – Eye tracking allows rendering resources to be concentrated only where users are looking.
Hand and body tracking – Motion capture gloves and suits will allow full natural movement.
Haptic feedback – Tactile elements like vibration and resistance allow users to "feel" virtual worlds.
Wireless functionality – Standalone and streaming solutions remove tripping hazards.
Augmented reality integration – Spatial computing blends useful information into real world views.
Reduced side effects – Innovations in optics, refresh rates, and movement techniques will lessen nausea.
As these new technologies mature, premium VR experiences once confined to research labs and enterprise training will reach mainstream consumers. The stage is set for the metaverse becoming an increasingly vital part of work, education, collaboration, and entertainment.