As Meta (then Facebook) attempted to make its virtual reality initiative more consumer-friendly, the first thing to go was its PC-based Oculus Rift line of headsets. The move made sense. The stand-alone Quest headsets don’t require expensive gaming PCs or a complicated setup process. However, individuals who wanted a more traditional PC-based VR experience were left in the cold unless they splurged for expensive devices from HTC or Valve. This is what may make the HP Reverb G2 an attractive purchase for PC gamers in need of a powerful VR headset that doesn’t completely break the bank.

Initially released in late 2020, the HP Reverb G2 has recently received a slight refresh with a handful of refinements. At $599, the HP Reverb G2 is built on top of Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform with support for Steam VR’s massive game library, and it has some cool productivity capabilities for when you’re not playing games. Gaming PC owners looking for an experimental piece of hardware with some caveats may find this tethered headset a worthwhile purchase. After spending a week with the HP Reverb G2, we explain exactly why.

The HP Reverb G2 is a PC-based VR headset for gamers who want something more powerful than the Quest 2 but can’t afford more expensive options from HTC or Valve. Just be mindful that the experimental nature of the Reverb G2 can lead to a wonky experience at times.

What we liked

A sleek, comfortable design and easy setup

From the Reverb G2’s box to the headset itself, the black-on-black colorway design perfectly balances sleekness with a premium-looking design. Both the headset and included controllers come in a similar colored pouch for storage, which is a nice touch.

Once the Reverb G2 is removed, one of the biggest changes to the new model is immediately noticeable through the new face pad and spacer combo. Connected through a small magnet around the nose plate, it can be removed to 9mm from the original’s 15mm. Reducing the space between the eyes and screens helps maximize the field of view for better immersion. Further aiding the headset’s visual adjustment options is a handy eye-distance slider.

The headset utilizes a head-wrap design that places a cushioned static band on top of the head. Users tighten up the Reverb G2 through three separate pull straps: two on the left, and right alongside the top center. Bulblike speakers can be retracted closer or farther away from the ear. Weighing 1.21 pounds, the G2 is the lightest tethered VR headset available and generally comfortable regardless of usage length.

Hooking up the Reverb G2 is a simple process and doesn’t require sensors, thanks to the four onboard cameras. An included processor box serves as the liaison between the headset and PC. Users connect a cable from the processor box to a port located near the left eye on the upper left side. The other side of the processor box connects to both your computer’s DisplayPort as well as a power outlet. For laptop users, there’s a mini DisplayPort adapter included as well. As long as the PC has the minimum requirements of an Intel i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor, 8GB or RAM, DisplayPort 1.3, USB 3.0 Type C port and NVIDIA GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 580 GPU, users are good to go.

Once everything is connected, setup is handled through Windows Mixed Reality application. There are setups for both seated and standing styles of VR usage, including room boundary creation. Room boundaries allow users to set up invisible safety guardian walls so that they don’t hit anything. It’s a simple setup that does a great job of introducing users to how to utilize voice controls as well as the physical controllers. Speaking of the Reverb controllers, syncing the AA battery-powered input devices is as simple as holding the Windows buttons when prompted. This is also how users will turn on the controllers afterward. The controllers themselves are comfortable and put on quite the light show, as there are dozens of LED lights on the sensor.

Crystal-clear visual and audio experience

For the price of admission, the visual and audio presentation of the Reverb G2 has a lot going for it. Once you place the G2 on your head, the headset’s mura-free (or complete color output for better visuals) 2160 x 2160 per-eye LCD screens provide a totally immersive experience in VR. This is noticeable from the jump when entering the world Microsoft provides through the Windows Mixed Reality app. Whether you’re using the spacer or not, the field of view is pretty impressive too, with a 114-degree viewing angle.

During the first few days of testing, I enjoyed simply using the included virtual desktop app to handle daily tasks from emails to web browsing. As a matter of fact, a nice portion of this review was written in VR. Using video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime was a fantastic experience due to how clear the screen was when viewing from 9mm. Video content consumption is great on the Reverb G2, thanks to the lack of a screen door effect where the image has a semitransparent mesh look on some VR headsets. The brightness and color saturation on this headset is just so good.

Most importantly, using the virtual desktop app allowed for some phenomenal big-screen simulation of playing games like Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite, Elden Ring and Sifu without performance issues. When it came to games actually made for VR, the experience was just as immersive, thanks to those beautiful LCD screens.

One of the first games I played with the Reverb G2 was the recently released Top Gun: Maverick expansion for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Flying in the sonic speed F/A-18E Super Hornet and completing various flight challenges is quite the experience. The vivid LCD screen really helps make the world come alive. One of the challenges includes pulling off a split S maneuver, which also simulates nearly passing out from the increasing weight of high g forces through a panic attack-inducing fade-out effect. Half-Life: Alyx looked fantastic as well and performed great on the headset. The world of City 17 looked more alive than ever, thanks to the high-resolution screens. These intense experiences were enhanced by the impressive speakers that are attached to the Reverb G2.

The Reverb G2 speakers feature spatial audio technology, which definitely helps situational awareness in various VR games. Using the virtual desktop for general music listening and video consumption didn’t make me want to reach for external headphones due to how great the built-in ones were. Changing audio output to headphones or external speakers is as easy as using Windows’ sound settings. Surprisingly, the Reverb G2’s microphone also works really well. Moving between apps just through voice was relatively simple, and I was able to hold Zoom conversations without any confusion.

Impressive library of games and apps

Valve, who also makes the Index VR headset, collaborated with HP in making the Reverb headset despite it being based around Windows Mixed Reality. The good thing is that both Steam and Windows Mixed Reality apps are optimized for the G2. There isn’t a large library of Windows Mixed Reality games, though current VR staples like Superhot VR, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, Population: One, Arizona Sunshine and Beat Saber are there.

Most PC gamers who are years deep into Steam’s ecosystem will probably be using Steam VR the most, and activating that is as simple as hitting its respective icon through the desktop app. This opens up users to more than 200 VR games on the platform, including current triple-A standard Half-Life: Alyx, which looks and sounds fantastic on the Reverb G2. Other top-tier PC-based VR games available to play in VR on Steam include Star Wars: Squadrons, Skyrim VR, Boneworks and The Persistence.

Being Windows-based also allows the G2 to offer more productivity applications in VR. The choice between Steam and Windows’ Virtual Desktop apps is a matter of preference. Windows Mixed Reality offers it for free, while Steam’s version costs $15. Meanwhile, there are other cool apps like Easy Map 3D that works with Bing for enhanced map viewing or XSOverlay, which attempts to give your desktop a 3D space in VR. Easy Map 3D is free on Windows Store, while XSOverlay is still in early access and available on Steam for $9.99.

What we didn’t like

The refresh rate and controller tracking are lacking

Visually, having a high-resolution LCD screen and nice sized field of view means games look fantastic. However, the Reverb G2’s 90Hz refresh rate is a bit behind the competition, as the less powerful Oculus Quest 2 and PlayStation VR can go as high as 120Hz. This is most noticeable playing games like Arizona Sunshine or Beat Saber on VR headsets with higher refresh rates, where these titles had a more fluid, smooth frame rate. Playing these games on the Reverb G2 should be a better experience since the headset is tethered to a powerful gaming PC, but it’s just not.

So the question potential buyers have to ask themselves is if resolution — seeing games in sharper detail — is more important than refresh rate. This also may be a matter of preference, but for nearly $600, it would have been nice to have the best of both worlds.

Updates for the Reverb G2 refresh were supposed to include camera improvements for better tracking, but there are still problems in that area as well. Trying to do any type of aiming movement close to the head confuses the sensors, leading to some unintentionally comical glitches when playing games like Half Life: Alyx. Meanwhile, movements below the waist seem to make the sensor go haywire as well.

Windows Mixed Reality isn’t as optimized as Steam VR or Oculus

Outside of the internal desktop app, voice commands and camera pass-through capabilities, Windows Mixed Reality is fairly bland. Compared to the likes of Steam VR and Oculus, Microsoft’s VR platform feels lifeless.

The home world is boring to explore and features bits of slowdown, which is a no-go for VR headsets. Apps like Microsoft Store or Edge just don’t work well in VR. The platform lacks the informational systems that make the world of Steam VR and Oculus fun to explore before loading up an app.

Windows Mixed Reality isn’t even compatible with the Oculus app, which is problematic for those who may be upgrading from the discontinued Rift or Rift S. The only way to access it is through the free third-party app Revive, which works through Steam VR. Based on my play sessions with Oculus exclusives like Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond and Asgard’s Wrath on the G2, users attached to their existing Oculus library may be better off getting a Meta Quest 2 and using Quest link. Due to the lack of optimization, sessions with those games wouldn’t last 20 minutes without crashing on the Reverb G2. That doesn’t even count the controller tracking issues.

Bottom line

Despite issues with refresh rate, controller tracking and the wonky Windows Mixed Reality platform, the HP Reverb G2 is the best bang for your buck in the PC-based VR space. Its high-resolution LCD screens and powerful speakers work well in making compatible games feel more immersive. The Reverb G2 also features a comfortable design that balances low weight with functionality that never seems to compromise the two.

While you’ll need a powerful gaming PC to use the G2, setup on a hardware and software front is a breeze. If users avoid Windows Mixed Reality and stick to Steam VR, there’s a lot to appreciate here. Just make sure your expectations are managed properly before taking the dive. If you’re not a stickler for higher resolutions and want access to the more mainstream Oculus library (or just don’t own a powerful PC), you’re better off with the more versatile Quest 2 headset.

How it compares to other top VR headsets

Required system None (optional PC compatibility via Quest Link) PC (Nvidia GTX 1080 or AMD RX 5700 or better) PC (Nvidia GTX 1060/AMD RX 480 or better) PC (Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD RX 480 or better)
Connection type Fully wireless Wired Wired or wireless (via adapter) Wired
Weight 1.1 pounds 1.21 pounds 1.87 pounds 1.78 pounds
Resolution 1832 x 1920 per eye 2160 x 2160 per eye 2448 x 2448 per eye 1440 x 1600 per eye
Refresh rate Up to 120Hz Up to 90Hz Up to 120Hz Up to 144Hz
Storage 128GB / 256GB N/A N/A N/A
Battery life 2-3 hours N/A N/A N/A
Price $299 $569 $799 $999