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Mobile vs Tethered VR headsets

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  • 6 min read

If you’ve ever tried VR, you know that it’s a whole different experience altogether. However, as good as VR has become, it still can be challenging to set up, especially with the number of hardware choices and solutions consumers have these days.

In this article, we’re comparing mobile VR headsets to tethered ones to find out if there’s any difference between the two and which one should you prefer.

Also read: How to check if your PC is VR ready? 


Mobile VR headsets live up to their name in the sense that they’re dependant on your phone to be able to power the entire VR experience. They’re usually simplistic in design and have a minimal feature set. One of the best examples of a mobile VR headset is the Google Cardboard.

A few more expensive mobile headsets offer built-in tracking sensors, controls and focus wheels to help make the experience better, but they’re still heavily dependant on your phone. Also, if you’re planning to use these with your PC, chances are you’re going to have to use external software to make the whole thing work.

On the other hand, tethered VR headsets are fully loaded with everything you need to get started with a top of the line VR experience. You’ve got tracking sensors, built-in high-resolution screens, which sometimes might even be a high refresh rate. They’re also much more comfortable to wear and have a port that can plug into your PC or console.

Tethered headsets also cause less motion sickness during use as they tend to have higher display quality making the whole experience a lot more natural. 

The VR Experience

Tethered headsets win by a mile here. As mentioned above, mobile VR headsets rely on your phone to deliver the VR experience. If you don’t have a phone that can perform well in VR, chances are you’re in for a crappy VR experience. 

You may get around the issue by using better quality lenses in the headset, but the core problem remains the same. They’re also far less comfortable to wear, especially for longer periods as compared to tethered headsets.

Mobile vs Tethered VR headsets | Candid.Technology
Tethered headsets offer a much better VR experience.

Tethered headsets are purpose-built for delivering the best possible VR experience and hence have the hardware to support the whole thing. They also feature many customisation options in terms of lens placement, allowing users to dial the headset down to their liking. 

Since the headsets don’t rely on a phone, the whole experience is much better, thanks to the high-quality screens inside the headset.


If you’re looking to watch the occasional VR video, whether in your home or on the go, a mobile VR headset is all you need. However, if you’re looking for anything other than that, you’re going to have to shell out some cash to get a tethered one.

You can play games on a mobile VR headset using SteamVR and a third-party program called RiftCat. However, you’re going to have to go through a complicated setup process to ensure that everything works perfectly. There are other possible issues as well, such as gyro shifting and the overall lack of quality.

Tethered headsets are more often than not used for VR gaming. Although once connected to your PC or console, you can do just about anything you want with them. 

The biggest downside here, however, is that you can’t really use them anywhere you want. You’ve got to have a proper setup, and if your game requires moving around, a dedicated VR area where you can be sure you won’t bump into anything while in-game. 

Also read: Top 8 free VR games.

Hardware requirements

A mobile VR headset will require a smartphone to be VR capable. This means that your phone should have an in-built gyroscope, which isn’t an issue on most modern phones, regardless of the price tag. 

You will still have to navigate to and from the video before sliding your phone inside the headset. If you’re looking to play games on your PC or phone in VR, you might also need to buy a separate controller. 

Mobile vs Tethered VR headsets | Candid.Technology
You’re going to need a good enough setup to be able to run tethered VR headsets.

On the other hand, Tethered headsets require a lot of computational power to be able to run properly. You’re going to need a decent CPU, at least 16GB of RAM and a dedicated GPU to run your games smoothly. Different VR headsets have different system requirements, so make sure you’ve got a powerful enough PC before deciding on a headset.

If you don’t have a powerful enough PC, you’ll get sluggish VR performance which can ruin the experience and give you motion sickness.


Mobile VR headsets are much cheaper than their tethered counterparts, and for obvious reasons. They’re cheaper to make, don’t require any in-built screens or sensors and high-quality lenses. As a result, you can pick up entry-level mobile VR headsets for as low as $10. 

Several higher quality mobile headsets can go as high as $200. While the price might seem high, these headsets come with many added utilities that greatly enhance the experience. 

Tethered headsets cost a lot more thanks to the internals they need. Entry-level tethered headsets start at about $300. Don’t be surprised to see a $1000 or higher price tag on some of the top-line ones. These headsets also involve a significant hidden cost — a powerful enough PC. 

The good and the bad

Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each type of VR headset

Mobile VR headsetsTethered VR headsets
FeaturesSmartphone dependent
Minimal features
Completely independent
Have a complete VR feature set
UsesSuitable for watching VR videos on the go.VR Games
360 content
Hardware requirementsSmartphone with gyro sensor.High-spec PC with at least 16GB RAM and a dedicated GPU.
PriceOften cheap to get. The base price is around $10.Much more expensive than Mobile VR headsets. Can go as high as $1000+

So which one’s better?

If you have the cash to shell out for it, we recommend picking a tethered VR headset. Yes, you might need to upgrade your PC to make the headset work, but the resulting VR experience is worth the money. 

A mobile VR headset is fine for the occasional VR video or small phone games, but if you’re looking to use them for something like gaming, you’re going to have to swim through a sea of issues to get everything working. 

Also read: Virtual Reality (VR) vs Augmented Reality (AR)

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: