BACKGROUND: The video head impulse test (vHIT) is a useful clinical tool to detect semicircular canal dysfunction. However vHIT has hitherto been limited to measurement of horizontal canals, while scleral search coils have been the only accepted method to measure head impulses in vertical canals. The goal of this study was to determine whether vHIT can detect vertical semicircular canal dysfunction as identified by scleral search coil recordings. METHODS: Small unpredictable head rotations were delivered by hand diagonally in the plane of the vertical semicircular canals while gaze was directed along the same plane. The planes were oriented along the left-anterior-right-posterior (LARP) canals and right-anterior-left-posterior (RALP) canals. Eye movements were recorded simultaneously in 2D with vHIT (250 Hz) and in 3D with search coils (1000 Hz). Twelve patients with unilateral, bilateral and individual semicircular canal dysfunction were tested and compared to seven normal subjects. RESULTS: Simultaneous video and search coil recordings were closely comparable. Mean VOR gain difference measured with vHIT and search coils was 0.05 (SD = 0.14) for the LARP plane and -0.04 (SD = 0.14) for the RALP plane. The coefficient of determination R(2) was 0.98 for the LARP plane and 0.98 for the RALP plane and the results of the two methods were not significantly different. vHIT and search coil measures displayed comparable patterns of covert and overt catch-up saccades. CONCLUSIONS: vHIT detects dysfunction of individual vertical semicircular canals in vestibular patients as accurately as scleral search coils. Unlike search coils, vHIT is non-invasive, easy to use and hence practical in clinics.