Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR: What is the best VR gaming headset?
While it would be nice to paint the rivalry between the Oculus Rift and Sony’s PlayStation VR as a David and Goliath-style battle, the lines are actually a bit more blurred.
Oculus could have been the plucky underdog, but its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook back in 2014 turned it into a Silicon Valley giant. Sony, on the other hand, has been hit hard by losses in the last few years, and the former king of tech’s crown is slipping.
But VR has pushed both to the forefront of our imaginations. Rift is now out in the world for all to enjoy (or not considering its price tag) while we’re still waiting to see the final reactions to PS VR. The final verdict: Oculus Rift reviewBut which will have the best shot at glory? We’ve gathered together all we’ve experienced including our time at home with Oculus Rift and our latest demo with PS VR from this year’s E3 to find the answer.Anyone who’s ever found themselves playing a game for hours at a time (just one more level!) will attest how important comfort is, and when you’ve got a headset strapped to your noggin even the slightest irritation is going to be magnified immensely. It’s important, then, that both Oculus and Sony get their headsets just right, but it’s a literal balancing act of packing it with technology and not making it feel like you’ve got an overweight sloth clinging to your face.The Oculus Rift is covered in a black fabric that makes it look smooth and less like a piece of hardware than the other VR headsets. It’s also been a comfy headset to wear even after several hours of gaming. Despite looking heavy, it’s lightweight and the straps are easy to adjust. The cords are housed on one side so you can loosen or tighten the top strap without having to worry about finding the velcro (looking at you HTC Vive). However, it’s an annoying fit for glasses-wearers and requires some finagling to get the right comfort levels.Read this: How Oculus Rift works, features, specs and games
Sony takes a different approach to the design, and it looks far more sci-fi in a kind of Star Trek way. It cleverly positions some of its tech in a helmet-like portion above the goggles, which means it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing an enormous pair of comedy glasses, and it also distributes its weight in such a way that none of it is resting on the bridge of your nose or your cheeks.
The consumer version, unveiled at GDC 2016, also moves the majority of the unit’s weight from resting on the top of your head, and it’s even usable when you’re wearing glasses. A quick-release button also makes it easy to get on and off.
PlayStation VR features a 5.7-inch, 1920 x 1080, OLED display split vertically to deliver a resolution of 960 x 1080 to each eye. Oculus Rift’s resolution is 2160 x 1200, over two OLED displays, so that’s slightly more pixels per eye which can really make a difference. The second Sony prototype upped its display size from 5-inches and added RGB subpixels, which help smooth out the image.
In order to reduce eye strain both screens need to operate at high refresh rates: the Oculus Rift tops out at 90Hz, but it’s now PlayStation VR that wins out in this battle, as the 2015 prototype runs at 120Hz – higher than both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Read this: VR game design problems and how to fix them
The latest Rift delivers a 110-degree viewing angle, over PS VR’s 100-degrees, which means it has a bigger field of vision, however.
The demo version of PS VR has a small gap under the headset, so there’s always a little bit of light bleed and you can see your feet if you look hard enough. This might be oddly reassuring if you’re playing a game in which you have no feet. Rift also does the same thing – which is apparently meant for the different sized noses and face shapes out there. However for those with smaller features, there’s a very noticable hole of light under your eyes.
All these 3D shenanigans require a hell of a lot of processing. On top of delivering a separate but perfectly synced imaged to each eye, both the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR have to stereoscopically render objects, keep a track of both the user’s head movements and the headset’s position in physical space.
And as the screen is within inches of the user’s eyes graphical quality is paramount: an errant artefact here or a drop in frame rates there could send gamers into that particular circle of hell which is only escapable with a megadose of Migraleve.
The PlayStation 4 is just about up to task for this. It’s at the very beginning of its life cycle so it’s malleable and easy to add extra bits and bobs to, and its AMD graphics processor has been built from the ground up to handle stereoscopic 3D processing.
Nevertheless, Sony has had to create a secondary box that connects to the PlayStation 4 via USB and HDMI, to handle the specifics of PS VR’s operation. A neat feature of the box is that it also includes HDMI-out, so you can connect a screen and see what the user’s experiencing without any distortion.
Thanks to the flexibility of the PC as a platform the Oculus Rift’s system requirements are more relaxed, though it’s gone all-in with Windows 10 thanks to a new partnership with Microsoft, and Mac and Linux support has been dropped for now.
The computer itself needs to be capable of “running current generation 3D games at 1080p resolution at 75fps or higher,” according to the Oculus site, which is a fairly modest requirement given the power of most modern computers. In fact, we reckon you could build a Rift-capable PC for about the same price as a PlayStation 4.
You’re looking at a setup with at least an Intel i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 graphics card, according to Oculus.
Read next: The ultimate Oculus Rift set up
The Development Kit 2 version of the Oculus Rift used a tiny webcam to track LEDs embedded in the headset and provide positional information. This Constellation Tracking system has since been upgraded to allow full 360-degree tracking via a discreet, microphone-style sensor that sits on your desk and monitors the movements you’re making.
Sony’s VR headset uses the PlayStation Camera to provide equivalent tracking, and can also locate the back of the head as well as the front so users can look directly behind them. And no, you don’t need to be possessed by Captain Howdy to take advantage of this: Sony’s The Deep tech demo features fish swimming past the user, who can watch them disappear into the murky depths.
The GDC 2015 announced model also increased the number of head-tracking LEDs from six to nine.Sound is a subtle but important part of a virtual reality experience. Sony – which is renowned for its Hi-Fis and Minidisc players – has a decent grasp of this, and used a huge sound studio to create a new 3D positional audio engine specifically for PlayStation VR. Slap on some headphones and you’ll experience footsteps climbing stairs below you, or a helicopter flying overhead, depending on the game.
The Oculus Rift brings integrated audio to the virtual reality mix with headphones attached to the headset, though you can swap them out for your own pair if you’d like to.
Essential reading: PlayStation VR everything you need to know
Oculus gave the headset a boost at CES 2015 when it announced that an upcoming Oculus Audio SDK would allow the use of Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF) tech, combined with the Rift’s head tracking to create a sense of true 3D audio spatialisation, meaning Rift developers could immerse users “sonically in a virtual world, surrounded by realistic sounds in all directions.” If that sounds good on paper, it sounds even better in practice. The audio on Rift works like a dream and you don’t even have to crank the volume up all the way for it to feel fully immersive.
As for controls, Sony’s PlayStation controllers are already spatially aware, and The Castle demonstration uses them to hack apart a ragdoll knight with a pretend sword. Thanks to the aforementioned Microsoft deal, every Oculus Rift comes with a wireless Xbox One controller.
Then there’s Oculus Touch, the controllers unveiled by Oculus that look like a gamepad chopped in half. They let you reach out into VR space, interact with objects and make gestures with your hands (you can point at something, for example). They’re optional extras though, and are launching in the fall for an unspecified price. There’s plenty to get excited about when it comes to PlayStation VR games. EVE: Valkyrie, War Thunder, The Deep, Castle and Thief were demonstrated on the system back in 2014 and London Heist is getting rave reviews from testers.Since then, there have been scores of games added to the growing list – in fact, PS VR will launch with 100 games to choose from. Perhaps the most exciting title Sony snagged? Star Wars Battlefront. The game will be heading exclusively to PS VR. Announced at GDC 2016, details on the gameplay were scarce. However it’s to be expected that folks in VR will be able to join in with regular console players.
We can expect Sony to keep giving a bunch of cash to developers to make more games PlayStation VR compatible – among them is The Assembly, a “mysterious VR adventure game” currently under development by nDreams in the UK. There’s also recently been news that Q.U.B.E. ² is coming to the PlayStation 4 and will support PlayStation VR.
VR games to check out
At E3 2015 Sony announced that the PS VR would support multi-player gaming where friends sat with you on the couch will be able to join in with standard DualShock 4 controllers, though they’ll only get the usual 2D experience.
The PC is already brimming with Oculus Rift-ready titles, whether they’re new games, ports or fan-created modifications. Valve – the company behind Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life – has been among the first to ensure its games are Rift ready, and the hugely popular social building game Minecraft has been ported to Oculus Rift despite creator Markus Persson’s disapproval of Facebook’s buyout of the company.
The PC also has a well-established indie movement which puts the PlayStation’s to shame: Oculus is investing $10 million to support indie game development and make sure there are plenty of titles available when the headset launches.
At Oculus’ pre-E3 event we saw demos of EVE: Valkyrie (blasting baddies in space), Edge of Nowhere (wandering through a snowy wilderness) and Chronos (an atmospheric labyrinth exploration game). What’s more, you’ll be able to play 2D Xbox One games in a 3D virtual theatre on the Rift.
At this year’s E3, both companies announced a slew of new games coming to each platform. Resident Evil, Batman: Arkam VR and Farpoint just a few under Sony’s belt rounding out its list to about 50. Oculus has Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Killing Floor: Incursion, Superhot and more along with a list of Touch controller games totaling its list to a little over 30.
It’s neck and neck for the VR headsets in terms of getting your hands on them and faces in them.
Oculus Rift is now shipping. It costs $599 after shipping and taxes, plus comes with a couple of free games and an Xbox One control pad.
And the Sony PS VR will launch much later, on 13 October 2016, but at the much more accessible price of $399. There’s also a launch bundle that Sony’s recently announced. Priced at $499, you’ll get the headset, PlayStation Camera and two Move controllers along with PlayStation VR Worlds and Playroom VR digital download.
There’s no clear-cut winner in this fight yet, but the two companies are far from following the same path. Oculus is going down the road of exclusive games and is of course, PC VR. Sony on the other hand is a console driven experience (with also a few exclusives for its following), and remains the easiest VR to jump into if you already have a PS4. More on that in a bit.
The fact that the Japanese company’s VR headset’s sound has a dedicated sound system might put it above the Rift when it comes to audio, but Sony seems to be taking the earbud path like HTC Vive. While that’s all good and fine, over-ear headphones have been a surprisingly better experience with Rift.In terms of head-tracking, there’s not much to choose between them and both seem to be on the same level. Though PS VR does have its own motion controllers and we don’t know when the heck Rift’s will even come out (or how they’ll work at home).
The screen is arguably the most important part of any virtual reality experience and Sony’s recent OLED revamp addresses a lot of the issues of the first prototype. Rift’s screen has been great so far with clear images and very low latency – though motion sickness has been dependent on games.
And again, we’re back to the ecosystem attached to each unit. The PC is the go-to platform for indie games, and it sports a charmingly haphazard flexibility, which has been generally unheard of on consoles. But not everyone owns a VR-ready PC or be willing to shell out an additional sum of money for one. The PlayStation 4 is more locked down in terms of availability and pricing, and this adds a trustworthy stability to its games.
Of course, most consumers will have decided which virtual reality headset they’ll support depending on the hardware they already own, but the next few months are going to see some big promotional pushes from both companies as they chase your precious coinage.
Watch this space to see how they shape up.
Additional words by Lily Prasuethsut