The goal of this article is to cover all the VR essentials required to make a reasonable buying decision.
The first section contains an overview of the virtual reality hardware for PC and PlayStation 4. A table with a summary can be found in the last chapter.
VR systems for PC include:
- Oculus Rift
- HTC Vive
- Windows Mixed Reality – many different headsets and more upcoming
- HTC Vive Pro (upcoming shortly)
Currently VR for PlayStation 4 is the only virtual reality system for a gaming console.
There is also a bunch of standalone VR solutions, which don’t require a connection with a PC or a console and work on their own. I don’t cover any of them here.
In October and November 2017 a bunch of Windows Mixed Reality headsets was released (for example Acer WMR or Samsung Odyssey) and on November 15th, 2017, Steam released an app which allows owners of those headsets to play SteamVR games. It seems that for now (March, 2018) support is still not quite there yet.
Finally, there is one more device worth mentioning – HTC Vive Pro. That’s simply an improved version of the Vive. Once there is some users’ feedback, I will cover it in details.
Virtual Reality Hardware – A Detailed Comparison Of The Features
A comparison is performed in a number of categories. For each of them I provide a ranking and a brief description.
Virtual Reality For PC
Oculus Rift and HTC Vive – hard to say which one is better overall
The Oculus Rift minimal hardware requirements for a PC are lower than for the Vive. Of course those with a low-end PC can’t expect the same results as those with better equipment.
All Windows Mixed Reality headsets are for PC.
Virtual Reality For A Gaming Console
Playstation VR is the only VR system for a gaming console. It works with any model of Playstation 4.
Windows Mixed Reality headsets have higher resolution then the Vive and Rift, yet perceived difference is not obvious, unless you look at texts. Currently Samsung Odyssey has the highest resolution. Upcoming HTC Vive Pro will be on par.
The displays of the first HTC Vive (not Pro) and Oculus Rift have the same technical specifications, which are better than those for the PSVR. The difference is not dramatic, yet in practice, noticeable.
In spite of the fact that on paper Vive is the same as Rift, there are some differences here as well. The visuals of the Vive feel brighter and more vibrant. On the other hand, the screen-door effect feels slightly less visible for the Rift.
The image you see on the display is sharp only within a sweet-spot around the center. That is, when you look straight ahead. It appears that for the Rift this area is perceived to be bigger than for the Vive.
PSVR is generally considered to be the weakest, however, it seems that God rays are less glaring for this system.
In terms of sheer number of features Vive’s headset is a clear winner.
Oculus Rift and PSVR don’t really have any bells & whistles.
PSVR is the most comfortable headset, whether you wear glasses or not. The explanation why can be found here.
Let’s move on to compare the Vive and Rift.
In case of Vive you can adjust the distance between your eyes and headset’s lenses, which is particularly handy if you wear glasses – you have more space to accommodate them.
Putting the headset on and off in glasses is a bit tedious, particularly for the Rift. Vive has a pass-through camera, so you can look around the room without taking your headset off.
If you don’t need glasses, Rift is more comfortable, unless you buy Deluxe Audio Strap, which significantly improves comfort of the Vive.
Initially the Vive was heavier than the Rift and as a result more likely to cause a neck fatigue.
Over time the producer managed to trim down the weight to the same level, so it is not a problem any longer.
Reviewers claim the Oculus Touch are the best in terms of functionality and comfort.
Some people question this verdict. They say that the Vive’s wands are not inferior but different. Wands are more useful for simulating, for example, swords. The Touch controllers, on the other hand, are more like VR hands.
The Move Controllers are the weakest of the three. The biggest problem with them is the erratic motion tracking, visible particularly for dynamic games. They tend to drift out of place way too often. They also don’t have neither thumb-sticks nor trackpads, which are quite useful.
PSVR and Oculus solved the problem of tracking with cameras. HTC took a completely different approach. Their two base stations are nothing more than external reference points used by the headset and the controllers to establish their position and orientation in space.
Imagine a football pitch with cameras installed across the diagonal and a player in the middle. If the player rotates a little bit, it’s not a massive difference from the point of view of the cameras. On the other hand from the point of view of the player, the position of cameras changed a lot
because they are far away. On this example it is easy to understand why Vive’s solution is more robust.
Approach of Windows Mixed Reality systems is similar. They rely on cameras installed in the headset. The cameras are able to pick up reference points from the external environment and use them to calculate their position. Contrary to the Vive, they don’t need any external hardware, the input from the cameras does the trick.
The maximal distance between the Vive’s base stations is 16 feet (5 meters). If you arranged a quadratic play area, it would cover 11.3 x 11.3 feet (3.5 x 3.5 m).
In case of the Oculus with three sensors (IR cameras), the room-scale VR works mostly fine within the space of 8 x 9 feet (2.4 x 2.7 m). In the corners of that area though, the accuracy of tracking can be lost for certain poses.
Room-scale VR is not possible with PSVR or Oculus with just two sensors. They support either a sitting or standing experience only. You also can’t really turn away from a PSVR camera or the Oculus Sensors if you use the Move or the Touch controllers respectively (adding a third sensor removes this constraint for Oculus).
Room-scale VR requires a warning system for situations when you are getting close to the boundaries of the play area. Oculus’ system is called Guardian and is actually more functional than its counterpart for the Vive – the Chaperone. The Chaperone supports a rectangular area only, while the Guardian allows more irregular set-up. Both systems highlight the boundaries within the virtual world once you are about to drop out.
Of course the warning system is also helpful for a standing experience and PSVR provides one as well .
The play area for any VR system will always be limited. Is it really that important to have that area huge ?
All headsets are wired, so you have to constantly watch out to avoid tripping over. That alone reduces the immersion provided by the ability to walk around.
Once the headsets are wireless, a few steps more in either direction can actually make a big difference. For example, in the middle of a sword fight you don’t really want to drop out.
At the moment, the ability to turn around without any limits is actually more important.
In closing it’s worth to mention that motion sickness is less likely for systems with better motion tracking.
Aim controller for PSVR represents a gun which you have in the game. It is tracked by the system and it improves the immersion in shooting games a lot. If there were more titles supporting it, I would mark it as a strength.
Vive has released a universal tracker. You can attach it to any object or your body. There is not much you can do with it at the moment. Once I spot some good products and games which make use of it, Vive will gain points in this category.
As far as I can tell, Oculus hasn’t announced or done anything with respect to trackers.
With all three you can play VR games or use VR apps. You can also play non-VR games on a large virtual screen. All three support 360-degree movies and photos.
The systems which run on a PC (Vive, Rift, Windows Mixed Reality) have bigger potential, because they are not restricted to entertainment only. It will be possible to use them for other things. You can already paint and sculpt in VR.
If you have Xbox One console you can stream the signal to the Vive or Rift and play games on a large virtual screen.
PC is also able to emulate VR for non VR games – you will need VorpX to do that. Currently it supports Oculus Rift and Vive.
PlayStation store is a repository of games for PlayStation only.
Games listed on Oculus Store officially work only for Oculus Rift, however, if you use an exploit – ReVive, you can play them using the Vive as well. Initially Oculus patched the system against it, happily they have removed it.
VR games on Steam can be played using either all or only some of the following VR systems: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality.
Often when game has no official support for given system, you can make it work anyway. It’s not always straightforward and even if successful, you may be disappointed with clumsy controls and other glitches.
At the moment PlayStation and Oculus stores provide the best content. Among the games with the highest metacritic score (rated 60 and higher) 18 are PSVR exclusives, 13 are listed only on Oculus Store and only 2 have official support restricted to the Vive.
In terms of sheer size, Steam is the biggest repository of VR games. At the time of writing (March, 2018) there were 2857 games officially supporting the Vive, 1807 supporting Oculus Rift and only 355 – Windows Mixed Reality. Many of those games are indie or just proof of concept, so quality is not necessarily there. Those with a high metacritic score can be found here. Only 11 out of 32 are for Windows Mixed Reality.
According to what users say, most Steam VR games without official support for Windows Mixed Reality work for those systems anyway. Given the price of the hardware, the rating in this category (weakness) errs on the safe side though.
With Playstation Store you can request a refund to your PSN wallet within 14 days as well. The conditions are more strict though. The refund will be given only when you haven’t started downloading or streaming the product, so you cannot really try it out. You can however get a free demo for many titles.
PSVR is more user friendly due to the nature of gaming consoles, which are designed to be like that.
The Rift and the Vive run on a PC, which is more versatile than consoles, yet there is no way to avoid running into problems on that platform. Compatibility issues, software conflicts and more will raise their ugly head sooner or later. Yes, with the internet access you can find a solution in most cases, however it is annoying and takes time.
VR Hardware of the year: Oculus Touch Controllers
VR Headset of the year: Oculus Rift Headset
VR game of the year: Raw Data
All of them are quite expensive.
Starting with the cheapest:
- Oculus Rift
- HTC Vive
- PS4 and Dual Shock 4 controller: at least 200 USD, the price depends on the console version
- VR system, camera and Move Controllers: around 350 USD
- powerful enough PC: at least 650 USD
Minimum requirements are here.
- VR system and controllers: around 400 USD or 460 USD if you want to have a room-scale VR
- powerful enough PC: at least 650 USD
If you already have a PC, you can check its VR abilities using this app.
- VR system and controllers: around 500 USD (capable of room-scale VR without anything extra)
Prices of Windows Mixed Reality headsets are in range: 200-500 USD. On top of that they require a powerful gaming PC.
Which Of The High-End VR systems Is For Me ?
Experiencing games and other content in VR is much more intense than watching them on TV. Excitement and other sensations are blown completely out of proportions. Your brain thinks you are actually there. If that sounds AWESOME to you, please read on.
Having said all that, at this point in time VR makes sense for people who:
- play video games at least a couple of hours every week
- accept the shortcomings of the current generation of VR
- can tolerate shortcomings of the chosen platform (PSVR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive)
- accept the risk of getting motion sickness, VR headaches and dry-eye syndrome and are able to act responsibility to reduce it
If you fit the bill, let’s decide which one is right for you.
First of all, for now, I wouldn’t recommend Windows Mixed Reality. There is not enough officially supported content yet.
Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require a powerful gaming PC. If you don’t have one, it will increase the cost a lot.
PSVR system is the cheapest of the three. On top of that, a PlayStation 4 it requires, is much cheaper than VR-ready PC.
|HTC Vive||Oculus Rift||PSVR|
|Resolution Per Eye||1080×1200||1080×1200||1080 x 960|
|Field Of View||110 degrees||110 degrees||100 degrees|
|Quality Of Visuals||Good Enough||Good Enough||Weakness|
|Features of the headset||Strength||Good Enough||Good Enough|
|Comfort Of The Headset |
unless you buy
Deluxe Audio Strap
|Comfort Of The Headset |
|Room-scale VR||11.3 x 11.3 feet|
(3.5 x 3.5 m)
|8 x 9 feet|
(2.4 x 2.7 m)
|Trackers||Universal Tracker||-||Aim Controller|
|Use cases||Strength||Strength||Good Enough|
|Quality Content||Good Enough||Strength||Strength|