Jamie Knight
Wed, 01/24/2018 - 19:41

With Oculus slashing the price of the Rift in recent months, and Sony celebrating the PSVR's first birthday with a minor hardware refresh and new bundles. The two headsets are now in direct competition with one another. We take an in-depth look at how both systems currently stack up.

First Impressions

Sony is synonymous with high-end consumer electronics, and so my expectations were relatively high when it came to the PSVR and its initial setup. The outer box is sturdy, with a blue felt bottom, and makes a good home for the headset when not in use. Unfortunately, the inserts are your usual throw-away cardboard and plastic ties. So once you've taken out all the accessories and cables you'll likely want to store them separately.

The headset itself is incredibly slick, it looks and feels like a prop from a sci-fi film rather than present-day technology. For folks who have waited decades for consumer VR. Having this almost futuristic looking tech in your hands is going to hit you in an 'oh wow I'm actually holding this thing' way. But then you have the move controllers, which are comparatively retro, based on 5-year-old technology designed to combat the long-defunct Nintendo Wii.

Thankfully the accompanying camera has undergone some cosmetic surgery to allow it to blend in alongside the PS4 system and headset.

On the other hand, my expectations for the Oculus Rift were far lower, let's not forget this is a company with zero experience in delivering consumer products. Yet surprisingly, The Rift packaging is on a completely different level to the PSVR.

The outer box is solid and easy to move about thanks to its plastic carry handle. But more importantly, it has a sturdy plastic insert which snugly fits all the components. The headset easily goes back in with a satisfying click. And even the controllers, sensors and cables can put back in their original place with minimum fuss.

They've clearly imitated Apple in trying to nail that premium feel. The paperwork is enclosed in a little paper wallet, the logo is very subtly embossed on the front, and more brazenly, it even comes with two complimentary Oculus stickers.

Setup is relatively straightforward, both the PlayStation and Oculus software do a good job of explaining where each of the cables needs to go. Due to its one camera setup, the Playstation VR setup is a bit quicker, whilst the Oculus setup was quite fussy as to my sensor locations. But ultimately, if this results in a better long-term experience, I'm happy to spend the extra 15 minutes fine-tuning their height and rotation.

My only real complaint with the PSVR setup is the IPD configuration. IPD is the interpupillary distance between your eyes. The rift has a nice test screen and a little slider on the bottom of the headset you can fiddle with until it's clear. Whereas Playstation VR asks you to plonk your mug in front of the camera and then mark where your pupils are; this is then followed by what feels like a complete guesstimate as to what your IDP value is, with no option to tweak it manually. Thanks to the Rift I knew my exact value but had to trick the PSVR into matching this by offsetting where I told it my pupils were in the photo. This is something Sony can (and should) fix in software. by allowing more granular manual adjustment.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Comfort

The Oculus Rift and Playstation VR take a fundamentally different approach to comfort. Whilst the PSVR attempts to balance the weight higher up on the head, carrying the weight more on your higher forehead and temple. The Rift (and Vive) attempt to clamp it to your face by applying pressure to the back and front. Whilst you can tighten the top strap and loosen the side straps to shift this pressure, it will result in more light leakage from under the nose.

Looking at the upcoming 2nd generation of headsets, which almost exclusively go with the PSVR approach. It's a clear consensus that Sony got this right and wins this category.

But just to be clear, the Rift isn't uncomfortable and can be worn for long durations. But after a 4-hour gaming binge, I definitely felt a bit worse for wear on the Rift. Often with irritation where it makes contact with my face.

Winner: PlayStation VR

Visuals

This is by far the trickiest category to judge, as when discussing the visuals we need to cover both the optics, the supporting hardware and the games themselves. Plus in both cases they have chosen different trade-offs, so personal preference (i.e. clarify vs god-rays) is also going to be a big factor.

Oculus would appear to be the winner here if you are looking at the specification sheet. The Rift has a 1080x1200 pixel screen per eye, compared to the PSVR using a shared screen giving an effective 1080x960 per eye. But these numbers are not that reflective of the end result, due to the different nature of screens and optics employed by each device.

the PSVR has a PenTile display with 3 sub-pixels as opposed to the usual 2, so whilst the picture is softer due to the lower resolution output,  the higher sub-pixel count results in a less perceivable screen-door effect.

The two systems also have different lenses. The Rift uses Fresnel lenses which ensures a larger sweet-spot in terms of clarity, and less drop-off around the edge of your vision. But the downside is a very pronounced god-ray effect during high contrast scenes. So for example, white text on a black background will have a strong glowing aura around it, which is only further exacerbated by the headset often steaming up when first worn.

The PSVR opts for full lens, and so offers a smaller clarity sweet spot. This is likely why they also reduced the FOV on the PSVR to 100 degrees, compared to the Rift display being 110. But on the flipside, the lens has no by-products such as god-rays or halos which gives it a major advantage in some situations. The full lens will also be a factor in the additional weight of the PSVR.

So leaving the numbers aside and talking about actual games, it's going to come down to what hardware you are running.

The Oculus Rift has the largest theoretical advantage, courtesy of running on PC hardware. If you are rocking a 1080ti then you'll be able to run everything at the Rift's native resolution with healthy AA and super-sampling. Really taking advantage of that additional resolution.

But when we start to look at the lower-end of the recommended graphics card spectrum, so, for example, a stock 970GTX, the tables start to turn in Sony's favour. The GPU in the PlayStation Pro has around the same horsepower, but without all the PC overheads to deal with. Which allows it's exclusive games to raise the bar above what you could achieve on a comparable PC, albeit capped to a lower resolution.

If we're taking the price of PC hardware into account, then the PlayStation 4 Pro with a PSVR bundle offers a comparative experience to a low-end (but still VR-ready) PC system, for significantly less money.

Winner: Tie

Audio

Both the Rift and revised (CUH-ZVR2 Model) PSVR come with detachable headphones. Sony's in-ear headphones plug into a standard headphone jack, which is now built into the headset itself. When not in use they easily clip onto the side of the headset which is useful, and prevents them dangling about.

Unfortunately, they are bottom of the barrel in terms of audio quality. Given how important 3D audio is for immersion, you'll likely have a much better pair already kicking about somewhere you can use.

The Rift opts for over-ear headphones, which can be retracted and adjusted to cover your ears, then flipped back up when not in use. Removing them is a bit more effort, and requires using a little plastic tool (or a standard flathead screwdriver if you lost it). Fortunately, the audio quality coming out of these things is way better than expected, so you may choose to forgo swapping them entirely.

Winner: Rift

Controls

This is going to be quick. Whilst Oculus came late to the game with their Touch controllers, they were worth the wait.

Ergonomically they are the best motion controllers on the market, weighted in such a way that they just fall into place when you pick them up. It feels more like you are wearing them than holding them.

Alongside the usual inputs such as twin analogue sticks, pressure sensitive triggers and three face buttons. The outer rim of the device, called the 'Constellation sensor' is able to roughly track your finger location. Whilst it's not one-to-one tracking, it's aware of which fingers are raised, and which are resting on the device. I've yet to play a game which makes clever use of this, but it does allow you to be more expressive with your hands which helps with social experiences. Which is a nice way of saying you can flip people off in VRChat. Some games also use the 'pointing' gesture in order to allow you to interact with objects out of reach.

Each controller is powered by a single AA battery, which is easy to access thanks to a neat magnetized slide-on/off hatch. But you won't be changing them very often due to the impressive battery life. The cheap batteries it came with lasted almost 3 weeks of heavy use.

Sony decided to reuse the Playstation 3 Move controllers in order to lower the barrier of entry (did that many people really have Move controllers sitting about?). Whilst these are comfortable enough and easy to setup, the lack of an analogue stick is a complete deal-breaker for some games, resulting in the developers having to incorporate some weird and unnatural method of locomotion by using gestures.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Tracking

Another easy one to judge.

the PSVR tracking relies on the old PlayStation 3 camera, which tracks the visible teal lights on the headset, and the glowing orbs on the controllers.

There are some pretty fundamental problems with this approach, the first being interference from natural light sources. I would run into issues when playing in a bright room and often had to dim the lights, take out any mirrors, and mask all other LED lights so it didn't get itself confused.

The second issue is that it only supports a single camera, so no matter where you place it you are going to have blind spots. For the headset, this isn't too much of a problem as it has sensors on the sides and back. But for the Move controllers with their single orb of light, they will revert to just using the gyro sensors for tracking when they go out of sight or are obscured. Which results in them jumping about quite a lot. It also gets confused easily when you raise your hands in front of your headset. Which results in the headset pulsing backwards/forwards and the move controllers jittering.

One current misconception is that PSVR can't do room scale when it can - just not very well. Within games such as Job Simulator you can move around the room, and so long as you stay within the sight of the camera you'll be ok. But you need to constantly be aware of your real-world rotation, and ensure that you are facing the camera when having to make any fine movements with the Move controller.

The Oculus Rift's tracking approach is similar, but a generation ahead in terms of tech. They provide two sensors which despite looking rather fancy, just contain infrared cameras which read the numerous LED markers on both the headset and controllers.

There a couple of major benefits with Infrared, for a start they can place far more tracking points in close proximity to each other, on both the headset and the controller's LED constellation. This gives the camera far greater accuracy compared to the PSVR. Each controller alone has 24 tracking points, compared to the one giant blob of light on the PlayStation Move.

The second advantage is the lack of interference. which gives the Rift flawless tracking regardless of lighting conditions in the room.

Whilst the Rift has two sensors out the box, which allows you to cover most blind-spots. You can buy an optional third sensor which will iron out the remaining kinks for room scale in a large area.

Personally, I've had no real problem doing full room scale VR with the two sensors placed around 8 feet apart and about 7 feet up, but imagine that's probably due to my smallish playing space. But I wouldn't buy the third sensor without first just trying with the two.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Support

Hopefully VR is here to stay, but as both the Oculus Store and PlayStation Store are locking you into a particular headsets eco-system, which one should you be investing your money into? and what are the risks?

There were some justifiable concerns in regards to Sony's support for the PSVR originally. It's not exactly got a great track record of supporting its secondary platforms and add-ons, the last generation alone it mercilessly killed off the Move, Vita, and Wonderbook. The PS4 also wasn't backwards compatible with its predecessor, so even if you did love your Wonderbook still - you can't play it on the PS4.

But so far sales figures have met their expectation, and the recently revised hardware (which has proper HDR pass-through) shows they are not adverse to releasing updates for newer hardware either.

If I were to speculate, PlayStation 5 will likely stick to x86 architecture, and as the PSVR uses standard HDMI/USB ports there would be little technical reason why they couldn't be forwards compatible. But in a worse case scenario you may be stuck keeping a PS4 around in order to play your library of games.

Oculus exist solely for VR, so there can be no doubt that the Rift is their one and only priority. since their acquisition by Facebook for $2 billion back in 2014, they are likely not short of cash either.

But It's unclear what expectations Facebook have for the platform, and some may see the recent price-cuts as an indication that it's not met their sales expectations. They have also not yet announced any hardware revisions, despite being on the market for 18 months. With the Vive Pro announcement last week, hopefully they'll reveal their future plans soon.

Finally, there is one very important point worth noting. Whilst Oculus would very much like you to purchase everything from their store. You can also buy games from Steam, future proofing your purchases in case you shift over to another headset next-gen.

When it comes to supporting the Oculus on the Steam store there are three tiers of VR games. Some support the Oculus SDK natively, this means you're getting the exact same game as on the Oculus store with no performance hits.

Some only support the Vive, but allow Steam VR to 'translate' these API calls to the Rift, these games still work but suffer a performance drop.

Finally you have games (albeit few) that simply don't support the Rift at all. You'll also be missing out on some great Oculus Store exclusives if you opt solely to purchase from Steam.

Winner: Draw


Software

Many independent titles seem to come almost exclusively to Steam, at least to begin with. Then depending on their success, may be released on the Rift store, or ported to the PSVR, at a later date.

On the one hand, this helps filter out the huge number of shovelware games that make it onto the Steam store under the guise of greenlight titles. But on the other, it means that PSVR owners have often waited months to get them.

As this article is aimed towards folks getting into VR this year, it's worth noting that by this point, many of the must-have titles are already available on both platforms. And looking ahead, Sony's massive sales lead will likely result in games releasing sooner, especially if they have a larger budget to recoup.

But what about the exclusives?

Oculus has done an okay job of working with other studios, funding games such as Robo Recall from Epic, and The Climb from Crytek. Both really solid, and visually stunning games.

But Sony has seemingly called-in favours from their entire developer phonebook, ensuring that the PSVR has a dominating presence when it comes to exclusives. It may lessen the sting to know that some third party exclusives are only temporary, with Resident Evil 7 and Skyrim likely to hit PC this year. But this still leaves a growing list of great games such as Farpoint, Rigs and Starblood Arena that you'll be missing out on if you pick up a Rift.

Looking ahead, 2018 looks to continue the trend with Sony already having titles such as Ace Combat, Moss, The Inpatient, Dreams, and Blood & Truth lined up.

But software isn't all about games, and the PC does offer some VR applications which may sway you back into buying a Rift.

First up, Google Earth.

It deserves its own article (It's on my todo list!) but in short, it's a unique VR experience that for some people, will justify the cost of VR by itself. You literally have the world in your hands, and short of being a millionaire jet-setter, it's an incredible outlet for folks with wanderlust. Flying over cities, diving into random street-views of some backstreet in Shibuya you wouldn't even know existed. I want to avoid too much hyperbole, so while I hesitate to say it's a life-changing experience, it'll definitely change the way you see the world outside of VR.

For the creatively inclined the PC also has apps such as Google's Tilt Brush, and the (arguably better) Oculus exclusive 'Medium'. Which are fascinating, and strangely therapeutic.

So really, you'll be missing out no matter which system you choose. But as much as I enjoyed Google Earth, and drawing giant phallic 3d shapes, I think for the games alone, Sony takes it.

Winner: Playstation VR

Conclusion

VR as a platform offers far more than just gaming, and for tinkerers or those with high-spec PC's the Rift is the more sensible choice. Whilst you'll miss out on some great exclusives, you'll have no shortage of great games to enjoy, plus the benefits more user generated content and some incredible non-gaming applications.

For console gamers looking to try out VR, but worried the PSVR doesn't offer the 'full' VR experience. Fear not, despite it's technical shortcomings the PSVR can still hold it's own, and given the current graphics card prices, investing in a PSVR makes far more sense. It also has the strongest game library right now, and an incredible 2018 line-up ahead of it.