Oculus Rift vs. PlayStation VR: Can console convenience top PC VR power?

oculus rift vs playstation vr version 1452090532 psvr header
After months of facing off against a single big competitor, the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift finally has another headset worthy of competition, Sony’s PlayStation VR. Initially known by its swanky codename, “Project Morpheus,” the headset impressed us quite a bit when we first got our hands on it, which got us thinking about whether the console-based headset is able to compete directly with its PC-based counterpart.

The fact that we’re even considering the notion is impressive in its own right, but to know whether that opinion holds much water, we’re going to examine both headsets’ most important factors, and compare them head-to-head to see which one deserves your money.

Oculus Rift

Rift thumb

PlayStation VR

PlayStation VR thumb

Pricing $600 (requires PC) + $200 (+80) $400/$500 (requires PlayStation 4)
Display OLED RGB OLED
Panel size 3.54 inches × 2 5.7 inches
Resolution 2160 × 1200
(1080 × 1200 per eye)
1920 × RGB × 1080  (960 × RGB × 1080 per eye)
Refresh rate 90hz 90Hz, 120Hz (cinema mode)
Field of view Approximately 100 degrees Approximately 100 degrees
Sensors Accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, external Constellation tracking camera(s) Magnetometer, accelerometer, gyroscope, PlayStation Eye tracking system
Connections Requires HDMI 1.3 output, two USB 3.0 ports (+ extra USB per additional camera) HDMI + USB
Audio Built-in headphones and mic, 3D audio Bundled ear buds
Input Oculus Touch, Xbox One controller (included) PlayStation Move, Dual Shock 4 controller
DT review 2.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Design

Although there are some similarities among all virtual reality headsets, there are some fundamental differences between the design of the Oculus Rift and PSVR. Physically, the Oculus Rift is more compact and features a slate grey fabric coating over much of the display portion. In comparison, the PSVR is entirely plastic and features a circular white band designed to hold the headset in place.

Both balance their weight between a large, front-panel display box and a headstrap that goes over and around the head. They both have come with a detachable audio solution; the Rift opts for an over-the-ear design, while PSVR features in-ear buds. Both are comfortable and easy to wear for long periods of time, though PSVR can get a little warm and the Rift can leave some residual marks on your face as a result of its snug padding. Both headsets use HDMI and USB for display and interface connections, respectively.

Inside both headsets you’ll find magnetometers, gyrocscopes, and accelerometers, which handle head-tilt tracking. On the outside, the PSVR system uses the PlayStation 4 camera for positional tracking, while the Rift uses the Constellation system. While neither option seems work as well as the Vive’s Lighthouse trackers, they offer solid tracking in a more restricted space. That’s not a problem for either though, as they’re both designed with forward-facing, seated or standing experiences in mind. Both (arguably) support larger field of view tracking, but that is not what either was initially designed for, and the available content reflects that type of gaming experience.

There are so many similarities between the two headsets that it’s hard to pick a winner, but we’re giving the nod to the Rift, given it offers a more refined package and less of a retro-sci-fi look.

Winner: Rift

Display and lenses

Display is paramount to successful immersion in VR. Low resolution and refresh rate can break the sense of “presence” that virtual reality strives to attain, and can make you feel ill in some cases.

Although you might assume the Oculus Rift is the better looking of the two given it utilizes a higher resolution across its dual-display design, the PSVR actually looks a little clearer. Its screen is a bit darker, which doesn’t lend itself to every setting, but the use of RGB subpixels means that the screen door effect — or the visibility of the black space between pixels — is less noticeable and the overall picture seems smoother and less artificial because of it.

both devices feature a very similar field of view and virtually identical refresh rates — PSVR can do 120Hz in cinema mode, but that’s not a full virtual-reality experience.

The lenses on both sets are also very similar, but not identical. The only time you will really notice it is when something isn’t quite right. The Rift occasionally suffers from crepuscular rays, especially if you’re viewing dark environments and the headset isn’t aligned properly. The PSVR is relatively free of that, but you sometimes get smudging on the lenses when the headset gets warm. Both problems are fleeting, but if either is a deal breaker for you, it’s worth knowing about them ahead of time.

Although there is likely to be some personal preferences for which looks best, we feel comfortable enough to say that the PSVR edges out its PC counterpart.

Winner: PSVR

Controllers

Although both the PSVR and the Oculus Rift were initially designed with gamepad gameplay in mind, and therefore have a lot of content aimed at that input method, they also have their own set of motion controllers. The Oculus Rift has the Touch controllers — set to launch in December — while the PSVR can use PlayStation Move motion control wands.

This is one area where the PSVR’s cobbling together of different technology generations does start to show. The Move controllers are adequate, but ultimately come from the WiiMote-generation of tracking that just cannot compare to the precision of the Oculus Touch. Because of its somewhat limited playspace, PSVR also suffers from not being able to track everything you do if you step to the side or stretch your arms out too far.

Although the Rift can suffer from its own tracking issues at times, the inclusion of a secondary camera with the controllers means that it has much lower rates of hardware occlusion. The controllers are much more nuanced, too, and feature gesture tracking, hand holds, and VR-specific ergonomics to make them as innocuous as possible.

Winner: Rift + Touch

Performance and visuals

VR has a reputation for causing motion sickness, but this is something that successive generations of headsets have tried to iron out. While it is still present in some headsets, in some games, with some settings, it’s far less common these days.

Over the past few months of playing around with the Oculus Rift, it’s still something we experience now and again, mostly as the result of unfinished experiences, or unwise, rapid head movement. The PSVR hardware also keeps our stomach rather sturdy, but any game with strafing in first person at high speed still has the potential to make us a little queasy.

One of the ways Oculus and Sony (mostly) solved this issue, was by raising the minimum frame rate to 90. Both systems use a variety of hardware and software tweaks to guarantee that level of performance, and it’s a worthwhile move. Of course, this does mean that you need some reasonable hardware to get the Rift running on your PC at that level, though there are some creative workarounds that allow lower-end hardware to be used too.

Oculus’ recommended hardware includes an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290, an Intel i5-4590 processor, at least 8GB RAM, and Windows 7 SP1 or later. The headset also requires an HDMI 1.3 port, as well as a pair of USB 3.0 ports and an additional one for every extra tracking camera you use.

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift

The weaker hardware in the PlayStation 4 means that its experiences don’t look as pretty as the Rift’s, especially if you can afford to go higher than recommended specifications. Extra headroom simply translates to better visual quality and more frame rate stability.

Even though the PS4 Pro may close that gap when it’s released, it’s never going to catch up to a dedicated gaming PC. So while both headsets look great visually, the Rift has the potential to look better.

Winner: Rift

Content

As important as all the aforementioned factors are, it’s the content you can access with each headset and controller that truly matters. Fortunately, both headsets offer decent libraries of games and experiences for new buyers to enjoy.

Having been out for over six months, the library of compatible games for the Rift is larger than that for the PSVR. There are now more than 200 compatible titles on Steam and Oculus Home, and if you throw in games that can be played using injection drivers, the list goes on and on. The only caveat is that almost all of them are gamepad-controlled titles — the bulk of Touch-compatible content won’t arrive until the controllers do in December. When they do launch, they will do so alongside another 30-odd titles, including long-standing favorites such as Fantastic Contraption and Job Simulator.

In comparison, the PSVR had around 30 games built for VR from the ground up at launch, though as many as 30 are slated to arrive over the coming weeks. There are also around 20 PS4 games with VR components or are in the process of being converted to virtual reality, and if you get stuck, you can always play classic PS4 titles in the PSVR’s cinema mode. The latter feature will also work with Xbox One and PCs, though it’s not officially supported.

While the PSVR’s early lineup is strong, we still have to give the nod to Oculus for its wealth of available content.

Winner: Rift

Price and availability

This is the category that has bearing on all others, because as good as any headset is, if the price is right, that’s often enough to sway people. Price is going to be a major factor when talking the PSVR for some time to come, because as great as the Oculus Rift and its contemporaries are, the PSVR is $400 and everything else costs substantially more.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some caveats, however. The base model of the PSVR retails for $400, or $500 with the PlayStation Camera, Move Motion controllers, and a bundled game. You’ll also need to own a PlayStation 4 console to operate it all, regardless of which bundle you choose.

In comparison, the Oculus Rift headset retails for $600. The Touch controllers will also run you an additional $200 upon their release in December, and if you want improve tracking, each additional camera will cost you $80 apiece. None of that even begins to factor in the cost of a gaming PC that’s capable of running the Rift.

When it comes to availability, the PSVR is a little hard to find in all its guises. The $500 bundle is currently available through most usual channels, but a few outlets are already sold out of the core headset package. The Oculus Rift, on the other hand, is easy to find now that it’s been out for an upwards of six months. Just keep in mind that the Touch controllers won’t be available until the start of December, though you can pre-order a pair if you pre-ordered the Rift before its release.

If it just comes down to cost for you, the PSVR is available now at around half the price of a comparable Rift package. The PS4 is also far cheaper than buying a powerful gaming PC and everything it needs to operate.

Winner: PSVR

Conclusion

Ask a VR evangelist about what makes virtual reality great and you will probably hear them say, “you won’t get it until you try it.” We would urge anyone who’s considering to purchase a virtual-reality headset to try it before opting in.

That said, we feel comfortable in saying that the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are close enough in their current state that either would be a worthy first step into virtual reality. While the Touch controllers are certainly superior to the PlayStation Move wands, the price difference between the two is hard to ignore. The HTC Vive is still our recommended virtual-reality solution for those who can afford it, but if you already own a PS4, the PSVR is likely going to be your best bet. The Rift is still a great choice, especially if you already have a decent gaming PC, but it definitely has some drawbacks, so consider your options before making a purchase.

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