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. Both the Oculus Rift and Sony PlayStation VR are now available to buy. And with the difference in price, it's no wonder that PS VR is expected to outsell the Rift considerably.
But which will have the best shot at glory? We've had both installed at home and in the Wareable office for a while now - the Oculus longer obviously - so here's what we reckon so far.
Oculus Rift v PS VR: Design and comfort
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.
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 final PS VR design 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. One downside to the Sony - the flaps either side of your cheeks don't feel as secure and snug and have been known to come away from the main headset.
Oculus Rift v PS VR: Display
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 final consumer PS VR upped its initial display size from 5-inches and added RGB subpixels, which help smooth out the image. That said, the difference between the PlayStation headset and both the Rift and Vive is still apparent once you've tried the higher end headgear with a slight screen door effect on PS VR. How much that's worth is up to you.
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 it runs at 120Hz – higher than both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. 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.
Even now, the PS VR has a small gap under the headset, so there can be a little bit of light bleed if you've not adjusted the headset just so. 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 can be a very noticeable hole of light under your eyes.
Oculus Rift v PS VR: Tracking
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. Now, you also have the choice of the PS4 Slim and the PS4 Pro which we'll be trying out with our headset very soon.
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.
Read next: The ultimate Oculus Rift set up
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 partnership with Microsoft. 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.
Oculus has 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 and nine LEDs 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.
Oculus Rift v PS VR: Audio and controls
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' Audio SDK allows 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 can 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 Move controllers are already spatially aware, and plenty of PS VR games prefer you to play with them over a DualShock. Tracking isn't captured perfectly by the Camera and we'd expect to see controllers built from the ground up for VR arrive in the next year or two from Sony.
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 finally launching on 6 December - we'll update our Rift review when they do.
Oculus Rift v PS VR: Games
There's plenty to get going with when it comes to PlayStation VR games so check out our best of list. We've already been playing titles like Rez: Infinite, Batman: Arkham VR, Headmaster as well as The Assembly and EVE: Valkyrie.
There's about 50 apps and - mostly - games to choose from night with new titles and experiences popping up each week. We've still got big names like Star Wars Battlefront and Resident Evil to look forward to plus there's a really nice range of prices, single and multiplayer etc.
PS VR is slightly lacking first person games with long campaign modes, for instance, but these take time to develop for VR and we're bound to see more as the months roll by. If you put a virtual gun to our head, we'd go PlayStation VR for games that will satisfy most gamers but that could easily change.
VR games to check out
- The best Oculus Rift gamesThe latest top Rift games including Touch compatible titles
- The best PlayStation VR games for your shiny new headsetBig names and indie titles for Sony's PS4 headset
- How to start playing VR games on HTC Vive and Oculus RiftVR games shouldn't be this confusing but we can help
The PC is brimming with Oculus Rift titles, whether they're new games, ports or fan-created modifications. Valve was among the first to ensure its games are Rift ready, and the hugely popular 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 could put the PlayStation's to shame: Oculus is investing $10 million to support indie game development. What's more, you can play 2D Xbox One games in a 3D virtual theatre on the Rift - though, yes, likewise with PS VR's Cinematic mode.
Oculus has been previewing some really exciting new games (Lone Echo, Robot Recall, Superhot, Wilson's Heart) for the end of this year and 2017, some of which will be Touch controller compatible. That's Oculus' next big challenge, in fact, getting devs to create for its new accessories which are shipping very late.
Rift v PS VR: Price
Oculus Rift has been shipping for a while now. It costs $599 after shipping and taxes, plus comes with a couple of free games and an Xbox One controller. Oculus Touch will cost you an extra $199 plus a $79 room-scale sensor. Then there's the PC, as mentioned above.
Sony's PlayStation VR is now on sale for 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, a PlayStation Camera and two Move controllers along with PlayStation VR Worlds and Playroom VR digital download. Now, you'll need a PS4 of course and the Camera and the controllers can be bought separately - the cam is mandatory.
There's been no confirmation from either Oculus or Sony on when their second gen VR headsets will launch. Apart from a tease, that is, of Oculus' standalone Santa Cruz prototype in October.
Oculus Rift vs PS VR: Verdict
There's no clear-cut winner because the right VR gaming machine for you will depend on how you play, what you play and - most crucially - how much cash you're willing to part with.
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.
In terms of head-tracking, there's not much to choose between them and both seem to be on the same level. When Oculus Touch does launch, this will undoubtedly put it in a different category to the basic controller tracking you get with the PS Moves, though.
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. Motion sickness does depend on the games but, anecdotally, we've seen more issues with the PlayStation VR than the Oculus Rift.
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. As expected, there's a bunch of free and sub-$20 titles to choose from already.
Of course, most consumers will have decided which virtual reality headset they'll support depending on the hardware they already own. But the run up to the holidays will see some big promotional pushes regardless, not to mention HTC Vive, Google Daydream and Gear VR muscling in to try to get your attention.
Additional words by Lily Prasuethsut
Which VR headset do you own? What do you like and what annoys you? Are you trying to choose between two options?