2016 has been a major year for virtual reality. After much anticipation, the likes of HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR have finally graced our homes with their presence.
We've already tested the big three VR headsets extensively but when it comes down to it, your house is only big enough for one.
So which will it be? Valve and HTC's joint venture that was a complete package from the get-go? Facebook-owned Oculus's late bloomer that's now a rounded platform with Oculus Touch? Or Sony's couch and wallet friendly headset that has console gamers in love?
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Each headset certainly brings something unique to the table, so it was a tough decision. After several months with each device alone, then several weeks of comparison, Wareable can recommend as follows…
PlayStation VR – Bronze medal
PlayStation VR does not require an upgraded computer to work. Rather it relies on the PS4 console, giving it an advantage over the the PC-tethered headsets.
This also makes PS VR the easiest to set up. It's really only a matter of plugging in a few cables here and there, setting up the camera then making a few minor adjustments to line it up with your headset.
There's typically no need to rearrange furniture since you won't need to map the room for room-tracking. The most we had to do was pull the PS4 out to see the ports in the light and push the couch a tiny bit further away from the TV. Sony recommends playing PS VR seated about five feet from the camera rather than standing or sitting any closer.
While this makes everything space efficient, you have to remember that you won't be moving around that much, making the immersion feel limited to what you see in front of you – even though you're in the middle of a VR world.
The display is a single 5.7-inch 1920 x 1080 OLED which is similar size to a Note phone in a Gear VR. The 100 degree field-of-view is also a tad smaller than Rift, Vive and even some mobile VR headsets. However the 90Hz refresh rate can go up to 120Hz to reduce eye strain.
Essential reading: Best PlayStation VR games
The 1:1 head tracking by the PlayStation Camera is quite good, and manages to track the headset and Move controllers without getting too lost. Granted you really won't have to worry much about losing tracking since you're primarily facing in one direction.
Then there's the Dualshock controller, which is used for many of the PS VR's games. It works great and chances are you won't have to buy one if you already own a PS4. But you don't get the same immersion as you would with the Move controllers.
The games library is solid so far. There are a lot of fun titles to play and they're not too exorbitantly priced. However, there's the issue of motion sickness that needs mentioning. We noticed it in our review and with our time afterwards for further testing. It's a matter of which games you play, of course, and driving is at the top of our 'thanks but no thanks' list. There are some flying/space games that aren't too bad but EVE: Valkyrie can only be played for a short amount of time before we start to feel a headache at the edge of our eyes. Perhaps it's the high frame rate but we noticed that motion sickness happens slightly quicker on the PS VR compared to the other headsets.
Nausea aside, the PS VR is quite comfortable and feels like the lightest headset of the three. It's the easiest one to put on, since it just requires a button push to slide onto your face – which is also quick and hassle-free for glasses wearers.
In general, PlayStation VR is the easiest way to jump into virtual reality and have your friends around to watch you fumble and look like a fool. After all, it just makes more sense to be crowded around a giant TV than a small computer monitor. If you already have the controllers and cameras, then this headset is the cheapest of the trio at $399 – and if not, for another $100, it's still the most affordable bundled with the peripherals.
But if you're looking for slightly better graphics and much more immersion, there's a reason why PlayStation VR has the bronze medal – it's good (really good), but not full-fledged VR.
Room-scale tracking: N/A
HTC Vive – Silver medal
Yes, we gave the HTC Vive headset of the year during our Wareable Tech Awards, but that was before we were able to review all three headsets as complete packages. So while it was a hard decision, Vive has the silver medal spot for a variety of reasons.
First off, setting up Vive doesn't make sense for a lot of people. It's easy if you have the room and are willing to make space – but it can be time consuming and cost more money if you're going to buy stands for the sensors.
You'll have to clear out at least 15 x 15 feet of space, give or take, and decide whether you want to drill holes in the wall for the base station sensors. If drilling holes isn't an option, then you'll still have to figure out where to put the sensors since they should be 16ft apart diagonally for an 11.5 play space, must angle downwards and be in a stable spot since they vibrate. If you scoff at this and think the sensors won't fall you're wrong – they've definitely face planted on the floor (thankfully carpeted) when we didn't stabilise them with duct tape.
Must read: The best HTC Vive games you need to play
In our initial review, we had the base stations in some weird spots – in a dish cabinet and on top of a pile of boxes and books. Not exactly feng shui. Then after moving, the base stations didn't even leave the box for a few months since there was simply no good spaces for them. Despite the urge to play VR games, decorating your home based on a gaming system isn't always practical.
Some people who dropped the $799 on the Vive might be dedicated enough to go the extra mile for their base stations, but not us in a rental home.
However, once you find a solution, the room-scale remains as wonderful as the first time we tried it. With some caveats. The headset feels just a tad heavier and sweatier now after wearing the other two much lighter headsets.
That's counting the controllers too. While tracking has remained top notch – it's rarely lost and the front facing camera is superb at re-orienting you – the controllers are the largest and clunkiest of the bunch. They're still durable as hell but not as feature rich as Rift's when it comes to hand tracking.
The headset is still by far the best one to put on in terms of ease, but it will have to be adjusted more than once if you're going to play games for several hours. The sweat factor doesn't help the readjustment process either.
This doesn't lessen the quality of graphics on the Vive though. It's hard to tell between the Vive and Rift with 2160 x 1200, 90Hz refresh rate and 110 degree field-of-view on both.
The games list has grown and offers a huge selection now – more so than on the other two platforms. However like most of Steam's library, many titles are early access meaning they're incomplete. You'll have to pay about $20 and up for the heavy hitters but since VR games aren't that long yet, you'll be itching for other games to hold you over. That's when it's hard to find something new since the list is filled with demo-like experiences or the same shooter/puzzler over and over again.
Still, HTC Vive was top dog for a reason. Its ability to put you inside virtual reality and allow you to move around while interacting with worlds you couldn't visit in real life beats sitting VR any day. It blew us away when all Rift could do was transport us from a chair and we were still waiting around for PlayStation (coincidentally to do the same thing as Rift). But it seems being the first out of the gate doesn't mean you'll stay the winner.
Room-scale tracking: 5/5
Oculus Rift – Gold medal
Believe us when we say this came as a surprise (no offence Oculus). It was a nice experience when we first tried out Oculus Rift in our original review but that was it: nice. Safe, seated, pretty… overhyped. But waiting has paid off. Oculus Touch brought with it room-scale tracking and it's revitalised our interest in the headset.
Rift now brings the best of Vive's tracking in the form of PS VR's simplistic set-up. You will need to clear out space which is unfortunate, but not as much space as Vive needs. There's also no need for hair pulling as you figure out where to put the sensors.
For seated VR, the Oculus Rift doesn't need a lot of physical space – just 5ft x 5ft. For Rift room-scale, 7ft x 5ft is needed, though you can cut some corners when measuring it all out in the setup process. However, the more space you have, the better.
Our biggest hurdle was finding a where to put the second sensor – and yes it was on top of books – but there were no height requirements or extra stabilisation needed. The third sensor placement would probably be a pain if you want to go all out for 360-degree tracking, but we didn't use it or need to.
Check out: Best Oculus Rift games
There were a few times when we weren't facing towards the sensors and it was a little off, but it didn't happen enough to be a huge problem. It's just worth noting in case you're wondering what the deal is if your own sensors drop.
The Touch controllers work fantastically. Games feel fluid in your hands and it all works together with the sensors to finally give you that sense of immersion Oculus Rift was desperately missing before.
The controllers are much lighter and somehow make more more sense in the hand. They also provide a range of motion for your fingers to poke at VR buttons or make silly thumbs ups to people in multiplayer. Not huge, but it adds a certain amount of depth that Vive's controllers can't.
Then there's the lightness of the headset. It felt fine sitting down of course. The magic is that it still doesn't feel weighty when you're in room-scale mode. Walking around, shooting and punching dudes in Superhot VR or whatever, all can be done for hours without really needing to adjust the headset.
The only letdown is that we've run into a wall or two with our punches because there's no front facing camera. The Guardian System does pop up with its grid, but Chaperone on Vive simply works better thanks to that extra bit of hardware.
Onto software. The games on Rift seem very carefully honed. While there are several repeats from Vive's roster, the Oculus Store's developer program is smaller and perhaps more selective. This is indeed shadier and less inclusive than Steam, but what you get are more thought out experiences that don't feel like hastily mashed together demos. It's actually closer to what Sony has for PlayStation too. Right now there are fewer titles than in Steam's catalogue, but it's seriously growing faster than we can keep up.
The headset specs match up with HTC Vive's, and they're a bit better than PS VR's. Played one after the other, it's really hard to tell which one is best but it's a close one between Vive and Rift.
The most obvious downside to Rift is the price. It started off in between the Vive and PS VR but after purchasing the Touch controllers, you're looking at an increase of $199 added to headset price of $599. The third sensor costs an extra $79 as well. But we never said comfortable, high quality VR would come cheap.
Room-scale tracking: 5/5
Our decision will garner outrage from some and nods in agreement from others but here's the bottom line: each headset has its place depending on the user.
The die-hard PC gamers will consider Vive the better purchase, while those strapped for cash will prefer PS VR. There are several areas where PS VR, Vive and Rift are tied, but overall the release of the Oculus Touch controllers and room-scale has inched Oculus Rift a little ahead of its counterparts.
Essentially, you're getting the easy plug-and-play from PS VR plus the room-scale and display quality from HTC Vive. Added to the fact that Rift's library of games has raised our expectations of what VR titles should be like and that the headset is most comfortable during room-scale experiences, and it's hard not to recommend Oculus Rift as the best VR experience to try.