Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR: What is the best VR gaming headset?

Sony and Oculus' first-gen headsets go head to head
Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR

While it would be nice to paint the rivalry between the Oculus Rift and Sony's PlayStation VR as a David and Goliath-style battle, the lines are actually a bit more blurred.

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.

The verdicts: Oculus Rift review | PlayStation VR review

But both companies have pushed VR to the forefront of our imaginations, and alongside the HTC Vive, are offering some of the best virtual reality experiences around right now.

But which is the superior of the two? We've had both installed at home and in the Wareable office for a while now, and this is how we think the two compare.

Oculus Rift v PS VR: Design and comfort

oculus rift vs ps vr

Anyone who's ever found themselves playing a game for hours at a time 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. However, it's an annoying fit for glasses-wearers and requires some finagling to get the right comfort levels.

Read this: The best Oculus Rift games

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 PS VR design also moves the majority of the unit's weight from resting on the top of your head, and it's very 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

Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR: What is the best VR gaming headset?

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. It also has RGB subpixels, which help smooth out the image. That said, there's still a slight screen door effect on the PS VR which is a bit of a shame, and not an issue with the Oculus Rift. How much that's worth is up to you.

Essential reading: Best PlayStation VR games

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. Natively, PS VR also does 90hz, but Sony uses a technique called reprojection to bump it up. All that said, the difference between 90 and 120 isn't really pronounced, but a decent achievement nonetheless. 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

oculus rift vs playstation vr

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 to handle stereoscopic 3D processing. Now, you also have the choice of the PS4 Slim and the PS4 Pro, although the bump-up in quality is barely noticeable right now. It's possible that, in time, more developers will take advantage of the added power for VR, but for now there's no big benefit in updating if you already have a PlayStation 4.

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: How Oculus is working to fix VR's focus problem

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.

Oculus also has full 360-degree tracking via a discreet, microphone-style sensor that sits on your desk and monitors the movements you're making. Recently, Oculus has opened up full room-scale tracking for the Rift, making the experience more comparable to the HTC Vive. You'll need three sensors to take advantage of this, but it's still a big edge over the PS VR.

Sony's VR headset uses the PlayStation Camera and nine LEDs to provide a small amount of 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. But generally, the PS VR experience is more restrictive than the Rift.

Oculus Rift v PS VR: Audio and controls

oculus rift vs playstation vr

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.

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. It's also launched a pair of earbuds that offer what it calls "passive noise isolation". We really like them, and find them

Essential reading: How we'll use VR to relive - and change - memories

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 Rift controllers that let you reach out into VR space, interact with objects and make gestures with your hands (you can point at something, for example). They were optional extras, but they enhance the experience so greatly that recommend picking up a pair. It seems Oculus agrees, as a new bundle with the Oculus Rift with the Touch controllers included is the flagship way to purchase a Rift headset.

At the end of the day, the Touch controllers make for a more immersive experience than the PS VR's wands.

Oculus Rift v PS VR: Games

Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR: What is the best VR gaming headset?

There's plenty to get going with when it comes to PlayStation VR games so check out our best-of lists above. From Rez: Infinite to Star Trek: Bridge Crew to EVE: Valkyrie, there's already a good handful of "full" VR games out there to play.

Other notables include Resident Evil 7, which is playable start to finish in terrifying VR on the PS4 (sadly not the Oculus yet). We're seeing better multiplayer games emerge too, the aforementioned Star Trek game being one of - if not the - best examples, as it throws you onto the USS Aegis with up to three others and demands you all work together. Farpoint is a neat title for PS VR that makes use of the new Aim Controller for that immersive pew-pew authenticity.

One thing is for sure: PS VR is not hurting for a wide array of VR games. At E3 2017, we learned that it's getting VR versions of both Doom and Skyrim, alongside a whole bunch of new games designed specifically for Sony's VR tech. There's a first-person horror game called The Inpatient, and sword-wielding mouse buddy game Moss, sci-fi side-scroller Star Child, military shooter Bravo Team and, well, fishing game Final Fantasy: Monsters of the Deep. But see, a wide array of games from talented developers.

Meanwhile 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 a lot in indie game development and exclusives. 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.

The libraries for both systems are now a lot better. For what it's worth, one of our favorite VR games, Robo Recall, is only available on the Rift for now, but we hope it will make its way across to Sony territory some day. Sony might need to rethink its controllers before then, however.

Rift v PS VR: Price

Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR: What is the best VR gaming headset?

Oculus Rift has been shipping for a while now. It costs $598 for the Rift and Touch controllers together, plus comes with a couple of free games and an Xbox One controller. On its own, the Rift costs $499. If you want to make use of full room-scale tracking on the Rift, you'll need to pay for more sensors. Then there's the PC, as mentioned above.

Sony's PlayStation VR is on sale for the much more accessible price of $399. If you're lucky, you might still be able to find a launch bundle which will get you the headset, a PlayStation Camera and two Move controllers along with PlayStation VR Worlds and Playroom VR digital download. Of course you'll also need a PS4, 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.

Oculus Rift vs PS VR: Verdict

Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR: What is the best VR gaming headset?

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. Our biggest bit of advice though? See what your friends are playing.

Both systems are going down the road of exclusive games. Oculus is PC VR, but PlayStation VR remains the easiest one to jump into if you already have a PS4 - and the cheapest too.

In terms of head-tracking, with added room scale Oculus is much further ahead, and the Touch controllers also give it an edge. So Oculus is the clear winner on immersion.

The screen is arguably the most important part of any virtual reality experience and the Rift's screen is great 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 is 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.

Most buyers will have decided which virtual reality headset they'll support depending on the hardware they already own. Both of these systems are great, and while they're more different now than they were at launch, you're guaranteed some of the best VR whichever you go for.


Shop for VR headsets on Amazon

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift
$499.99
PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR
$386.97
HTC Vive
HTC Vive
$799
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung Gear VR
$105.94

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