We look at the world of VR to help you decide which is the best VR headset for you.
Now that both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have officially launched, VR is finally here. And with more to come in the form of Sony's Playstation VR, there's certainly going to be no lack of choice when it comes to deciding on a headset.
PC owners can choose between Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive – the most advanced headsets on the market. Both are seriously powerful devices, but they need equally powerful PCs to run.
For those unwilling, or unable, to drop the exorbitant amounts required to upgrade their PCs to a suitable specification, Playstation VR will cost you far less with only a PS4 console and PlayStation Camera required to get stuck in.
Those are the key contenders then, but which is the best VR headset?
Related: Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive
Best VR Headset – When are they coming out?
First up is the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, which launched on March 28. Unfortunately, the launch was hampered by what the company eventually revealed to be a 'component shortage'. After a week where customers heard nothing by way of explanation from Oculus, the company eventually explained the component issue, before offering free shipping to those affected by the delay.
Despite the problems, some early adopters still received their headsets, although many are still waiting. Those who pre-ordered the Rift will receive a free copy of EVE: Valkyrie, CCP Game’s intense space dogfighter.
Up next is the HTC Vive, which was slated for an April 4 release, although there have been some issues with the launch. After pre-orders opened, Valve’s headset managed to sell 15,000 units in 10 minutes, not too bad when you consider the lofty £690 pricetag. However, as April 4 arrived, it emerged that several Vive pre-orders had been auto-cancelled due to 'processing issues with financial institutions'.
In a blog post HTC explained: "We're actively working to resolve this, and have already reinstated orders for some customers. We want to assure our customers that we’ll work with them to process their payment so they can receive their Vive when they were expecting it."
Lastly, Playstation VR will be available in October 2016, but you best act fast as many retailers are already selling out of launch day units.
Video: Watch Evan Kypreos unbox the Oculus Rift
Related: Playstation VR vs HTC Vive
Best VR Headset – How much do they cost?
The HTC Vive is now on sale for £689 in the UK and $799 in the US, making it the most expensive headset available.
The Vive ships with two earbuds, a Vive Linkbox and two wireless controllers required to use the headset. In addition, you will also receive a trio of games that showcase the capabilities of Valve’s headset: Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, Tilt Brush, and Fantastic Contraption.
Oculus Rift costs £499 in the UK, or $599 for US gamers. The initial purchase will bag you the headset with built-in headphones, mic, sensor, and a bundled Xbox One controller. There's also a small remote with wrist strap to let you tweak volume and select options.
The Oculus Touch controllers, motion controllers that are designed for VR, won't ship until later this year and cost extra.
Finally, Playstation VR will retail for £350 in the UK and $399 in the US, making it the cheapest of the lot. However, this doesn't include the Move camera, which is required, nor any Move controllers. These controllers aren't required, however.
Related: What is virtual reality?
Best VR Headset – System Requirements
Those eager to pick up Oculus Rift or HTC Vive will need a pretty beefy machine if they hope to run anything.
The HTC Vive recommends the following before you get started:
– Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or greater
– Intel i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 equivalent or greater
– 4GB RAM
– HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
– 1x USB 2.0 or greater port
– Windows 7 SP1 or newer
Oculus recommends the below specs if you want to have the “full Oculus Rift experience”:
– Nvidia GTX 970/AMD 290 equivalent or better
– Intel i5-4590 equivalent or better
– 8GB RAM or more
– HDMI 1.3 video output
– 2x USB 3.0 ports
– Windows 7 SP1 or newer
You will also require a decent amount of space if you plan on dedicating yourself to VR, with the Vive in particular needing substantial space due to the two paddles.
If you aren’t familiar with PC gaming this probably sounds daunting, but you can read our Best Gaming PC: PC Building Guide for a full breakdown of how to build the perfect gaming PC.
In our experience so far, it's best to have a PC that exceeds the minimum recommendations. For example, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti provides a much smoother, more reliable experience than the 970 recommended by both HTC and Oculus.
Playstation VR will require a PS4 console, Playstation Camera, and a couple of Move controllers for certain titles.
Related: What is Microsoft HoloLens?
Best VR Headset – Design
Oculus Rift has seen a number of iterations since its original design, and now feels more compact and accessible, with only a single 4-metre wire protruding from the left of the headset. Oculus has spent a lot of time refining the design, which now feels incredibly comfortable to wear, to the extent that keeping it on for hours won't cause you any problems.
The Rift is decorated with discrete panels that effectively hide the inner workings, allowing you to customise it with the lenses you find most comfortable.
You can also adjust the interpupillary distance (IPD) of the optics, meaning you can change the headset display to accommodate the positioning of your eyes.
The HTC Vive has also been through several redesigns, and is now made to be more user-friendly and compact than ever before.
Players can fully customise the interchangeable foam inserts and nose gaskets to allow for all face shapes and glasses.
Each display has been significantly improved, offering higher clarity and resolution than the initial development kit.
In terms of new features, the HTC Vive now includes a front-facing camera, giving you the opportunity to interact with the outside world without removing the headset.
Related: Microsoft Hololens preview
Playstation VR aims to imitate the sleek, black design made famous by Sony’s console with the addition of LED panels reminiscent of the Dualshock 4’s light bar.
Sony’s headset simply fits around your head instead of using an adjustable strap, and feels a little tighter as a result. This is still adjustable, but may require a little bit of fine-tuning.
Much like the Rift and Vive, you can tweak the headset lenses to ensure they're perfectly positioned for your own eyesight.
Best VR Headset – Specs Comparison
The Oculus Rift features an OLED dual-display supporting a 2,160 x 1,200 at an impressive 90Hz. Such a display allows for rapid head movement with no blurring.
You will be able to play a variety of Oculus games using the headset and an Xbox One controller, which come bundled with each unit.
The Rift also sports an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and 360-degree positional tracking capabilities. When combined these are used to constantly track your head movements across all software.
HTC Vive also features an OLED display capable of running at the same 2,160 x 1,200 resolution and 90Hz.
There's also a built-in front-facing camera which can add outside world elements into a VR setting.
The Vive is littered with sensors which are monitored by what the company calls Lighthouse base stations. The base stations emit lasers that track your movements and the controllers in your hands. This way your position can be tracked within a 15x15 foot space.
In a nutshell, this will let you walk around and interact with the virtual world, something which no other VR headset currently offers.
However, Oculus' Head of Worldwide studios, Jason Rubin, recently revealed the Oculus is also capable of room-scaling. Talking to Polygon, he said: "We have the tech ability to provide room scale. Our tech doesn't preclude that. At some point we'll demo that.
"We don't believe that the consumer has the space in general. Has the commercial viable space of the 15-by-15 foot square."
Could we see whole-body, Vive-like movement tracking on the Oculus Rift in the future? If Rubin's words are anything to go by, it seems highly likely.
Playstation VR is easily the weakest of the three, and Sony isn’t afraid to admit that, saying that Oculus Rift provides a “better” virtual reality experience.
Sony's headset will operate at a 1,920 x RGB x 1,080 resolution on a 5.7-inch screen split across both eyes. However, it also runs at an impressive 120Hz, compared to the Rift and Vive's 90Hz. Whether that will amount to a noticeably smoother experience remains to be seen, but considering the importance of a high refresh rate in reducing motion sickness, it could be a big deal.
You can also use Playstation VR's cinematic mode to play all PS4 games with three levels of zoom, and can be used to watch Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
Essentially, Sony's headset won't be as powerful as the Rift or Vive, but should be more convenient for existing PS4 owners.
Best VR Headset – Controllers
Those interested in Oculus Rift will have two distinct types of controller input: Oculus Touch and traditional gamepads.
The Oculus Touch controllers won’t be available until later in 2016, but aim to give you the feeling that your hands are actually in the game.
In the mean time, Oculus recently partnered with Microsoft, so all Oculus Rift units come bundled with an Xbox One controller, making it easier to jump into games once you’re set up.
As a result of this partnership, the Rift natively supports Windows 10. Plus, you'll be able to stream Xbox One titles to your Oculus Rift in a virtual living environment.
Related: Xbox One Elite Controller Review
When the Touch controllers eventually launch, you'll be getting a “half-moon” design which places the analogue sticks under your thumbs and triggers under your forefingers and middle fingers. All of these contain pressure sensors that monitor your presence even when you aren’t pressing anything.
By squeezing the triggers you can make a fist, letting you pick up objects in the game world.
It’s a fantastic addition for immersive VR, and we can’t wait to see its potential unfold later this year.
The HTC Vive controllers are somewhat similar to the Oculus Touch, but are now completely wireless and rechargeable.
Each pad is fitted with textured buttons and grip pads that all support haptic feedback. This makes interaction in virtual worlds far more natural and easier to perform.
The controllers are bent at a 45-degree angle so they naturally curve around your palms, placing all buttons and gestures within immediate reach. Underneath your thumb is an adapted version of the haptic feedback found in Valve’s Steam Controller.
Unlike the Oculus Touch, the Vive’s controllers come with the headset so you can start using them as soon as you get your hands on HTC's device.
Playstation VR will support the Dualshock 4 and Playstation Move peripherals. The Move Batons were of an attempt by Sony to develop a motion-control system which, until PSVR, seemed somewhat unsuccesful. Using the batons will allow you to control things using gestures. You won't need them to use PSVR but they may well prove to make the experience more immersive.
Best VR Headset – Sound
The HTC Vive will let you plug in a pair of headphones using the jack found on the headset, giving you plenty of freedom to experiment. Otherwise, the headset features full 3D audio, which has been refined over the various iterations.
Oculus Rift features an integrated VR audio system engineered to give you an increased sense of space and depth. Headphones are mounted on the side of the headset, making for easy movement and customisation.
The headphones themselves don’t look too impressive, but provide clear, immersive audio for VR. You can also use your own headphones too, if that’s your style.
Playstation VR will boast 360 degrees of immersive audio using 3D audio technology, and, much like the Dualshock 4, will provide support for a number of audio peripherals.
Best VR Headset – Games
A number of games, both multiplatform and exclusive, have been announced for all three devices.
Oculus has invested $10 million dollars into indie game development to create more unique titles. Studios such as Harmonix and Insomniac Games are already working on exclusive games for the headset, so expect them in the near future.
Below you can find just a few of the games coming to Oculus Rift:
- Chronos – an atmospheric RPG from Gunfire Games
- Edge of Nowhere – an Arctic survival game from Insomniac Games
- Eve Valkyrie – the flagship Oculus Rift title from CCP
- Damaged Core – a futuristic first-person shooter from High Voltage
- VR Sports Challenge – exactly what it sounds like from Sanzaru Games
- Esper – a puzzle game set in 1975 from Coatsink
- AirMechVR – bringing tabletop warfare to life by Carbon Games
- Lucky’s Tale – a colourful platforming adventure by Playful Corp
You can check out a more extensive list here, including 30 of the launch games.
The HTC Vive launched with a variety of intriguing tech demos and small titles aiming to show what the device is capable of while also giving indie devs a chance to strut their stuff.
Elite Dangerous was made available as a launch title for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, coming as a free update to existing players.
Cloudhead Games’ The Gallery: Call of Darkseed is one of the launch titles for HTC Vive. The fantasy-adventure game follows a reclusive protagonist on a dangerous quest to obtain an ancient device called The Machine.
The Vive also comes with a trio of free games that showcase the capabilities of Valve’s headset: Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, Tilt Brush, and Fantastic Contraption.
Playstation VR also has the wide selection of interesting titles at launch. The company has confirmed that over 230 developers are signed up to develop games for VR. Tekken 7, Gran Turismo Sport, and 100ft Robot Golf are just some of the projects in the works.
Playstation VR will receive more than 50 games before the end of 2016, Sony confirmed at GDC 2016. It isn't perfectly clear how many of these will be available at launch, but you should have plenty to keep you busy.
Best VR Headset – Summary
If you’re looking for visually striking experiences and unmatched immersion, the clear choice is Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The benefit of being on PC is clear, providing players with the most impressive graphical performance, hardware iterations and an extensive modding scene.
As it stands, we've only managed to get our hands on the Oculus Rift for review, and we've been very impressed with it. There's no shortage of games available at launch and as more and more developers create new experiences, it's only going to get better.
However, the Vive, with it's room-scaling and movement tracking capabilities, looks to be a real contender. On the various occassions we've been able to preview it, the ability to physically move around within the virtual world has been seriously impressive. It makes the whole experience feel that much more real. Of course, we'll have to wait for a final decision once we've reviewed both the Oculus Rift and Vive.
When it comes to the Playstation VR, you get a cheaper and more accessible alternative, with the sacrifice of movement and graphical fidelity. It may be a way off, but if you don't want to spend large amounts buying or upgrading your PC, Sony's offering looks like it's shaping up to be a solid alternative to the pricier headsets.
We can’t wait to see what each device has to offer, and how they will perform once out in the wild. The virtual reality landscape is wildly unpredictable, but undeniably exciting.