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Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: VR Tech Compared

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Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: VR Tech Compared
Project Morpheus

Sony has announced Project Morpheus. It is the PS4’s virtual reality headset, set to bring Oculus Rift-like experiences to next-gen console owners.

But is it really better than the Oculus? We’ve compared the two to find out which is really the future of ‘virtual reality’ gaming.

SEE ALSO: Xbox One vs PS4

Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: Field of ViewBlue border

The most important factor in any video headset is what its screen looks like when it’s on your head – and in this respect they’re a little different. Prototype specs released for Project Morpheus suggest it’ll be a bit less 'all encompassing' than Oculus Rift.

Its field of view is 90 degrees, where Oculus provides approximately 110 degrees coverage in both horizontal and vertical fields. Our natural field of view if almost 180 degrees, but much of the extremes are far peripherals, largely discounted by the conscious mind.

Sony is "considering numerous possibilities", though, so the final Morpheus unit may well have a larger field of view.

There are benefits to not using quite as all-encompassing a display, though. In order to turn a standard display into one that wraps around your field of view, displays like the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus uses lenses, and these cause image distortion – early versions of the Rift shows serious colour distortion that showed up as blur fringing around objects in your peripheral vision.

We imagine Sony’s decision to use a slightly less ambitious lens configuration may be in order to offer better all-round image quality than the Oculus Rift. Camera lenses are actually use a series of 5-6 or more lens elements in order to avoid this sort of distortion, but when virtual reality headsets need to get smaller to gain any kind of mainstream acceptance, it seems unlikely we’ll see a complicated multi-lens optical configuration in either the final Project Morpheus or Oculus Rift.

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: Display and Image QualityBlue border

Oculus Rift has been through a bunch of iterations to date, each featuring a slightly different display. The latest, called Crystal Cove, uses an OLED display of 1080p resolution. That gives 960 x 1080 pixels per eye.

Early versions of the Oculus Rift used a 1,280 x 800 pixel LCD screen. Problems with this early screen include poor colour reproduction, extremely low resolution - given how large the display appears - and motion blur. Image blur when turning your head is a big cause of motion sickness when using VR headsets like this.

Refresh/response rates in LCDs are almost universally slower than OLED screens, explaining the decision to move to OLED. A good LCD response rate might be around 16 milliseconds, where an OLED can get down to 0.1ms. Faster response times mean less likelihood of vomming all over your controller while playing Call of Duty 7.

Project Morpheus’s development sees quite a different trajectory to Oculus Rift, if we consider that it’s a successor to the HMZ-series personal viewer headsets Sony has made since 2011. Those 'non-gaming' headsets use OLED screens, but the prototype of Project Morpheus has an LCD display. Sony has not released any information about its response times, though.

Like the Oculus’s, it’s a 1080p resolution display that gives 960 (horizontal) by 1080 (vertical) pixels per eye. Why an LCD when there are clear issues with using such tech in a headset? We imagine it’s a cost-saving measure, required in order to allow it to sell at a remotely mainstream (as yet unannounced) price.

Neither headset is going to give you super-sharp visuals, as both cover much more of your vision than any TV in a ‘normal’ position. Even people with projectors firing onto big walls tend to have a setup that takes up a relatively small percentage of their field of view.

This lack of resolution is made all the more serious when we consider that this extended field of view issue means that the natural 'goal' of a virtual reality headset like this is to have it render more of a scene than you’d see on a PS4 piping out video to a 42-inch TV. To even have it produce the same impression of sharpness as a 1080p TV without this factor, you’d need to use a 2160 x 1080 pixel screen – bringing 1080p visuals to each eye. We’ve not seen any video glasses/headset to date with such a high-resolution.

In summary, there are still a few generations’ worth of development to be done here.

Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: 3D QualityBlue border

As both the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus designs separate the screens for each eye, their images should theoretically be 100 per cent crosstalk-free. Crosstalk is a 'ghosting' of images caused when a 3D image signal comes from what’s effectively a single source – a projector, a TV and so on.

Any issues with the quality of the 3D experience on offer with either of these systems will be down to intrinsic display quality issues, poor software optimisation and problems with the head tracking hardware/software. As more of an indie project, we’re likely to see a bit more of this in some Oculus Rift projects. But that’s just an informed guess.

Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: Game SupportBlue border

Project Morpheus is a PS4 product. While we imagine it may be hacked in time to work with PC software, it will only officially support PS4 games. How wide support will be is currently unknown.

Some important developers have likely known about plans for the headset for some time, but many are getting their first look at the headset at the GDC conference in San Francisco (which takes place from 19-21 March 2014). It will undoubtedly take a while for Morpheus support to make its way into games, especially third-party ones. And Sony has not yet told us when the headset will actually be available. It won’t be next month, that’s for sure.

Games already support the Oculus Rift headset, but they are predominantly indie ‘scene’ titles rather than AAA releases. One of the most vocal supporters of the Oculus Rift is Valve, and it has already brought support to Half-Life 2. However, that one of the biggest-name games to feature support to date is Euro Truck Simulator 2 tells you what stage we’re currently at. It is early days but plenty of players are tinkering with the Oculus already.

Many developers have announced their plans to support Oculus Rift, but it seems like an obvious thing for them to drop when it comes to crunch time.

Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: Head and Motion TrackingBlue border

The Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus prototype use very similar systems to perform head and motion tracking. It incorporates the readouts of – primarily – an accelerometer, a gyroscope and the information gathered by a camera that sits, most likely, above your TV.

In the Oculus Rift Crystal Cove edition, the camera tracks the dots on the front of the headset. Images of the Morpheus prototype suggest it will use five PlayStation Move-style LED lights for the same purpose – one at each corner of the visor and one on the back to allow 360-degree tracking.

Using LEDs has one clear benefit – it’ll work in a pitch black room. As far as I know, the Crystal Cove dots are not luminescent.

The Oculus does have one additional sensor that the Morpheus appears to lack, though – a magnetometer. This measures magnetic fields, and is used in conjunction with the accelerometer and gyroscope to provide more accurate yaw readings – an interesting blog on the Oculus Rift website tells you more about how the Magnetometer is used.  

Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus: AudioBlue border

Neither of these headsets has inbuilt speakers or earphones/headphones. It’s a sensible move, as to fit in anything decent would ramp up the price, and we all have different tastes in headphone sound and style anyway.

However, part of the Morpheus project/support is audio processing that will give the same sort of 3D experience in sound as the headset’s visuals. Sony says it "re-creates stereoscopic sounds in all directions and changes in real-time depending on your head orientation."

What this equates to is an extremely active version of the sort of surround DSP you can find in some gaming headsets – one that changes its processing depending on the position of your head. It sounds like a technical nightmare, but one that could yield pretty great results.

Which is better? Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus
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At this point, we can only cop out in our conclusion – it’s too early to tell which of these is better. Morpheus’s support potential is truly exciting, but its use of an LCD screen is a little worrying, judging by our previous experience. And in its prototype form, the lesser field of view of the Morpheus means it may not have quite the jaw-dropping visual impact of the Crystal Cove edition of Oculus Rift.

However, both of these gadgets are soaring to the top of our ‘most wanted’ list.

Next, read about the 6 Games Crying Out for Project Morpheus Support

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