Sony announced the price and a narrowed release window for the PlayStation VR last night, and the general consensus seems to be that they got it right. Coming in at ¢399/€399/£349, it’s in line with their previous statements that it would be priced comparably to a new console.
That makes it a lot cheaper than the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, and while that’s a win in one column, there was the statement earlier this week from PlayStation executive vice president Masayasu Ito, saying “If you just talk about the high-end quality, yes, I would admit that Oculus may have better VR.”
So, turning to the specifications, how do the three competing platforms stack up?
Right off the bat, the first difference is in pixel density, with both the Rift and Vive featuring a 1080×1200 resolution per eye that goes beyond what the PS VR can manage at 960×1080. It increases the number of pixels by a quarter and allows for a wider field of view, but this step up doesn’t eliminate the ability to resolve the individual pixels of the display, in my experience with the three devices.
In truth, none of the systems are using all of that resolution anyway, with the image passing through lenses that subtly distort the view into the game world. All of this comes into play when determining what hardware is needed to power and run the VR headsets. A PlayStation 4 is obviously good enough for the PS VR, and the home console is much less powerful in terms of raw specifications than the Core-i5 4590 and Nvidia GTX 970/AMD R9 290 combination for the Rift and Vive.
That’s because, while the PS VR states 120Hz as the top refresh rate, that’s primarily there to smooth out 60 frames per second gameplay. Ideally, games on all three systems will run at an unwavering 90 frames per second, and that’s what the top tier PCs can manage without skimping on graphical fidelity.
Again, the best part of the Sony’s announcement comes from the price. It shaves off a third of the price from the Oculus Rift and is half the price of the HTC Vive, making it much more palatable to the masses – it helps that the PS4 is much cheaper than the PCs needed, as well. But there are hidden costs here. You need the PlayStation Camera, for one thing, which adds another $60/£40 to the mix, and you will have a better experience in some games with a PlayStation Move controller in each hand. Sony are releasing a bundle with all this, but it’s only been announced for the US so far.
The Oculus Rift is also waiting for its motion controllers, the Oculus Touch, to be released later this year, but it includes the player facing camera. The Vive, on the other hand, is everything you could possibly need to get the best out of it and its unique room scale VR proposition. There’s no camera, but there are two Lighthouse base stations which let you mark out a rectangular area to get up and move around in freely, and it also includes two motion controllers right out of the box.
The PS VR has its own unique tricks though. The little black box acts as a power supply and processes 3D audio, which is a vital part of immersing you in VR, but it also splits up the HDMI signal so that the VR view into the world can be played back on the TV at the same time, or to give other people in the room a separate view. Where VR is so often seen as an isolated experience, Sony want to break down the virtual barriers and feature a party atmosphere.
Even with all of the caveats compared to its competitors, there’s a feeling that Sony have got things right with the PS VR’s position. It’s still an expensive addition to your console – with one or two hidden costs – but it’s price is more palatable for the wider market than the premium pricing elsewhere.