T’is the season to buy a little VR and the competition is as hot and heavy as a 90’s headset. An odd middle segment that resides between mobile and premium has been brought to confuse consumers a little further thanks to Microsoft VR and it’s many partners ranging from Dell to Lenovo. While they’re an interesting competitor this article will focus on the premium VR headsets. If you want the best experiences available, then you’re looking at these devices Learn a little more about Microsoft’s mixed reality headsets in our blog post.
PlayStation VR Headset Review
Estimated setup time: 30 minutes
The PSVR is the easiest of the three main premium VR headsets to set up… but not by much. When I first put the kit together I was taken aback by the difficulty of something that I thought was going to be plug-n-play. As I plugged cords into the front and back of a small companion box it became obvious that the system wasn’t meant for the strain and the superfluous docking station, Sony Camera and Move Controllers had dog-piled Sony’s big black box.
Full setup is as follows: headset, two Move Controllers, Camera and the processor unit. While that seems like an awesome bare minimum for getting started, the truth is that the processor unity has six plugins and an odd slider that finger-cuffs both ends of it in the least intuitive way possible.
As you begin the setup of the PlayStation VR headset, you’ll need to keep in mind that the camera is blind as a bat for its first two feet so often it’s best to mount it on top of your television (another pain in the butt). It’s also as light sensitive as a vampire so if you’re not living in your parents’ basement (thanks Sony for thinking that all gamers live with grandma) you’ll need to be wary of all that evil natural light coming into your underground lair.
While the PSVR easily boasts the most sales it’s just not the best experience. They have a massive install base of PlayStations and the first to the VR party are gamers. It’s a good ecosystem to be in and I would never tell someone to not buy a PSVR… unless they didn’t have a PlayStation.
PlayStation VR headset - PROS:
Easiest setup and most comfortable headset make this purchase a no-brainer for PlayStation owners who want to get into VR. It’s also backed by Sony and that means it’s connected to an infrastructure, existing social connections and a well-designed PlayStation store.
PlayStation VR headset - CONS:
PSVR uses old tech to achieve VR. The loss of tracking is real. I’m always trying to find my controller and re-positioning. Move controllers are my least favorite of the three systems. The mostly sitting experience of the PSVR is the least immersive of the bunch.
Oculus Rift VR Headset Review
Estimated setup time: 45 minutes
The Rift is a pretty easy setup as well, but I’d put it at a tad higher because of the software install process and the Touch controllers. To have a similar experience beyond the Xbox controller (which I’ve always thought was a strange marriage) Rift daisy-chained in a second Oculus Constellation tracker so that it could semi-compete with Vive’s full room scale.
Rift requires 4 USB and an HDMI port. It’s not that big of a deal really but I personally hate the Constellation tracker. Maybe it’s me but they’re always getting knocked over or losing me and the cords get all twisty and annoying if you are setting them up in different places.
Oculus Rift VR Headset - PROS:
At the moment, there’s a $399.00 bundle special that comes with 6 very good games. I am not sure how long this promotion will last, but that’s some serious value right there, and if I were buying a system I would take that into serious consideration. Also, the Touch controllers are very nice. They feel light and natural in your hands.
This thing’s also connected to Facebook. While they’re not doing anything transformative right now, there’s going to be a time that Social VR is going to be a massive thing that connects the world in ways we haven’t yet imagined. I believe that Rift is in it for the longest of hauls and that makes it a pretty darn good investment.
Oculus Rift VR Headset - CONS:
Oculus Rift has a clean look but in every way, seems a little bit hollow inside. They didn’t see the importance of room scale until after Vive took market share, and then in a reactionary fashion they put a nice shellack of lipstick on the old piggy-pig and dressed it up for the party.
HTC Vive VR Headset Review
Estimated setup time: 1 hour
The base stations are the biggest pain in the butt with the Vive so let’s just get that out of the way. You could get some strong double-sided tape but the best bet is to just give in and screw them into the wall. Hopefully your landlord won’t ding your deposit for this (Vive owners don’t live in grandma’s basement). In the end, the base stations are the key differentiator in setup and payoff; they make the Vive experience surpass PSVR and Rift.
The remainder of setup is relatively the same as Rift, but it does seem more permanent. There are 16 items in the box but that daunting number is reduced when you realize that the number includes headphones, a cleaning cloth and one slightly unnecessary connecting cord for the base station. In a time of duress, I was able to set up and have a Vive running a demo in less than five minutes. While impressive, that number negates any software computer setup.
If you’re worried about moving the base station or setting it up at friends’ houses, then you can use tripod light stands for the base station. Keep in mind that Vive is the go-to HMD for conventions and they’ve proven to be pretty resilient.
HTC Vive VR Headset - PROS:
This is the Cadillac of premium VR headsets. The most wonderfully lost I’ve been in VR has been Vive every time. True room scale can’t be mimicked by Oculus or PSVR and the support from Steam is strong. Having a good developer community making indie games is pretty damn great.
HTC Vive VR Headset - CONS:
It’s just cumbersome. There’s more setup here and everything seems to weigh just a little bit more. The Vive is and always has been the most expensive as well.
My Final Thoughts on Premium VR Headset Comparison
The degree of difficulty in setting up the premium VR headset, is directly related to how good your virtual reality experience is going to be. It’s like picking a prom date. You’re probably going to go the extra mile to lock down that good looking guy with the cool hair or the girl in homeroom that doesn’t have a mustache. The Vive is hands down the best machine on the market, but Rift has some compelling titles and is aimed at doing more on the social side of things. Then, the PSVR is in a strange area by itself that makes it more approachable via price and setup.
The two biggest factors for purchasing a premium VR headset are the computer or gaming system that you already have and the experience that you want to. If you have a PlayStation sitting around and you’re willing to dish out some bills for a little VR then it might be an easy decision. If you have or are willing to buy a computer that’s powerful enough to run the Rift or Vive then go that way. Yes, HTC Vive requires the most setup but it’s easily the best experience out there so far. If you’re putting in that extra time and have that extra dime, then drill up those walls.
In conclusion, I’ve owned all of them but I’m not a huge fanboy of any of these premium headsets. I am a huge fanboy of VR and the more active people we have the better we all are. These are my honest opinions and I hope that they help you in your decision.