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I had a chance to try out the Oculus Rift with the touch controllers and the PlayStation 4 VR headset when I stepped into Best Buy the other day, then a Vive a few days later. Here is my rundown of the experience. I also want to point out that I was on the sales floor, for the Rift and PSVR, while in a room full of HTC Vive’s that kept interfering with each other. I had to be a little careful not to knock into other people, so I couldn’t really test out the limits of range on either set of hardware. I did get a good sense of what the potential is for all three systems. I’ll keep this straight to the point, and break down all three headsets from top to bottom, including the demos and what they bring to the table. If you’re not too fond of reading; I made a YouTube video about my impressions on the Rift and PSVR down below. If you want to see my impressions on the Vive, scroll down.

I own a Gear VR, and I used a DK2 version of the Rift two years ago; boy has it come along way! I do consider myself a VR junkie, I use my Gear VR almost every day of the week, when I write reviews and make videos for my YouTube channel;  I replay a game a few times to get a good feel for what it offers. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in both my Gear VR headsets. In short I have a pretty solid understanding on what works and doesn’t work in VR.

The Oculus Rift

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Set Up

The Oculus rep, her name was Kiana, booted up the system when we showed up, I Signed in on a iPad, messed around with the touch controller while my wife recorded it for the YouTube video. It was a go; the set up took less than 5 minutes. Kiana did not have to set up from scratch, but from the boot up to playing was quick and easy.

Comfort of the HMD (Head Mounted Display)

The comfort level in the mask was about as perfect as I believe can be achievable at the current level of hardware.  The padding was sufficient around my temples and forehead and didn’t bother me at all. The lenses didn’t fog up, and the field of view was the best I’ve seen;  it didn’t rest the weight on the bridge of my nose or cheeks. The down side was the air gap between my cheeks and nose where there was a fair amount of lightbleed which was a little distracting. I know there are companies out there making comfy head set padding, that seals the head set to the face better and eliminates that, but I think it would cause the lenses to fog up. I’m judging the hardware on what it demoed with; and what you would buy and experience out of the box.

The tether cable wasn’t distracting, and if it wasn’t for the Oculus rep fiddling with it I would have never noticed it at all. The built on head phones didn’t press down on my ears uncomfortably, I could hear the audio adequately even in the loud busy store, and I could hear what was going on around me, which I liked cause I still like to be semi-aware of what going on around me.

The Touch Controllers

The Rift comes with an Xbox one controller but this December they are rolling out their new “standard for gaming” input: The Oculus Touch controllers. They are light, sleek, and work like a dream, the tracking was spot on, no matter which direction I was facing, and the most important was the fact that my hands in VR were where they were supposed be. I’ve been to the void where they use the motion detecting hard ware called leap motion; where it tracks your hands like the Xbox Kinect. It worked really well in the Void experience. (If you have never heard of the Void i’ll post a video below.) However, it was still slightly off. When touching the person next to you, and reaching out to walls you still have a moment when it feels like you are searching before you actually touching it.

There are buttons on the controllers that allow you to mimic four preset hand motions with the extremely sensitive buttons. (See pictures below) A trigger button where your finger rests allows you point when you point in real life, a button on the hand hold which controls the bottom three fingers on your hand.  And your thumb lifts up and down. Now when I say extremely sensitive, all you have to do is lightly put your finger on the buttons, you don’t even have to press them if you don’t want to. You can, however; and when you press them your hands ball into fists. I liked it, it felt natural. They also had rumble packs inside them so when you touched object it gave you a little haptic feedback.

 

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Experiences

Here’s the meat of the fight for me. Cool hardware is really impressive, but how about the games!?  Currently the Oculus Rift has 153 games available in the store and 173 more available with vorpX drivers with bigger titles on the way. That’s not including the different apps you can get, those are straight up games.  Not bad for a game company who just showed up 2 years ago.  Why then, are the demos they choose to show off the new hardware so… how do I say this, Underwhelming.

The game I checked out for my demo was called Unspoken, the visuals were great, and the action would have been fun had I not already invested quite a bit of time with Viral for the Gear VR. This is essentially the same game, with updated graphics. Oh, and you have hands now. See the videos down below to see the game play footage of both games and you decide if my assessment is correct.

There were other demos I could have tried, but I was in Best Buy and a line began forming behind me, so like a gentleman, I passed the rift on to the next person.  So back to why I felt the experiences were so weak. Throwing fire balls is fun, and blocking them with an ice shield, was cool… but I wanted to use my new found hands for grabbing and throwing stuff. Plus there were four total demos to try, that’s right you read that right. Four.

A company with hundreds of VR games at their disposal and they only have four demo’s? Pretty weak sauce Oculus. I wanted to see more! I guess that’s to their credit that I wanted more right? Isn’t that the sole reason why we have demos? Just to give you a taste, a sample, and it’s so good you want more? Well it worked, but I’m not ready to buy it just yet.

 

PlayStation Virtual Reality

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Set Up

This looked a little rough to me, Brian the PlayStation rep told me it took 30 mins to set up the PlayStation VR, granted he had to set up a table, and the back drops, and then unpack all the games and controllers.  And that takes time, I get that, but what I’m talking about is set up to play a game. While I was waiting for my turn I saw the frustration on the reps face when he was trying to get the tracking working for the guy before me, he had to get up and mess with the camera to position it just right. To his credit however he did get it to work, and it made me think; how difficult would this be for me if I had to adjust the camera every time I wanted to change out a game? The Playstation Camera is almost 3 years old technology, the Kinect tracking is better and more complete with feature like motorized tilt.

Comfort of the HMD

The weight of the headset wasn’t bad, the way the headset is engineered it puts most of the weight on the top of your head. Not you’re fore head, or your crown. It has springs that when you push a button on the back of the unit fits snugly on your head. Then you push another button and the mask scoots into your face. It is lined with rubber and I found it a little more distracting than the Rift headset, but there was no light bleed from the bottom, however because of the sealing the face and eyes. I can see moisture being a problem, while this didn’t happen to me; it does happen to me on my Gear VR quite a bit. So is the open gap of the rift a necessary evil in VR? I don’t know, only time will tell I guess.

Tracking was spot on after it was all calibrated, and the frame rate held sturdy even when I was messing around a lot. The field of view I felt was a little small, even slightly smaller than my Gear VR, which was a little disappointing? Why so small Sony? After I started my demo, I was really into the game so it wasn’t so distracting to the point of annoyance.

The cable was really tiny and almost invisible to me. It didn’t pull on me, and while the PlayStation VR headset does not come with its own head phones like the Rift, it does have a plug in jack for your headphone built in the cord to your headset. I mentioned that the cord did not pull on me, that’s probably because I was sitting the whole time and not moving around and twisting about, but nevertheless it was small and not bothersome.

The controllers

Your main controller is the PlayStation controller, but if you want to take advantage of the true depth of the VR experience and have hands in VR; which I highly recommend, you need two PlayStation Move controllers. Otherwise called wii-motes with colored balls on the ends; which do not come with your VR headset so I hope you own them already.  In order for these to work, you need an PlayStation Eye-toy that does not come with your headset either, but if you’re lucky enough to have them… Or just go buy them, it makes the experiences so much more fun. They really compare to the Vive controllers as far as using them, because they are long and skinny and your hands in VR are actually located where the ends of the move controllers are, not where your actual hands are.

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Experiences

With 71 launch games ready to be played right now, The PlayStation VR headset is the lightest line up of all three units. But from what I played, they were the most fun. In my opinion PlayStation has the major titles with games you will play, with Intellectual property’s you crave in VR. Grand Theft Auto any one? Resident evil? C’mon I just made your virtual mouths begin to water already. The Demo line up had something like 12 different demos I could try, that’s more like it!

I played Batman, it was a short demo; only about 10 mins long, but it rocked. It started out with me standing in from of a piano, and I could pick up stuff and throw it around, Alfred walked up to me and I kept throwing stuff at him. It was so much fun.  A phone rang to the left of me and I could pick it up and put it to my ear and listen to the messages, then switch it to my right hand and listen to it in my left ear. Likewise with the weapons, if I wanted to grapple to the right, I could switch weapon hands, and grapple. Good thing batman is ambidextrous. After I went down into the bat cave I could interact with everything, and I wanted to keep playing around with stuff when the demo ended.  By far the most enjoyable demo I have ever played.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I got to try out the Vive a few days later at a meet up. If you don’t know what a meet up is, I’ll explain. You can download an app in your phones app store, called meet up, and what it does is it gets you in touch of like-minded people in your area by starting a group and hosting events. People, who are also into what you are into, can join your group and meet up with you at your events! See Meet up, understand?  Check out the video below of me and my son trying out the Vive at the Meet Up in Salt Lake City Utah, at the University of Utah!

The HTC Vive

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Set Up

By far, the Vive has the longest set up of all three headsets. I guess you could have the light boxes set up on stands like they did at the Meet Up, but other than that it would require screwing brackets into your walls and/or ceiling and having long cables strung around, on the plus side you do get room scale positional tracking. But don’t plan on taking this thing around to show it off once it’s set up. It would take forever taking it up and down.

Comfort of the HMD

The Headset reminds me a lot of my Gear VR, the weight was the same, the padding around my face felt the same, the moisture build up felt the same, the only major difference was; the graphics were better and I could walk around and it would track me. Its comparable to my Gear VR innovator edition.

The cable was a nuisance; It was heavy and it pulled on my neck and it was constantly in the way.  The HMD also doesn’t have the head phones built in, but like the PSVR has a head phone plug close by to plug into. So out of the three it was the most annoying, but room scale VR is something you have to experience, it’s worth every hassle.

The Controllers

The Vive controllers have been out for a while now, and they are already getting an upgrade.  See the picture below, the one on the left is the old style, the one on the right in the new. The new style is mimicking what the touch controllers can do, all the way down to the finger buttons and hand gestures. That must be industry standard for VR input for now, and someday fanboys on each side of the argument will fight which came first, the Touch or the… whatever they end up calling them.

htc-vive-retail-controllers steamvrcontrollersproto

Like I said before I can only judge with what I experienced, and that is the old style; they also don’t have an official name so Reddit users have dubbed them Vivemotes. They are long and heavy and a little awkward at first, they do grow on you however, and in no time you will be using them like a pro.

 

Experiences

Not only are most of all the titles mentioned in the above headsets playable on the Vive, (well.. Maybe not the exclusive titles for the PSVR ) but there are hundreds more that are available on steam VR, by projecting the games into the living room atmosphere, and playable on a big screen TV. So without a doubt The Vive has the largest line up of games. But that does come with a cost; will you ever end up playing most of them? And 45% are half finished demos, only offering 5 to ten minutes of game play.

The game I spent to the most time with wasn’t a demo, but a new game out recently for the Vive called The Tower: Last stand. It was made by developer D/DX Labs, A group of students at the University Of Utah. I’ll put a video to the trailer so you can check it out. I had a fun time playing it. It has plenty of flaws which I’m sure they are working on fixing. But for the most part I had a great time playing it. It’s a tower defense game played from inside the town and an advancing force is trying to break in the tower. There are five levels with five bosses, the last being a giant dragon, you fight at the top of the tower.

The tracking for the controllers kept being confused with other light box units, there were about 6 Vive’s being used in the same area and it was freaking out the tracking. But when it worked it was great fun. Even though the graphics were on par with a cheap Gear VR game, movement around the bad guys was engaging and fun. My son played it for 30 mins, and a large crowd gathered around him and was discussing his strategy’s on how he was evading the bad guys. When he was done, he said.

“ Dad?..  We need this. “

 

Final Verdict

What I find most interesting about the comparisons on all three of these HMD’s, is that; it’s almost like a Rock Paper Scissors Scenario. The Rift had the best hard ware, The Vive has the biggest library of games, The PlayStation VR, while lacking in quantity; the most enjoyable games I’ve played in VR. Both the Vive and Rift need expensive computer to even to use (you can build your own for around 1000$). And even then you need to spend 800$ on the vive, 600$ on the rift (the touch controllers will be about 200$ extra).  The Ps4 has sold 30.2 million units since its launch back in 2013, it already has a humongous base of users with hardware ready machines (ps4 sells for 300$ I bet a price drop is around the holiday corner as well.), whereas the Base model for the PSVR is at 300$ and if you don’t have the move controllers and Eye-toy, can buy the 500$ bundle. A grand total of 800$ for the whole thing! That’s a lot cheaper than the Vive and Oculus price of 1800$ (with a VR ready computer if you don’t have one.)

For me, I own a VR ready monster computer, I do not own a PS4, the immersion of the Oculus is better, content is decent, and  when the Oculus touch controllers come out with the second tracking sensor, the rift can pull off room scale tracking. But for me the immersion factor is the king, that’s the bottom line for VR, I don’t want to fight a huge set of cables, the Rift only has one I need to worry about, instead of four lumped in a heavier cable with the Vive, I like the weight of the Rift the best, and the field of view. So I’m sticking to my original plan of buying a Rift.

But maybe, like me, you have a VR ready computer. And the amount of games and the Tinker ablitity of the Vive appeals more to you, then by all means, buy a vive and enjoy the heck-out of it. If you have a PS4, and really want to jump into the VR scene; without buying a VR ready computer. You should buy a PSVR headset. It’s amazing!  Until a game or experience comes out on either HMD, and becomes a smash hit “need to have game,” all three units have an advantage over the other, it just depends what lesser quality’s you feel you can tolerate the most from either one you choose.

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