HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift vs PlayStation VR: VR broadcasts planned for Rio Olympics

, Vs
14 Jul, 2016

NBC to offer 85 hours of VR sports programming for US customers

Virtual reality will indisputably be the next big thing in computing, with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony’s PlayStation VR all vying for a piece of the action. 

Whether it’s going to be a genuine revolution or merely a flash-in-the-pan gimmick is still a subject of debate, but it’s clear that the next six months are going to see some big changes in the nascent VR market.

We examine the credentials of all three main players to see who's ahead in the major categories of games, display, features and more.

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HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift vs PlayStation VR: latest news

14/07/2016: Samsung Gear VR users in the US will be able to view 85 hours of virtual reality programming from the Rio Olympics.

US broadcaster, NBC, owned by Comcast, will be distributing the first-ever VR programming of Olympic events at this summer’s Games in Rio, from 5-21 August.

The company has partnered with Samsung, the official smartphone Olympics sponsor, to offer its VR broadcasts.

VR programming will be shot by the Olympic Broadcasting Service, which is tasked with capturing footage for all international broadcasters. It will be show on a day behind the regular live broadcasts. The schedule VR videos will include opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, beach volleyball, boxing, diving, fencing, gymnastics and men’s basketball.

In order to view NBC’s VR coverage of 2016 Olympics, US users will need to download the NBC Sports app to their Galaxy smartphone.

20/05/2016: Disney has released a VR experience for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, featuring iconic scenes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Captain America: Civil War and The Jungle Book.

The app, called Disney Movies VR, is composed of approximately six 360-degree locales from the film studio’s latest releases. The Jungle Book area includes an interactive 3D scene involving central character, King Louis.

It also includes an interactive lobby, where users can then select one of three ‘parks’, styled to reflect the Disney, Lucasfilm and Marvel universes.

Early reactions to the app have been lukewarm, citing its lack of interactivity, as well as the execution of some of Disney’s previous VR experiments.

Disney entered into a partnership with Nokia in April to produce cinematic VR content for its OZO virtual reality camera.

The Disney Movies VR app takes up 3GB of space, and to run it, users must have Windows 8 64-bit or later with an Intel i5-4590 processor equivalent or greater.

Disney Movies VR can be downloaded from Steam. You can see a video below.

15/04/2016: Oculus condemns cross-platform software hack

Oculus has condemned a software hack that allows users to play Rift-exclusive content on the HTC Vive.

There has been some controversy over the state of cross-platform compatibility between HTC and Oculus' VR headsets, with repeated calls from consumers to open up the devices' ecosystems.

Now, however, an enterprising fan has taken the matter into their own hands, creating a tool to let users hack certain Oculus Rift titles to run on the HTC Vive.

The Github repo, called Revive, works by translating Oculus Runtime functions to OpenVR calls. The software currently only works with Oculus Dreamdeck and launch title Lucky's Tale, both of which need to be individually patched in order to run.

Oculus has unequivocally denounced the project, stating "this is a hack, and we don't condone it."

The company also implied that it would be fixing the loopholes used by the program with future updates, and said: "users should expect that hacked games won't work indefinitely".

However, the company could be facing tough questions from fans. Founder Palmer Luckey has repeatedly stated that Oculus "can only extend our SDK to work with other headsets if the manufacturer allows us to do so", but Valve told Digital Trends that all the necessary tools "are documented in the freely available OpenVR APIs".

08/04/2016: The three biggest VR headsets will drive over 75 per cent of the industry's market value in 2016 while making up less than 15 per cent of total shipments, analysts have predicted.

Market research firm Strategy Analytics has said that while products from Sony, Oculus and HTC will provide most of the VR market's estimated £631 million 2016 revenues, cheaper mobile VR devices will make up almost 90 per cent of units sold.

The firm is expecting 12.8 million VR devices to be sold this year, with sophisticated gaming VR making up a mere 1.7 million.

Despite this, the high price tag of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive mean that PC and PS4 VR will make up 77 per cent of this figure, for a value of almost £486 million.

Alongside these high-value niche products will be a wave of more affordable headsets designed to work with modern smartphones. This includes Samsung's sub-£100 Gear VR and Google's free Cardboard viewer.

These will provide an entry-level VR experience that analysts predict will act as a "gateway drug", spurring users to investigate more high-quality systems.

"Consumers will soon be exposed to an incredible diversity of virtual reality options", Strategy Analytics director Cliff Raskind said, "ranging from ultra-low cost to super premium."

He went on to highlight the potential crossover into other fields. "We believe VR has the potential to fuel a new tech spec race in hardware areas such as display resolution, GPUs, storage and 360-degree cameras."

16/03/2016: PlayStation VR will launch for £350 in October, Sony has revealed.

While it will launch without the associated PlayStation Camera and Move peripherals, the total cost for a PS4 and PlayStation VR headset is less than the HTC Vive on its own, and not that far in front of the Oculus Rift.

PSVR will debut with a strong third-party library, and the company has said that at least 50 games will be coming to the device between October and the end of the year.

This includes both previously announced games like 100-foot Robot Golf and RIGS, as well as previously unannounced content such as some PSVR-exclusive content for Star Wars: Battlefront.

Sony will also be releasing some first-party content, including The Playroom VR, which it used to show off the device last year, and PlayStation VR Worlds, a collection of five shorter titles developed by Sony’s London Studios.

These have also been used extensively as demo content, and include The London Heist, Into The Deep and VR Luge, as well as two unannounced titles; Danger Ball and Scavenger’s Odyssey.

10/03/2016: Top Sony execs have revealed that PlayStation VR won't be as good as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but will be substantially cheaper.

In an interview with Polygon, the company's PlayStation vice president Masayasu Ito confessed that other headsets will be more impressive, saying "if you just talk about the high-end quality, yes, I would admit that Oculus may have better VR".

The important thing, he said, was the affordability and accessibility of PSVR when compared to competitors that need expensive and sophisticated PCs.

"The biggest advantage for Sony is our headset works with PS4. It's more for everyday use, so it has to be easy to use and it has to be affordable. This is not for the person who uses a high-end PC. It's for the mass market."

The affordability of PSVR is a priority, Ito said, directed by Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House. Senior Sony figures have been shocked by the price of PSVR's PC-based rivals, with Sony Studios head Shuhei Yoshida stating that early messaging indicated it would be cheaper.

As part of the interview, Yoshida also added more credibility that The London Heist would arrive as a fully-fledged release in the form of a new Getaway game. He stated that none of the previously seen tech demos had been announced as full titles - "yet".

07/03/2016: Gaming platform Steam will sell VR titles for different platforms, despite its owner, Valve, being involved in creating the HTC Vive

Valve boss Gabe Newell confirmed Steam's open approach in an email responding to a fan's question, who had asked whether Steam and the Oculus Store would be walled-gardens or not.

"Developers who have VR titles for non-Vive HMDs can sell on Steam", Newell replied, adding: "Customers should be able to buy VR content at whatever store they want to."

While it is not clear whether Facebook-owned Oculus shares this point of view, it is an early indication of a route the VR industry could go down, with speculation surrounding the willingness of companies to sell content that works with rivals' devices.

As the largest digital gaming platform around, it would benefit other VR companies if Steam opened its platform to them.

But Newell added that "the Vive isn't tied to Steam", suggesting that Vive users could buy their content from other stores too.

02/02/2016: Nintendo is officially looking into VR technology, it has been revealed.

During its latest earnings call, the company hinted that it may be next to enter the increasingly crowded VR market, according to analyst Serkan Toto.

The notoriously secretive Japanese giant gave no details of its plans other than the fact that its staff “are looking” at the possibility.

Nintendo would be the last major gaming corporation to throw its hat into the virtual and augmented reality ring. 

Its main rivals, Sony and Microsoft, have both got flagship headsets in the works (although Microsoft’s HoloLens is not exclusively a gaming device), with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift set to dominate PC VR gaming.

Nintendo has had little commercial success with recent hardware. Its Wii U console has sold just 12.6 million units to date, in comparison to the Xbox One and PS4, which have sold 19 million and 36 million units respectively.

In light of declining sales, the company could well be eyeing the emerging VR market – which has an estimated valuation of $80 billion by 2025 – as a way to bring in new revenue.

Most of Nintendo’s financial hopes are reportedly being placed on its forthcoming console, codenamed the ‘NX’, and it’s possible that it could feature some form of VR technology.

However, the company will likely be more than a little hesitant to get back into the VR market, after being burned by earlier attempts.

The Virtual Boy, released in 1995, was a widely-derided flop, the stigma of which has only recently stopped tainted further attempts at VR technology.

VR is also incredibly expensive to develop, requiring both high-powered internal hardware and sophisticated lenses and displays, neither of which the company has a particular pedigree in.

What the company does have extensive skill with, on the other hand, is software development. 

Nintendo recently made the decision to start exploiting the colossal market for smartphone games, with its first mobile title Miitomo coming in March.

It’s not a huge leap, then, to imagine that the company may choose to work with the existing mobile VR framework created by devices like Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR.

This way, Nintendo could release VR titles without having to develop its own hardware, leaving the company free to do what it does best – create innovative games.

Whether or not this actually happens remains to be seen, as the company previously proved reticent to enter the mobile market at all, let alone the barely-proven mobile VR industry. 

If Nintendo is moving into VR technology though, this looks like its most likely route.

25/01/2016: The virtual and augmented reality market will be worth $80 billion by 2025, according to a leaked Goldman Sachs report.

The report, put together by the company’s investment research division, looks at the current state of the market, as well as historical adoption trends for platforms like smartphones and tablets.

An $80 billion market is the company’s “base case scenario”, made up of $45 billion in hardware and a further $35 billion in software.

It also speculates that the uptake could balloon to a value of $182 billion with sufficient technological breakthroughs, or reach just $23 billion if hindered by slow adoption.

The report also breaks down the key vertical markets that VR and AR could play into.

The largest is, of course, gaming – by 2025, the report’s base case assumptions predict that 216 million gamers will be using head-mounted displays, with the VR/AR gaming industry valued at $11.6 billion.

However, the fields with the highest proportional value, the company says, will be healthcare and engineering.

With just 3.4 million and 3.2 million users respectively, the two industries are predicted to be worth a combined total of $9.8 billion.

This is alongside other use-cases such as real estate, retail, video entertainment and education.

“We see qualities in VR/AR technology that can take this from niche use cases to a device as ubiquitous as the smartphone,” the report stated.

“In the long run, if VR/AR technology becomes as lightweight as a set of glasses, we see the potential for the evolution to be similar where multiple devices are combined into one, potentially replacing phones and PC environments.”

04/01/2016: GPU giant Nvidia has announced a tool to let users know if their machine can handle virtual reality.

The company’s GeForce GTX VR Ready program is designed to analyse a machine’s specs, and then decide whether or not it’s optimised for use with VR headsets.

The decision is based on comparison with a list of recommended specifications, with 8GB of RAM, an Intel Core i5-4590 or equivalent and an Nvidia GTX 970 (for desktops) as a minimum.

The specs are almost identical to Oculus’ own list of hardware recommendation - with the notable exception that Oculus also lists AMD’s graphics card as a possible alternative. Nvidia, for obvious reasons, does not.

For machines that meet these requirements, Nvidia will be doling out “GTX VR Ready” badges, proudly declaring their accreditation.

This is in addition to the similar ‘Oculus-Ready’ branding scheme being undertaken by the Rift’s manufacturer.

Naturally, Nvidia’s new tool and minimum specs apply to the PC-based HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, rather than Sony’s PlayStation VR.

HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift vs PlayStation VR: release date

Virtual reality has seemed like a far-off pipe dream for many years, but it’s actually getting pretty close; within the next six months, all three major players will have released their headsets. 

HTC’s Vive is the first to receive an officially-confirmed launch window, arriving in April 2016. After that, there are the consumer versions of the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. 

Oculus has just announced the shipping date for the first pre-orders of its headset, and those who've already placed an order can expect their devices by March.

However, demand is already outstripping supply, and the expected shipping date for new orders has now changed to April.

PlayStation VR is still the only one that has not announced a concrete release date. The closest we've got is a vague window of the second half of 2016. 

HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift vs PlayStation VR: price

The early Oculus Rift price estimates proved to be almost right, with the cost for pre-orders running to $599.99, before tax and shipping. No UK pricing has been given, but with currency conversion and import tax taken into account, the final price for Britons is roughly around £500.

The other companies are playing their cards pretty close to their chests regarding the retail pricing of their devices, but there are a few clues that can be inferred from what we know already. 

The HTC Vive, for example, will almost certainly be a little pricier than its rivals as executives have stated their aim of providing “a premium VR experience”. “We know there is some pent-up demand”, executives have said, “so there’s not so much price sensitivity early on".

Based on this, we can surmise that the HTC Vive’s initial retail price will be around the £500 mark, potentially dropping in price to compete with rivals as and when they emerge.

PlayStation VR is something of a wild card in terms of price. Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida previously stated that the headset’s price would be "as low as possibly can be done", but Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House has pegged the eventual retail price as equivalent to that of a new gaming platform.

With the PS3 and PS4's launch prices in mind, this would suggest that Sony is aiming to release PlayStation VR for around £350. This is unconfirmed, however, and may change by the time it actually hits shelves.

If this all sounds alarmingly expensive, don’t worry – a space with this many players in it is naturally going to see stiff market competition, and we’d expect this to drive some not insignificant price drops within the first six months.  

HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift vs PlayStation VR: specs

At this juncture, firm statistics and specifications are somewhat thin on the ground, as none of the devices have yet had a full release. We do have some figures, however, some of which are useful for establishing a baseline. 

One figure we can be fairly certain of is the Oculus Rift’s resolution – the consumer model is set to run at 2160 x 1200. That’s one display, split across both eyes, and equates to a per-eye resolution of 1080 x 1200.

This was revealed in a blog post by Oculus’s chief architect, Atman Binstock, and can be assumed to be fairly accurate. It is, however, subject to change, and could be scaled up closer to the Rift’s launch.

While there are currently no available specs for the HTC Vive’s finished model, the developer edition is also listed with a resolution of 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye. As this is only a preliminary dev kit, this could conceivably receive an upgrade for the consumer version, but it’s equally possible that this will be the device’s final display.

PlayStation VR is currently trailing a little behind the pack on display, with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, also divided between both eyes. In practise, this gives it a resolution of 960 x 1080 for each eye, which is less than both of its main competitors. This is something that we expect will improve substantially prior to the device’s market debut. 

Project Morpheus release date, price, specs and games

Particularly in terms of display resolution, it’s wise to take all of this information with a pinch of salt. Not only is it still officially unconfirmed, it’s also arguably not that relevant. That's because, after a certain point, the levels of immersion generated by VR effectively force your brain to ignore any visual flaws, glossing over any pixelation or colour issues.

What are far more important are the frame rate (also known as the refresh rate) and the latency. The often imperceptible delay between moving your head and the game responding was a persistent cause of motion sickness in early VR tests, as were the frame rates of the first headsets.  

While 60fps is widely regarded as the gold standard for current-gen gaming, it’s not sufficient when the screen is inches from a user’s eyeballs. The usually near-imperceptible flickering effect caused by the ‘missing’ frames is greatly exacerbated by the user’s proximity to the display.

Instead, most manufacturers have opted for a higher refresh rate – around 90Hz in most cases. Both the Vive and the Rift operate at this frame rate, but PlayStation VR has reportedly upped the frame rate to a blistering 120fps.

It remains to be seen whether the difference is noticeable enough to justify opting for PlayStation VR over any competitors, but it’s likely that refresh rates will see successive upgrades as VR technology progresses.

HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift vs PlayStation VR: features

While precision head tracking was a jaw-dropping innovation when it was first seen on the Oculus Rift, it’s become more or less the minimum requirement for a VR headset. Companies are now rushing to supplement head-tracking with other killer features, most of which are currently focused around motion control.

Both the Rift and PlayStation VR have unveiled efforts at motion control systems. PlayStation VR uses a set of PlayStation Move controllers, remnants from an earlier attempt to jump on the Wii’s bandwagon. 

It’s a great use for a system that was severely underwhelming at launch and feels like the use case that Move has been waiting for since day one. PlayStation VR is also set to be compatible with the motion control elements built into the standard Dualshock 4 gamepad. 

Oculus revealed the consumer version of its VR headset at an event just before this year’s E3 show and, in a surprise announcement, also showed off Oculus Touch for the first time. 

Functionally identical to PlayStation Move batons, the ‘half moon’ prototypes shown off at the event come as a matched set, with each controller featuring a thumbstick, trigger and two buttons, as well as precision hand-tracking.

For gamers that prefer to play with more traditional inputs, the Oculus Rift will be bundled with an Xbox One controller at launch. It’s likely that the majority of games will use traditional controls towards the start of VR’s lifespan as developers still aren’t totally familiar with the new peripherals.

While PlayStation VR and the Oculus Rift have been working on integrating hand-tracking with their devices, HTC and Valve have taken it one step further. While the HTC Vive also has hand-tracking, courtesy of two motion wands with the standard complement of triggers, buttons and trackpads, it also provides room tracking.

Two ‘lighthouse’ base stations mounted in either corner of the room map out a playable area from three square feet up to 15 square feet. Players can then move around this space at will, with their movements in real space translating to in-game motion in real time. 

It’s an unprecedented innovation, and it works superbly, both in terms of function and for creating a sense of immersion within the game. Out of all of the VR systems we’ve tested (all of which, it’s worth noting, have been early developer prototypes), the HTC Vive was the most impressive by far.

HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift vs PlayStation VR: games

As with any new gaming-focused technology, a strong library of titles is going to be the only thing that powers mass adoption. In this respect, both the Vive and the Rift will do well right out of the gate.

As PC devices, they’ll have access to Steam and its sizeable library of pre-existing VR content. On top of this, indie and Triple-A developers alike are working on new games and experiences for the platform, including Valve itself.

The Surgeon Simulator game will be available on all three VR platforms

PlayStation VR is no slouch, either. This year’s games conventions have held plenty of teases for Morpheus’ upcoming titles, from the sporty battle-mech combat of Rigs to indie adventure game The Assembly.

Among the more impressive displays is The London Heist. While technically still a tech demo, the two sections that have been shown to fans so far have nonetheless been astoundingly well-received, and the VR crim-sim seems destined for release as a flagship title for Sony’s headset.

However, it’s more than likely that until the long-term viability of VR has been concretely proven, PlayStation VR and its ilk will be used more for optional modes than for standalone experiences, as indicated by comments from Shawn Layden, CEO of SCEA.

Realistically, there’s going to be no shortage of launch games for any of the big three VR headsets, but continued investment and adoption will lead to bigger, better and more exciting content.