PC & Console VR Explained
Virtual Reality is one of the biggest deals in gaming and computing, with dozens of companies trying to grab a slice of this futuristic pie. The amount of choice is great for consumers, but it’s confusing too.
The virtual reality headsets on the market are divided into two mains camps: the PC hardware takes most of the plaudits for high-end performance, are console headsets are beginning to make waves. And then there are smartphone headsets, too.
We’ve delved into the packed market to explain the key differences between PC and console VR – and to help you get you ready for the best virtual reality games.
The Big PC Players:
The PC VR landscape is dominated by the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
The Vive is a cutting-edge headset that delivers a resolution of 2,160 x 1,200 divided between two screens with a 90Hz refresh rate. The Vive has a 110° field of view, and its 32 sensors deliver 360° motion tracking. Its two wireless controllers deploy 24 sensors alongside touchpads and triggers with haptic feedback – perfect for fine control – and there are two wireless base stations.
The Oculus VR headset is similarly impressive. Its two screens deliver the same 2,160 x 1,200 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate as the Vive, alongside the same 110° field of view.
The Oculus tracks movement with infrared LEDs it calls Constellation and a sensor that scans an area of 5 x 11 feet – a little smaller than the Vive, but ample for most users.
The Oculus Touch controller will be launched towards the end of 2016. It’s got analogue sticks, buttons and triggers – just like the Vive – and delivers accuracy to less than a single millimetre. Until then, the Oculus VR headset arrives with an Xbox One wireless controller.
Both headsets have support from some of gaming’s biggest names. Valve promotes the HTC Vive alongside Steam and Steam VR, but the Oculus Rift also works with the world’s biggest PC gaming platform.
Nvidia and AMD are on-board: the former firm has tech demos to show off how VR works on its factory-fresh GTX 10-series graphics cards, and AMD has LiquidVR. That’s a suite of technologies that enables smoother VR experiences on AMD hardware. It’s important to have both of these big name on-board – it means PC games like Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen and other VR games will look their best.
Those are the big PC players – but there are other contenders, too.
The Sulon Q is a spatially aware headset that blends VR technology with the sort of augmented reality features that have only just begun to appear in games like Pokemon Go. Sulon says that its device won’t just be great for gaming – that its spatial abilities mean an augmented version of your house can function as your desktop PC.
It functions by mapping your gameplay space in real-time, and it’s wireless – all of the hardware required is in the headset. That adds freedom, but don’t expect graphical fidelity like on the Vive and Rift – the Sulon Q uses a mid-range AMD Radeon R7 graphics core and a 2,560 x 1,440 screen for console-level visuals.
Sadly, no release date or price has been announced – but given the amount of hardware and proprietary technology inside this headset, don’t expect it to be cheap.
The second mysterious PC contender is the STEM. It’s a wireless motion tracking system that allows gamers free body movement – and it works with virtually any VR-ready game. STEM says that it offers longer range, wireless operation and better tracking performance than the controllers available with other headsets, and its open platform encourages compatibility.
The STEM system doesn’t just work with VR headsets – it’s also compatible with the Razer Hydra motion sensing control system. Technology like this could open VR up to uses beyond games: graphic design and 3D design could both find a home.
STEM is an interesting prospect, but it faces an uphill battle: VR headsets on PC are already being bundled with their own controllers and some will also allow for motion-tracking hardware. It’s not exactly cheap, either – the five-tracker bundle comes with two controllers and three STEM position packs and it’s available for pre-order for a whopping £2,495.
Virtual reality for console is dominated by Sony and its PlayStation VR headset – the device previously known as Project Morpheus.
The PlayStation VR includes one 1080p display that divides between two eyes – so each pupil views a 960 x 1,080 screen. That’s less than the big PC headsets, and the 100° field of view is a little narrower, too. Pleasingly, the 120Hz refresh rate is higher than both of its PC-based rivals, which will mean butter-smooth gaming experiences.
The PSVR looks fantastic and futuristic, and forms to the shape of your head with the push of a button. There aren’t any headphones, though, and the control systems just aren’t as in-depth as those on PC headsets.
Gaming on a PlayStation VR won’t be as high-fidelity as on the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift – the lesser specifications and accessories will see to that. But, conversely, it means that the PlayStation VR will cost £349 when it’s released, with another £100 or so required if you need to buy the PlayStation camera and Move controllers.
Sony says 230 developers are actively working on PSVR titles, and has confirmed that fifty games will be available by the end of 2016. A few big beasts will arrive early, including Batman: Arkham VR, Driveclub VR and Eve: Valkyrie.
The PlayStation VR headset looks like a slick and more affordable bet when compared to the PC – and, right now, it looks like the only option for console gamers. There’s no sign of an Xbox VR headset, with Microsoft gaming Chief Phil Spencer saying that it’s unlikely because it’s difficult for Microsoft to bring something unique to the table when compared to rival products.
That’s not to say that Microsoft won’t eventually unleash its own VR headset or make the Xbox compatible with the Oculus Rift – and Microsoft already does have a couple of irons in the VR fire. The firm packages Xbox controllers with each Oculus Rift, and Rift users can stream Xbox One games to their headset – although they’re only playable in a “virtual cinema” mode.
There’s Microsoft Hololens, too. It’s an augmented reality headset rather than a VR device, and it works by layering 3D graphics and images over the world itself. The headset contains a full Windows 10 PC, and objects are projected onto the device’s screen with lasers – a suitably futuristic-sounding prospect. Right now, though, it’s just a proof of concept, and its development kit costs a cool $3,000.
The VR market isn’t just divided between PC and console headsets – other devices rely on smartphones to bring VR to the masses.
The Samsung Gear VR was one of the first into the market. It was developed with Oculus and works with numerous smartphone models, and it follows a familiar design blueprint: the phone slides into a tray at the front of the headset, with the screen divided by a lens so different images can be delivered to each eye.
The Gear VR only costs about £100 – a boon due to the relative absence of hardware inside the device. A £70 controller is available, too.
Other smartphone firms have jumped onto the bandwagon. The OnePlus Loop VR is similar to the Gear VR but works with a vast array of smartphones, and LG has produced a headset for its G5 smartphone.
Google made waves with its surprising and dirt-cheap Cardboard headset, and the recently announced Daydream – a beefed-up version of the Cardboard that’ll still cost just £69 when it’s released in November 2016.
It works by sliding your phone into a hatch at the front, and it’s made with smart fabric. There’s a button on the top, just like Cardboard, and the controller has a clickable touchpad and a couple of additional buttons. VR content is managed through the Daydream hub, but performance is up in the air right now – not least because it depends on the hardware and screen of the phone used.
There are several key differences between PC and console VR hardware – and hopefully they can help you make a decision about where to invest your cash.
The big PC headsets are the most expensive on the market, but that’s because they’re packed with more hardware and have more innovation when it comes to control methods. The PSVR, on the other hand, is cheaper – but its screens are lower-resolution.
All of these devices will deliver excellent VR experiences, but the expensive PC headsets are perhaps a little more granular, while the more affordable console-level headsets are a little weaker but could be a tad easier to use.
Here at Overclockers UK we’re favouring the PC approach. The HTC Vive is our VR headset of choice, and we’ve got a huge range of VR gaming PCs available – just click here to browse. But, no matter the best VR headset for you, it’ll be an incredible experience – a certain game-changer.