Which VR setup is best for me?
Ready for a showdown?! Let's explore the ins and outs of Gear VR (2016 edition) and PSVR to see which one is best suited for your VR expectations.
Quick-reference spec table
|Category||PlayStation VR||Gear VR|
|Resolution||1920 x 1080||2560 x 1440|
|Field of view||~100 degrees||101 degrees|
|Price for HMD||$399||$99|
Arguably the most important aspect of VR is the display. A poor image — one that stutters, is low resolution, and has a screen-door effect — isn't going to be much fun and will lessen the immersion effects of VR.
PSVR and Gear VR both have similar displays in the sense that both have a single horizontal screen that is split up — one half for each eye. The Gear VR display depends on the phone you're using, but all compatible phones — Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy Note 7, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy S6 edge+, Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge — have a resolution of 2560 x 1440.
Although the phones' resolutions are higher than the PSVR's 1920 x 1080 resolution, Gear VR suffers from screen-door effect due to less subpixels. You're going to see a grid of lines no matter what you're looking at, something you won't find when using PSVR.
There is no interpupillary control on the Gear VR, but there is a scroll wheel to change the distance between lenses and your eyes. PSVR has no manual control, but apparently it will all be controlled automatically with software, and the settings will be saved to your PSN ID. No matter what PlayStation 4 you log into, you'll be able to have the correct settings for your eyes.
Field of view is about the same in both head-mounted displays (HMD); Sony claims PSVR will have approximately 100 degrees, while the Gear VR has a 101-degree field of view. Where the two systems differ greatly is the refresh rate.
PSVR boasts a 120Hz refresh rate — it can redraw every pixel 120 times per second. This contributes to an incredibly smooth picture that won't leave you feeling sick. On the other hand, Gear VR only has a 60Hz refresh rate. The picture is not as smooth, and some people especially susceptible to motion sickness could find themselves feeling nauseous.
Comfort and design
Having been lucky enough to give PSVR a trial run, I can honestly say it is the most comfortable HMD I've used. Instead of using elastic straps to attach to your face like Gear VR, PSVR has a halo that fits comfortably around your head. The display sort of hangs down without feeling like it's going to fall off.
Don't get me wrong; I've spent plenty of time in the previous Gear VR model not worrying about comfort, and the newer model is even better. PSVR is just a different design, and it works great.
When it comes to light bleed, Gear VR is the winner. The only bit of light that sometimes gets let in is from a gap at the top of your nose, and this only happens if the HMD isn't sitting perfectly. PSVR, however, lets in quite a bit more light around the cheeks — rubber flaps are designed to sit flush against your face, but don't quite get the job done. Hopefully the flaps loosen over time to fit closer and give a darker experience, but in the test run they were definitely too rigid to keep out light.
For the glasses-wearers out there, both VR HMDs will fit comfortably over your specs.
Here's where things greatly differ: Gear VR is primarily a seated experience. Yes, you can look around in a 360-degree space, but getting up and walking around your room isn't going to draw any results. While this may be just fine for some VR users, real immersion lies in being able to move around your VR space and interact with the virtual world.
PSVR uses the PS4 camera, a necessary accessory, to track your movements in space — Sony recommends about 60 square feet as a play area. You can, of course, use PSVR while sitting down, but, as mentioned, you're going to want to move around for a full VR experience.
Adding to the motion tracking and immersion aspect of PSVR are the Move controllers. These will be tracked by the PS4 camera, giving you virtual hands in VR. It's a great way to play shooters, as you can hold the pistol up to your eye and aim down the sights, and it's also a great way to interact with your environment. You really feel like you're existing within when you can get your arms and legs moving.
There are currently only a handful of games that will support the PlayStation Move controllers, but it's safe to assume as time goes by more will be added. In the meantime, Sony's DualShock 4 controller will take most of the burden. While you can stand up and move around in PSVR, your hands will be occupied with the controller. This isn't ideal, but it's better than nothing, and is currently what Oculus Rift users are dealing with.
Gear VR features a D-pad on the right side of the HMD that is quite useful, but your arm is going to get incredibly sore holding it up there if you're in the midst of a marathon gaming session. Luckily, you can pair any Bluetooth controller to the Gear VR for when you're planning on gaming. Russell Holly already wrote a great article with a ton of gamepads for Gear VR, which can be found over on Android Central.
Audio, although it might not seem like it, plays a huge part in your overall VR experience. Regular stereo audio no longer cuts it in VR, unless you're watching something in theater-mode on a virtual screen. When you're experiencing 360-degree video, you need binaural (3D) audio to complete the experience.
Binaural audio is captured using two microphones strategically placed on something that resembles a head and ears. The result: the audio is going to seem VERY real, in the sense that it's all around you rather than just stuck in or over your ears.
Both Gear VR and PSVR take advantage of binaural audio, and most stereo headphones you already have lying around will work work with either HMD.
Gaming and apps
PlayStation 4 is primarily a gaming console. If you're looking to strictly play games in VR, PSVR will blow Gear VR out of the water. Gear VR does have games that are incredibly fun, but it just can't live up to the scope of games PSVR will deliver.
If you're more interested in other VR experiences like traveling and video-watching, Gear VR has PSVR beat. There are a ton of apps, many free, available for Gear VR that feature unbelievable videos of people doing cool things, as well as a bunch of travel apps that let you voyage without leaving your living room. One of my favourite things to do with Gear VR is get scared; there are a bunch of horror shows that you sit in on as they happen around you. As mentioned, Gear VR does have a lot of games available, but none will compare with PSVR when its game library fills out.
There are a few ways to break down the price of PSVR:
If you have to buy everything, including a PlayStation 4 console and the PSVR launch bundle which includes a PS4 camera and Move controllers, you're looking at spending about $850.
If you need a PSVR, camera, and Move controllers, the launch bundle costs about $500.
If you already have a PlayStation 4 console, camera, and Move controllers, you're only going to spend about $400 on the PSVR HMD.
No matter how you look at it, PSVR is going to set back your bank account. Is it worth it? Hell yes. Unfortunately, at the moment PSVR is sold out everywhere. You're going to have to wait at least until it releases October 13, 2016, and even then there is no confirmation there will be more units available.
Samsung Gear VR
Gear VR can be less hard on the wallet, but only if you already own a compatible phone. The headset itself only costs about $100 — that's pretty much a steal for the VR experience you're getting.
If you need to buy a compatible phone, however, you're going to end up spending quite a bit unless you buy one with a contract from a service provider. Alternatively, you can buy a used phone in a private sale and use it explicitly for VR.
PlayStation VR and Gear VR deliver very different VR experiences. If you're looking for a boss gaming platform with a beautiful display, PSVR without a doubt wins. If you're looking for a cheaper, more casual alternative that has some fantastic non-gaming apps, Gear VR wins every time.
Clearly the verdict depends on what you want from your VR setup. Both draw gasps from those who first use them, and both deliver the emotional experience that only VR can achieve. If funds one day allow, why not try both? In the meantime, pick the one best suited for you and run — just not into any walls!