Updated with hands-on from GDC
Two very important announcements were made in the last 24 hours: Sony's Project Morpheus and Oculus VR's second Rift development kit. Given that Project Morpheus is for the PlayStation console and the Oculus Rift on PC and mobile devices, you can't really compare one against the other.
Or can you?
Oculus Rift Developer Kit 2
According to the specs of the Oculus Rift DK2, the resolution is 960 x 1080 per eye, the refresh rates are 75 Hz, 72 Hz and 60 Hz, and the persistence is 2 ms, 3 ms and full. The viewing optics also provide a nominal 100 degree field of view.
The headset also features a gyroscope, accelerometer and a magnetometer, with an update rate of 1000 Hz. Positional tracking is handled by a near infrared CMOS sensor with an update rate of 60 Hz.
This new development kit costs $350 USD.
"DK2 isn't identical to the consumer Rift, but the fundamental building blocks for great VR are there. All the content developed using DK2 will work with the consumer Rift. And while the overall experience still needs to improve before it's consumer-ready, we're getting closer everyday — DK2 is not the Holodeck yet, but it's a major step in the right direction," states Oculus VR in a recent blog.
The team also said that it's deep into development of the consumer Rift, and have a lot more planned including improvements to comfort, resolution, tracking, software, ergonomics, optics, industrial design, and the overall experience.
"There's no cutting corners or 'good enough' when it comes to VR; the consumer Rift needs to be perfect and we're dedicated to getting it right," the blog reads. "We're moving as fast as possible and promise it'll be worth the wait."
Eyes-in Oculus Rift DK2
I sat down with the latest version of the Oculus Rift at GDC 2014 and found that it wasn't too different from the Crystal Cove model that I had the pleasure of playing at CES 2014. The whole package is a little tidier and has all its positional tracking "dots" hidden behind the plastic shroud.
Couch Knights is the latest demo for Oculus Rift, which comes from Epic Games and shows off Unreal Engine 4 support for the VR headset. The battleground is a mild mannered living room, where two players wearing Oculus Rift go head-to-head in a melee battle. It's a simple game, but its trick is that it feels like an augmented reality game within virtual reality.
The Oculus Rift is as cool as ever, and the new developer kit is already such a great piece of hardware that we hope it won't be long until things are finalized into a version for consumers. This is a technology that we want NOW.
Sony's Project Morpheus
Meanwhile, Sony revealed during GDC 2014 that its Project Morpheus prototype HMD provides the same 960×1080 per eye as Oculus Rift DK2, but 90 degree field of view, all from a 5-inch panel. This unit also provides accelerometer and gyroscope sensors, as well as a PlayStation camera that tracks head orientation and head movement.
This device also uses new 3D audio technology that re-creates stereoscopic sounds in all directions and changes in real-time depending on the wearer's head orientation. The device is also compatible with the DualShock 4 wireless controller and PlayStation Move, making for an interesting VR experience.
"The prototype for Project Morpheus is the culmination of our work over the last 3+ years as we've refined our vision for VR," states Sony's blog. "This prototype will serve as the first development kit for PS4 developers that are as enthusiastic about this new medium as we are."
The freshly announced Project Morpheus isn't all that surprising thanks to all the insider jabber. What's also not surprising is the timing of its reveal. There's seemingly no competition between Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, but they will definitely compete for your hard earned dollars if you're both a PC gamer and a PlayStation owner. Oh, the choices.
The problem Oculus VR might face may be Sony's wallet. Sure the company is facing tough times, but it undoubtedly has the funds to reach out and grab gamers by the eyeballs thanks to advertising dollars. The company might actually be willing to take a hit in the pocket with each Morpheus sold just to win gamers over to the freshly baked fourth-generation PlayStation console. What's more, expect Sony, when the time is right, to offer demos in stores like GameStop to generate some pre-release heat.
We've already said that 2014 will be a huge year for gaming. Now we have two major players in the VR field. That said, Microsoft will undoubtedly reveal its own project sometime this year -- maybe at E3 2014 -- that's tied into Xbox Live.
Eyes-in Project Morpheus
The demand for VR experiences is huge at GDC. Just like at the Oculus VR booth, gamers were lining up in considerable numbers just to get a chance to play. Sony showed two demos: Eve: Valkyrie (the same as Oculus VR showed at CES) and The Deep, a short diver's cage demo.
Like the Oculus Rift (ever since Crystal Cove), Project Morpheus supports positional tracking thanks to the PlayStation Eye. In my demo, I was told not only to move my head side to side and up and down, but also bend my knees to squat down. As proof of positional tracking, not only did the point of view descend, but the knees of my character bent as well.
Playing with the DualShock 4 wireless controller gave an extra level of motion control to the experience, allowing me to tilt and move the controller in addition to being able to move my head.
Oculus Rift vs. Project Morpheus
The two systems are remarkably similar. The fact that Sony just announced this seemingly out of the blue is a little surprising, given how much excitement there's been over VR lately. Of course, it just reflects the difference between a project born out of the community vs. one from a massive multinational electronics company. That said, both products in this unfinished form provide a remarkably similar experience. It's also a good sign, showing that smart people on both sides are coming to the same design conclusions.
Project Morpheus has a slicker, more put together exterior appearance. It's clear that this was styled by a design house and made to look futuristic to attract gamers. The Oculus Rift, on the other hand, shows its roots as a homemade solution. The interesting thing through all this is that the Oculus Rift is easier to put on. Sony had staff and developers on hand to help people put on and take off Project Morpheus. Part of that is from a two-step process of getting it on your head and then adjusting the depth of the display into your face. While the process of putting it on and taking it off may change, the Oculus Rift's use of elastics is simpler.
To the eyes, both are pretty similar. Both run at the same 960x1080 per eye resolution, but Project Morpheus appears to suffer from less of a screen door effect. On the other hand, there's a slight bit of extra image persistence on the Sony, so Oculus Rift wins there.
While there are natural comparisons, the biggest difference of all is platform; Oculus Rift is for PC and Project Morpheus is for PS4. In the early stages, more innovation may come from Oculus Rift simply from the strength of the PC community, but eventually Sony's product will have some amazing blockbusters from its AAA developers. It all boils down to one great fact: the future is awesome for VR.