Daydream VR vs HTC Vive & Oculus Rift | Mobile VR vs PC VR

2016 is undoubtedly the year of virtual reality, with not only the Oculus Rift going on sale, but the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR too. However, it’s not just PC VR that’s picking up the pace – Google announced Daydream VR earlier this year, and recently launched the first Daydream VR headset. But what are the differences between mobile VR like Google’s Daydream VR, and the likes of the PC-powered Oculus Rift? Keep reading to find out. Also see: The complete guide to VR

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Daydream VR vs HTC Vive & Oculus Rift: Pricing and availability

Before we go into the differences between the likes of the HTC Vive and Daydream VR, let’s first discuss pricing and availability of the various VR headsets. Let’s start with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – the Vive will set UK users back £759, making it the most expensive VR headset on the market at the moment, while the Oculus Rift is £210 cheaper at £549. Both are available to buy right now with the HTC Vive available via HTC, while the Oculus Rift can be found at Amazon and GAME.

Why the difference in price? While the Oculus Rift comes with a headset and an Xbox One controller, the HTC Vive comes with two bespoke handheld controllers that are also tracked, allowing you to directly interact with the VR world. It also supports room-scale VR, which we will come to in more detail below. Oculus now offers similar handheld controllers for the Rift but these don’t come with the headset – those interested in using Oculus Touch controllers will have to pay £189 for the privilege.

Daydream VR on the other hand, is much cheaper. While the Oculus Rift costs £549, users can pick up a Daydream VR headset for £69 once it’s on-sale in the UK – those interested in being notified once the headset becomes available can head to the Google Store to sign up for notifications. The £69 price tag also covers a wireless controller to be used with Daydream-supported VR apps, giving users something a little more advanced than bog-standard mobile VR apps that are on ‘rails’ with no real controller input.

Why the huge difference in price? While the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift come packed full of technology to power the headset, Daydream VR is only a viewer as it requires a Daydream VR-compatible smartphone. The Daydream-enabled smartphone will provide the display and all the technology to provide you with a mobile VR experience. The issue is that since Daydream is still relatively new, there’s only two Daydream-enabled smartphones on the market – the £599 Google Pixel and £719 Google Pixel XL.

Read next: Best VR headsets to buy in the UK 2016

Daydream VR vs HTC Vive & Oculus Rift: Mobile VR

So, what’s the difference between mobile VR, which Daydream VR provides, and high-end VR that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer? The first difference is, of course, price. Users can pick up a Google Daydream VR viewer for £69 in the UK, a world away from the £549 price tag of the Oculus Rift. As mentioned above, this is because the Daydream VR viewer features little or no built-in technology, it’s essentially just a frame for your smartphone, which provides the display, sensors and processor for the mobile VR experience. Click here for more games news and reviews

Since the launch of Google Cardboard, Android and iOS developers have been churning out mobile VR apps that frankly, aren’t great. The lack of a VR app specification meant that the quality of VR apps varied hugely, with most only allowing you to look around the virtual world without being able to interact with it. Daydream VR changes that, as apps must adhere to certain rules, like coding support for the Daydream VR controller, providing users with a more immersive mobile VR experience. The controller tracking isn’t as accurate as high-end VR headsets, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for mobile VR users.  

Of course, the Daydream VR specification stretches far beyond apps, and dictates which smartphones can be used with the system. As Google wants to provide users with a higher quality VR experience than what is available at present, smartphone manufacturers have to include certain sensors/tech in their smartphones to make them compatible. However even with the highest Daydream VR spec, the experience can’t match what is offered by high-end headsets.

While the headset tracking on Daydream VR is reactive, it’s not quite as accurate as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. This is due to the tracking system – while Daydream VR relies on built-in gyroscopes (and other sensors) to measure movement, high-end headsets boast much more advanced tracking systems. The HTC Vive, for example, comes with two ‘light houses’ that flood your area with infrared light which is picked up by sensors covering the headset, providing extremely accurate positional tracking. There are other benefits to this too, which we’ll come to in more detail below.

Refresh rate is another feature to consider, as a high refresh rate will provide users with a smoother image no matter the resolution or quality of the image. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift feature a 90Hz refresh rate, offering buttery smooth visuals and a much more realistic experience when looking around in the virtual world. Google’s Daydream spec requires a high refresh rate for supported devices, although we’re not sure at the time of writing what the minimum specification is. We’ll update this section with more information as soon as we receive it.

Daydream VR vs HTC Vive & Oculus Rift: High-end VR

At the other end of the VR spectrum are the likes of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, two of the most expensive VR headsets on the market at the moment. However, while the two headsets have a much higher price tag, the experiences provided by the headsets are much more impressive than mobile VR in a number of ways.

The HTC Vive, for example, comes with two bespoke handheld controllers and features room-scale tracking technology. What does this mean for VR users? It allows you to physically walk around and interact with the virtual world around you. See a gun on the floor? Instead of pressing a button, you have to physically walk up to it, bend down and pick it up with your hands. It’s as close as you can currently get to ‘living’ in a virtual world, and although Oculus also offers handheld controllers, it can’t match the room-scale tracking system of the HTC Vive.

It’s worth noting that while Daydream VR is powered by a smartphone, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require a fairly capable PC to power them with a Nvidia GTX 970 graphics card as a minimum. If you don’t already have a decent gaming PC, you’ll have to fork out at least £500-600 for something powerful enough to power the VR headsets, and is something to consider when looking to buy a headset.  

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Daydream VR vs HTC Vive & Oculus Rift: Content

The technology isn’t the only thing that separates Google Daydream VR and the likes of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, as the content available plays a huge part. Google’s Daydream VR platform is new – it was announced earlier this year, and only launched in early October, with only two Daydream-compatible smartphones on the market. With this being the case, the content available for the platform isn’t that impressive.

While the Daydream VR line-up includes an exclusive “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” experience, the rest of the line-up isn’t that impressive. At the time of writing, you can find Guardian VR, New York Times VR, New York Times VR, WSJ VR and Lego, although Google claims that there will be 50+ apps available by the end of 2016. It’s not the greatest selection in terms of launch titles, although we’ll update this article in the coming months as the library of apps expands.

On the other hand, there’s a library of VR content readily available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive with more VR games being launched all the time. The collection features a wide range of games and experiences too, from the zombie-filled (and frankly terrifying) Brookhaven Experiment to The Blu, an experience that lets you get up close and personal with fish at the bottom of the ocean.

Read next: Best games and experiences for HTC Vive

While the library of VR content is much vaster than that of Daydream VR, the quality of the apps is also higher – higher quality textures, longer games and more, thanks to the large storage space and high graphical power of gaming PCs.

Oculus Rift: Specs

  • 2160x1200 OLED display
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • 110-degree FOV
  • Built-in microphone and headphones
  • Xbox One controller included
  • 2160x1200 OLED display
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • 110-degree FOV
  • Built-in microphone and headphones
  • Xbox One controller included

OUR VERDICT

Which is the better option for you depends on your needs – if you want to experience VR casually, Google’s Daydream VR may be a better option for you. The experience is good, and as the library expands and more Daydream compatible phones are released in the coming months, the platform will pick up pace. However, if you’re a diehard gamer and want to experience the very best of virtual reality, we’d recommend going for the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. It’s worth checking up on minimum specs for each headset before buying one though, as upgrading your PC/buying a new PC will be an extra expense on top of an already expensive headset.