PlayStation or Virtual Reality?

Over the decades as video games evolved, developers continued to explore new and creative ways to increase the level of immersion for the player. We have seen continued enhancements of the audio/visual experience as graphics and sound technology combined to create increasingly realistic worlds. The advent of surround sound is a prime example of technology used to draw the player deeper into the experience. We have also seen some more experimental tools to “put the player in the game” such as haptic feedback (including chairs, gamepads etc.), additional hardware (i.e. light guns, racing wheels etc.) and motion controllers to track real player movements.

PlayStation or Virtual Reality?

However, while some of those technologies have gone to the wayside or still exist in very niche markets, there are 2 technologies that are still very viable means for gamers to get deeper into the game experience: Virtual Reality (VR) and RGB lighting. While these two technologies do share some similarities, they are very different in their market presence and use cases for today’s gamers. So which one is better? Why should you choose one over the other? Is this even a fair fight to begin with? Let’s explore.

On the surface, this is not much of a comparison. Technically, VR delivers a level of immersion that far exceeds RGB lighting on its own. Fundamentally, RGB lighting delivers relatively low-resolution color data to your eye that is an extension from the main screen. Even with full room setup, the extra color data is limited to the player’s periphery view, which is naturally very low resolution to being with.

In contrast, Virtual Reality HMDs (head mounted displays) can provide a field of view to the user that is equivalent to a large screen IMAX theater experience. Furthermore, the image of gratorama generated in a full 360 degrees around the player, which gives the impression that the player is in the game world. As the player turns their head/eye to focus on a different part of the scene, the visuals adapt dynamically showing the player a very realistic and high-resolution interpretation of the game world.

Virtual reality is at a place today where it can indeed trick your brain into thinking that you are in the game worlds, especially when you combine the 3D sound and spinpalace motion controls that accompany the high-end VR solutions. Outside of being in the real world, there is not much more room for increasing immersion in a virtual or simulated world.

With that said, the battle vs RGB lighting is not necessarily a no contest in favor or VR. Outside of the technical considerations, there other considerations such as price that may make RGB lighting a more attractive solution. A high-end virtual reality system is still at least a few hundred dollars including just a headset in most cases. If you add in the cost of quality controllers, necessary PC hardware to power VR, and costs of VR specific games to play, a complete system can still approach $1000.

Lower end VR solutions such as Goode cardboard or the Samsung Gear VR can have for closer to $100 but those prices are still higher than the cost of entry for RGB lighting. Furthermore, most of those lower priced VR solutions only support limited scope games due to inadequate processing power and control mechanisms. For example, Gear VR games use the processing power of a Samsung smartphone (much less than a typical gaming PC or console) with little input control except for the HMD head tracking. This means that duplicating a full-blown console or PC experiences like Call of Duty or Fortnite is not possible.

In contrast, RGB lighting devices are the same input devices gamers have been familiar with for decades (i.e. keyboard, mice, gamepads etc.). In addition, while there are a wide variety of devices that have RGB lighting, an LED strip or single RGB keyboard or mouse can have for less than $100. Finally, there is also no additional cost to purchase supported software as there is for VR as the lighting integrated on top of existing games.

Perhaps an even bigger advantage for RGB lighting is in its accessibility. This constitutes ease of access, use, and maintenance. With VR there are costs, space, hardware, and software requirements that may be a deterrent for many users. The high-end VR solutions such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require greater than 30sq ft of space to fully utilize the room scale experiences. Then you must physically mount the sensors around the room, which may require tripods or mounting hardware for wall mounting. Even the simpler PlayStation VR specifies a recommended 10ft x 10ft (100 sq. ft) area to play with at least 5ft of space between the device and the camera.

With RGB lighting, there are no additional requirements beyond buying the hardware devices except typically installing some software to manage the lighting profiles on the system. Just plug in the device into your system and the lighting will be active. For full effect, the user will want to play a game that has RGB lighting integrated natively but there are no additional purchases necessary. If the user has a game that supports RGB, then it will just work once a compatible hardware device is connected.

There is one other feature in favor of RGB lighting that VR cannot duplicate. Some of the best RGB lighting designs can make the game easier to play using mechanism such as tutorial enhancements and feedback queues, particularly in darkened rooms. For example, if a game requires the user to press a certain key at a certain point, the player may miss the on-screen visual and audio queues. Using lighting to highlight certain actions timed with certain in-game events, can help ensure the user experiences the game’s full design including not missing an important prompt or using the proper controls to perform an in-game action.

In addition, RGB lighting can be a great tool for a developer to communicate important information to the player such as when their “super ability” is ready to use by flash that key on the keyboard or when the player is near death by showing a red breathing effect those lights up the entire desk/room. They can also show things like what weapons are equipped by color coding the weapon keys on the keyboard, health/mana status by lighting/darkening certain keys based on player states, and when the player has achieved a certain goal (i.e. winning a round or completing a quest) by showing a unique victor animation across the room.

So yes, virtual reality has some huge technical advantages over RGB lighting in terms of delivering immersion to games. However, it does not mean that it is the best choice for everyone looking to add some deeper immersion to their games. For a player looking to enhance their gaming experience, price, and hardware, setup, and maintenance costs are all valid considerations.

When looking at the big picture, a gamer can get a full room RGB lighting setup for less money and easier setup when compared to high-end VR solutions. It is true that some of the low-end VR solutions are comparable in price and setup but they are limited in the gameplay experiences they can deliver due to limited processing and controller options.

If the goal were to obtain the ultimate in immersive experiences, then VR is would be the clear winner with adequate space, hardware, and resources. However, for a more practical solution that is affordable, allows for personalization of your hardware, enables unique enhanced gameplay experiences, and does not require additional game purchases to take advantage of the technology, then RGB lighting may be for you.