The virtual reality era officially began with the of launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive this spring. But which platform should you bet on? There's the $599 Rift with its slick design, large catalog of games and cheaper price tag and its new $199 Oculus Touch controllers or the $799 Vive's impressive room tracking technology, virtual controllers, and unique camera?
Neither the Vive nor the Rift is the most fashionable piece of hardware. But if we had to hit the runway with one of these devices strapped to our heads, we'd prefer the Rift. It has a smooth, sleek, minimalist design that boasts clean lines and gentle curves, and it kind of looks like the headset from anime classic Ghost in the Shell.
The Vive has a funky, sci-fi design that's intriguing, but the strategically-placed photosensors give the impression that the headset is still in its prototype phase compared to the Rift's polished, consumer-ready presentation.
But what puts the Rift over the top are the built-in headphones that fold down and gently press onto your ears to deliver an immersive audiovisual experience. People looking to use the Vive will have to supply their own headphones, which is nice if you have a favorite pair of buds or cans, but ultimately is another piece of hardware you're adding to the whole setup.
Overall, the Rift's design is more polished and consumer-ready than the Vive's. Having a built-in audio system is a huge plus.
What's Included (and What's Not)
Each headset comes with an assorted bag of goodies to enhance your VR experience. The Vive includes a headset, a pair of handheld trackpad controllers and two base stations, which provide 360-degree motion tracking using lasers and infrared.
Credit: HTCThose jonesing for the Rift will get the headset, sensor, remote, cables and an Xbox One controller. But if you're willing to shell out an additional $199, you can also get the new Oculus Touch controllers, which bring your hands into VR equation.
The Touch controllers will not be available when Oculus Rift launches this spring. Credit: Oculus
The Vive gives consumers everything they want right out of the box instead of making them wait and pay more down the line.
Specs and Features
The Vive and the Rift have nearly identical specs, including 2160 x 1200 OLED displays with 90Hz refresh rates, HDMI, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. The few key differences are found in the sensors and tracking area.
The Rift features an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and 360-degree positional tracking. The Vive swaps out the magnetometer for a laser position sensor and front-facing camera. Most of the Rift's experiences are seated affairs meaning it doesn't need more than 5 x 11 feet of space to operate properly.
However, with an extra sensor now available for the Rift and its new Touch controllers, the space expands to 6 feet x 6 inches x 5 feet. If you want to give the two-sensor room tracking setup a try, you'll need 4.9 x 4.9 feet for two sensors and 8.2 x 8.2 for a three-sensor setup. The room-mapping Vive needs a bit more room for users to walk around, which is why the headset needs a space of 15 x 15 feet.
Despite requiring a lot more space than the Rift, the Vive's front-facing camera and laser-position system let you walk around the room without becoming the victim of an unfortunate pratfall.
Oculus VR, HTC and Valve made it pretty clear that you will need powerful desktops and laptops to power your virtual adventures. On the laptop front, both headsets will require at least an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 GPU (although we recommend Nvidia's 10-series Pascal GPU), 2 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 1.4, 1920 x 1080 display and Windows 7 or above.
There are a few key differences on when it comes to desktops, namely CPU, RAM requirements and ports. The Vive can function with a minimum Intel i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350, 4GB of RAM with either HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 and at least one USB 2.0 with a Windows 7 operating system. As far as GPUs, you'll need at least a Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290.
Thanks to Oculus' new Asynchronous Spacewarp (ASW) technology, which eliminates image stutter in VR apps that don't hit 90Hz, effectively allowing lower-end PCs the ability to support VR. That means the minimum your system needs to run Rift titles starts with an Intel i3-6100 or AMD FX 4350 processor, at least 8GB of RAM, a Nvidia GTX 960 or AMD Radeon RX 470 GPU, HDMI 1.3 with three USB 3.0 ports plus one USB 2.0 port. Unfortunately, ASW doesn't work on Windows 7, so you'll need a system with minimum Windows 8.
Although both headsets require high-end systems to operate, the Oculus' recent tech launches have lowered the bar significantly, making VR a possibility for scores of PC owners.
Each headset has its own method of motion tracking. Valve's "Lighthouse" base stations bounce lasers onto the light sensors strategically placed on the Vive and the controllers.
HTC motion sensors. Credit: HTC
It's an ideal methodology for room tracking, but for the tracking to work, the two base stations must be mounted on the wall or placed on a book shelf.
You also need to ensure that you have enough space (at least 6 feet x 5 feet by 6 inches) and enough electrical outlets (a minimum 7) to properly utilize the room-tracking technology. Otherwise, you'll be forced to use the standing-only setup, but where's the fun in that?
Oculus' motion-tracking solution, called Constellation, employs an optical sensor connected to your desktop or laptop via USB, making it more suited for a seated VR experience. However, the new Touch controllers ship with an extra sensor, allowing for limited room scaling ability. Oculus is currently working on a full room scale solution that will utilize a trio of sensors. That means you'll have to fork out an additional $79 for the pleasure.
Although setting up the Vive will be more of a hassle, it's worth it for the ability to physically walk around an area in virtual reality.
Both the Rift and the Vive allow you to have experiences in a new immersive fashion. Vive, however, enables you to walk around and explore this new space utilizing Valve's proprietary Chaperone technology. Leveraging room-tracking capabilities, the Rift's Guardian system will project a blue-green grid when you're getting too close to a wall or other errant furniture or pet.
Valve has taken its safeguard technology to the next level with the front camera, showing the outside world in an inky blue tint, saving you from crashing into any nearby obstacles. The camera can also be accessed by double-tapping a button on the controller. It comes in handy, in case you need to find something in the room and would rather keep the on t
Chaperone is also coming to the Rift, albeit in a limited capacity. You'll still get the Tron-like grid when you get too close to a boundary, which grants the headset a level of mobility it previously lacked. However, without a camera on the headset, you lose out on the passthrough ability.
The Vive's camera, with its pass-through ability, gives the headset a distinct advantage over the Rift by providing a glimpse of the outside world for safety and mundane tasks like finding a lost remote.
Just because it's tethered to your PC, that doesn't mean your VR headset won't work with your smartphone. When it launches, the Vive will have the ability to synchronize with your phone over Bluetooth to answer calls and messages while in VR land, meaning there's one less reason to take the headset off. Oculus lacks a similar feature.
Having the ability to answer texts or phone calls without removing the headset is a useful feature.
Each device launched with a pair of games. The Rift debuted with the colorful platforming adventure title, Lucky's Tale and multiplayer galactic shooter EVE: Valkyrie. The Vive kicked things off with a limited-time exclusive on the darkly ironic sandbox title Job Simulator, along with the 3D art program Tilt Brush and a deceptively addictive building game called Fantastic Contraption.
Even better, most of the VR games living in the Steam store can be used by the Vive and the Rift thanks to Valve's open-source SteamVR platform.
HTC currently claims there are nearly 300 games and apps in its library,including Elite: Dangerous, Budget Cuts, Hover Junkers and Arizona Sunshine. However, many of those games and apps feel like shallow demos instead of a fully fleshed-out experience.
Oculus VR currently offers more than 150 games and apps, including Minecraft, Rock Band and Edge of Nowhere. And to make sure Oculus Touch has a deep well of content, Oculus has announced an additional 53 titles.
You'd expect Valve to have the upper hand when it comes to games, since it has a massive catalog of PC titles. However, Oculus has been hard at work building up a formidable library. Securing a few platform-exclusive titles is an excellent strategy to bringing gamers on the fence to its side, but only if they’re triple A quality.
Price and Value
At first glance, this seems like a no-brainer. Priced at $599, the Oculus Rift is significantly cheaper than the HTC Vive ($799). That is until, you factor in the new $199 Touch controllers, which brings the grand total to $798. That puts the Rift on a par with the Vive, which already bundles its pair of virtual controllers with the system.
Buy the Touch controllers, and the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive run neck and neck in terms of price.
On paper, there's no question that the HTC Vive is the superior virtual reality headset. But the Oculus Rift is right on its tail. The Vive allows you to physically walk around your designated space, an immersive experience that is yet to have an equal. The Chaperone technology and the camera will make sure you don't trip over an end table while you're exploring distant lands. Even better, the Vive can sync with your phone, allowing you to answer it without removing the headset.
But while the Vive lets you walk, the Oculus Rift lets you feel with the new Touch controllers. Deftly mimicking your hands, the Rift's controllers puts a whole new spin on "reach out and touch someone.
It's a major breakthrough for gaming and social pursuits. The company is not afraid to put its money where its mouth is boasting over 200 full-fledged apps and games, which is where the real war for VR supremacy will be fought.
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