The mainstream virtual-reality era officially began with the launch of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive in 2016. Since then, both systems have undergone a few changes designed to enhance your virtual experiences. But which platform should you bet on -- the $499 Rift ($399 for a limited time) with its slick design and Oculus Touch controllers, or the $799 Vive and its impressive room tracking and unique camera?
Using our hands-on experiences while factoring in all the latest updates, we've put the Rift and the Vive in a head-to-head battle to help you decide which VR headset is best for you.
Neither the Vive nor the Rift is the most fashionable piece of hardware. But if I had to hit the runway with one strapped to my head, I'd pick the Rift. It has a smooth, sleek, minimalist design that boasts clean lines, gentle curves and kind of looks like the headset from the Ghost in the Shell anime.
The Vive's funky sci-fi design is intriguing, but the strategically placed divots give the impression that the headset is still in its prototype phase, compared with 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 down on your ears to deliver an immersive audiovisual experience. People looking to use the Vive will have to bring their 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.
Winner: Oculus Rift. Overall, the Rift's design is more polished and consumer-ready than the Vive. 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. HTC bundles the headset, a pair of handheld trackpad controllers and two base stations, which provide 360-degree motion tracking using lasers and infrared.
Those jonesing for the Rift will get the headset, two sensors, a remote, cables and the Touch controllers. But if you want a full room-scale setup, you'll have to purchase an additional sensor for $59.
The Touch controllers will not be available when Oculus Rift launches this spring. Credit: Oculus
Winner: HTC Vive. Although the Rift is much cheaper, the Vive comes with everything consumers need.
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, a gyroscope, a 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 feet 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.
Winner: Draw. The Rift and the Vive are pretty evenly matched.
On the laptop front, both headsets 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), two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 1.4, 1920 x 1080 display and Windows 7 or above.
There are a few key differences when it comes to requirements for gaming 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 an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290.
Thanks to Oculus' Asynchronous Spacewarp (ASW) technology, the Rift can support certain lower-end PCs that the Vive doesn't. 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 Windows 8 at a minimum.
Winner: Oculus Rift. 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. 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 bookshelf.
HTC motion sensors. Credit: HTC
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. But if you want a full room-scale solution you'll have to pick up yet another sensor ($59) and strategically place the three devices around your room.
Physically setting up the Rift's sensor is considerably easier than setting up than Vive’s, if you have a few USB extension cords handy. Getting the Rift to acknowledge said sensor can be an exercise in tedium.
Winner: HTC Vive. Once the Vive is ready, it takes only a few quick steps to get high-quality motion tracking up and running.
Chaperone and Guardian
Both the Rift and the Vive allow you to literally walk in a virtual space. Vive, however, enables you to walk around and explore this new space using 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.
Valve has taken its safeguard technology to the next level with the front camera, showing the outside world in an inky-blue tint that saves 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 headset on.
Chaperone has also arrived on the Rift, albeit in a limited capacity. Oculus' Guardian system will give you 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 pass-through ability.
Winner: HTC Vive.The Vive's camera with its pass-through ability gives the headset a distinct advantage over the Rift.
Thanks to their respective controllers, the Vive and the Rift let you reach out and touch someone -- virtually. The Vive's controllers have a rather outlandish design -- like some sort of sci-fi ball-in-the-cup toy. Weird looks aside, the controllers offer a wealth of interaction via buttons, triggers and trackpads. However, the oblong Rift controllers doesn't lend themselves to native hand gestures.
The Oculus Touch controllers are an absolute revelation. Thanks to the positioning of the buttons and analog sticks, it feels like you're making a relaxed fist. From this position, the sensors tracked my fingers, allowing me to point or wave realistically. It wasn't much of a leap to make a fist or reach out and interact with something in-game. It's the only way I'll play Superhot VR, which involves lightning-fast reflexes for punching, dodging, grabbing, shooting and throwing.
Winner: Oculus Rift.Hands down (pun intended), the Oculus Touch controllers deliver the most realistic tactile performance in VR.
Just because your VR headset is tethered to your PC doesn't mean it won't work with your smartphone. The Vive has 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 doesn't have a similar feature.
Winner: HTC Vive. Having the ability to answer texts or phone calls without removing the headset is a useful feature.
Since launch, Oculus has expanded its library to over 500 games, including titles from triple-A game developers like Insomniac Games and Harmonix.
The Vive catalog has over 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 fully fleshed-out experiences.
Winner: Oculus Rift. You'd expect Valve to have the upper hand when it comes to games, since it has a massive catalog of PC titles. But Oculus has a more formidable library.
Price and Value
This one is a no-brainer. Priced at $499 ($399 for a limited time), the Oculus Rift is significantly cheaper than the HTC Vive ($799). Even if you throw in the additional sensor, that only brings the price of the Rift up to $558. That's still over $200 cheaper than the HTC Vive.
Winner: Oculus Rift. Thanks to recent price drops and bundling strategies, the Oculus Rift is much cheaper than the HTC Vive.
There are plenty of reasons to get the HTC Vive over the Rift. It comes with full-scale room tracking, it can sync with your phone, and the pass-through camera lets you interact with the outside world without taking off the headset.
However, I prefer the Rift's massive library and more intuitive Touch controllers. More important, the Rift offers a lot more games and at a much lower price. I just wish Oculus didn’t make you pay extra for room scaling.
Overall, I recommend the Vive if you can meet the massive space requirements, and the Rift if you want a more precise and affordable VR experience.
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