The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are two competing virtual reality headsets that are only just becoming available, giving the geekosphere the same tech fight we saw with the Xbox and the Playstation—or even VHS and Betamax.
Although both headsets allow the wearer to better feel as if they’re part of the game they’re playing, they have their own separate approaches.
Let’s put those headsets head to head:
The Rift comes with a single sensor that it uses for depth and head tracking. It’s portable and can be placed anywhere convenient, as long as it’s three feet in front of you and nothing blocks the line of sight between the sensor and the headset. This makes it trivial to set up: Plug in the sensor, plug in the headset, and you’re good to go.
The Vive comes with two Lighthouse stations, emitters that the headset uses to determine the user’s location. These Lighthouses need to be placed in the room above your heads and aimed downward at a 30-to-45 degree angle. GizMag writes users need a minimum of 6 x 5 ft (a.k.a. 1.8 x 1.5 m) uncluttered floorspace. The Lighthouse stations also require their own power supplies, so expect some cables dangling from above—not the most attractive look.
While it’s harder to set the Vive up initially, the Lighthouse stations are also the reason the Vive can pull off room-scale VR.
NOTE: In certain cities, Vive will have a specialist install the base stations for you, for a fee of $250.
I had my hands on the Oculus Rift a few months ago at E3. And it felt bulky, like there was a shoe strapped to my face. According to Tech Radar, the Oculus weighs in at a scrappy 470g, while the Vive weighs in at a hefty 555g. Instead of a shoe, it will likely feel like wearing a boot. Made of science.
Early reports suggest the Oculus has the edge on comfort, as it’s a bit lighter and has better balance. But the Vive has a knob that lets you move the lens forward and back—a huge plus, possibly a deciding one, for those of us who wear glasses.
Needless to say, neither headset is going to be winning you a prize in a fashion competition.
Both systems have, at their core, the same twin 1080p displays that feed the virtual world into your eyes. Both headsets are tethered (see “Ease of Movement”) and both use a tracking technology (a sensor for the Rift and emitters for the Vive).
The key difference is that the Rift is built for sitting at a desk, while the Vive is built for movement, allowing you to map out a virtual 3D space you can freely–once you’ve gotten the hang of the cord–move about in. This gives you the ability to walk around in your environment, which truly puts the “reality” in the “virtual reality.”
Afraid of bumping into your walls? The Vive displays a glowy blue outline of a cage, so you know not to walk beyond it.
If you’re a Star Trek fan, here is your Holodeck. I’m not kidding: Steam Workshop already has a mod for it.
However, when it comes to the view itself, Ars Technica says they’re both very good yet imperfect in different ways. The Rift has a tendency to emit lens flares, and the Vive’s view is blurry at the edges.
Ease of movement
Even though we’re now in the age of consumer virtual reality, this generation of VR still has caveats. One big one: Both headsets have tethers, because feeding two 1080p screens with the high refresh rate necessary for VR wirelessly isn’t a thing yet. And even if it were, the headsets are already heavy enough without adding batteries.
The Oculus tether is a single cord that hangs from the side of the headset, whereas the Vive has three cords coming from the back center of the headset; this makes the Vive less easy to move around in. This is a bit ironic, considering the Vive’s emphasis on room-scale VR implies you’ll likely be moving around a lot more.
In other words, while the Vive may be more immersive, what with learning how not to entangle yourself, your experience has more of a learning curve.
The Vive has a front-facing camera, while the Rift does not. This means that wearers can see the room they’re standing in without taking off the headset, useful if you still plan to interact with other people or drink your beer/milkshake without spilling it over the cat you did not sit on.
The Vive’s front-facing camera can give you two different views: a milky blue outline of objects or a small full-color option. Neither are perfect, but both are better than nothing.
Rift users will have to take the assemblage off if they want to see the real world (or is it the non-virtual world?). But in one nifty trick, the Rift automatically turns itself off when it senses the wearer has removed it.
The Rift comes with its own built-in headphones and microphone, and TechRadar says they imbue the wearer with a sense of presence. Want to use your own headphones? The Rift’s are removable.
The Vive doesn’t provide audio tech. Of course if you’re shelling out for VR, there’s a good chance you’re tech-savvy and have the financial wherewithal to have your own headphones and microphone. If you don’t, you’ll need to get your own.
The Rift will be using the Oculus Touch, a pared-down version of the Xbox game pad. I say “will be” because the Touch isn’t available yet—not until the second half of 2016. Currently, gamers can use the bundled Xbox One controller.
The Vive comes with two controllers out of the box, and they’re fully integrated into the game world. This is a big deal, because it means that with the Vive, you can reach out and touch the virtual world, and applications and games developed for it can assume that you have that capability.
The Touch controllers will also cost a few bucks (price currently unknown) when they’re available, which will eat into the Rift’s current price advantage over the Vive.
Beyond that, the Rift has thirty decent game options—including Elite: Dangerous and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Digital Trends writes that Oculus Rift owners can download games from its storefront. However, developers can also offer Rift games on their own sites. In addition, users can stream games from their PCs (Windows 10 only) and Xbox One.
The Vive, being supported by Valve, gives you access to Steam. According to Polygon, the Vive allows you to play every game on Steam. That’s (rough estimate–>) zillions of games.
Beyond games, the Rift also comes with a creation platform, Medium. Click here for a video that demonstrates sculptors using it to create new, impressive works of art.
The Vive comes with Steam Workshop, which allows you to create VR backgrounds.
Because of Vive’s Lighthouse system, once you set it up, it’s pretty much static. The Rift, meanwhile, is a luggable, which means you can easily bring it to a friend’s house. Which is more important to you—room-scale immersion vs portability—may decide which is your preferred choice.
But both choices allow users to stream their games to their televisions, giving their friends the ability to laugh at you in front of your face while you’re not quite able to see them.
Minimum requirements for the Oculus Rift:
Graphics card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
Graphics card: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
Memory: 8GB+ RAM
Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
Input: 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
OS: Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer
Minimum requirements for the HTC Vive
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 /Radeon R9 280 equivalent or greater
Graphics card: Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater
Memory: 4GB+ of RAM
Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
Input: 1x USB 2.0 port
The Vive costs $799, while the Rift comes in at $599. However, as mentioned above, the Touch controllers, when they become available, will add to the Rift’s grand total.
I can’t tell you which VR headset you should buy. I don’t know your budget and the intensity of your desire to jack in to the Matrix. But from my research, I now have a rule of thumb: If you want a more expensive yet immersive experience, go with the Vive. If you want a friendly, cheaper option, go with the Rift.
As for me, I know what I’ll be getting. You can expect my look at the Vive in a few weeks.
(Thanks to Peter Wainwright.)
Featured Image Credit: Northway Games