Sun. Feb 5th, 2023
Two headsets come in, one leaves with our current recommendation.

Two headsets come in, one leaves with our current recommendation.

Kyle Orland

In our original reviews of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, we went to great lengths to examine these virtual reality systems on their own merits without constantly making comparisons to the competition. But no product exists in a vacuum. After years of build-up, we’re now faced with two competitive PC-tethered VR headsets hitting the market right next to each other. Unless you have $1,400 to shell out to buy both headsets (or more if you also need to outfit a gaming PC), you’ll need to pick one or the other if you want virtual reality in your home ASAP.

Today we’ll break down the main pros and cons of both Oculus and HTC’s VR systems as we see them, to (hopefully) lead you to the headset that’s right for you. If you’re only planning on scrolling down for our final verdict, here’s a spoiler: We’re not quite sure if you should buy or just one more.

Headset specifications
Oculus Rift HTC Vive
headset weight 470 grams (~1 lbs) 555 grams (~1.2 lbs) without cables
Display 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye) OLED panels 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye) AMOLED panels
Refresh rate 90 Hz 90 Hz
Field of view 110 degrees 110 degrees
Lens distance 58-72mm (adjustable) 60.2-74.5mm (adjustable)
Packaged controllers Xbox One gamepad and Oculus Remote Two wireless motion-tracked controllers with rechargeable 960mAh batteries
To follow 3-axis gyroscope, accelerometer and remote “Constellation” IR camera tracking system SteamVR 1.0 tracking system with two “Lighthouse” IR laser tracking boxes (up to 5 m diagonal tracking volume)
Audio Integrated over-ear headphones with 3D directional audio support and built-in microphone Audio extension dongle to connect generic headphones to headset. Built-in microphone
PC connection Custom 4 m cable (integrates HDMI and USB connections) Three-piece multi-cable (HDMI, USB and power supply) with junction box for PC connection.
Included games Lucky’s story (and Eve Valkyrie with preorder) Job simulator, Fantastic thingand Tilt brush
Price $600 $800
Recommended PC specs
Oculus Rift HTC Vive
GPU NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or higher
CPU Intel i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 equivalent or higher
RAM 8GB 4GB
Operating system Windows 7 SP1 or newer Windows 7 SP1 or newer
Inputs 3 USB 3.0 ports (for headset, tracking camera, wireless controller dongle), one HDMI 1.3 port 1x HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2; 1xUSB 2.0
Other At least 1.5 x 2 m of open space for room-scale experiences.

Visual similarities

On a pure baseline of tech specs, there’s remarkably little difference between the Rift and Vive. Both have two 1080 x 1200 pixel OLED screens (one for each eye) that provide an extremely convincing 3D effect. Both headsets have 90 Hz refresh rates, low persistence pixel switching, and precise, low latency head tracking that quickly updates your apparent VR image as you move and tilt your head in space.

You can still pick out the pixels and a little “screen door effect” between those pixels if you really try. Staring closely at the panels means that every single pixel appears a bit blurrier and fuzzier than on a hi-res monitor or TV, but those issues are practically identical on the Rift and the Vive. At this point, it’s hard to say one looks noticeably better than the other for the same software.

Both the Rift and Vive let you adjust the eye relief enough to easily focus on a wide variety of face shapes. Both officially have a 110-degree field of view, enough to fill most of your view while still leaving noticeable black bars at the edge of your periphery. (Although it is claimed that one headset or the other has a larger functional field of view in practice, we do not notice any difference.)

If we were to look for visual differences, we could argue that the Rift’s lenses suffer a little more from the dim “god ray” effect, which causes some apparent lens flare when bright pixels are displayed on a dark background. You could also argue that the Vive’s image sometimes looks blurrier at the edge if you move your eyes off-center.

However, neither puts a big thumbs up on the balance between the two. The Rift and the Vive each offer a very compelling, almost indistinguishable visual sense of virtual reality. These systems meet the minimum basis for a pleasant sense of presence.

Sit comfortably

If there’s one area where the Rift undoubtedly outshines the Vive, it’s the design of the physical headset. I comfortably wore the Rift for hours with no breaks and no desire to take it off. With the Vive, on the other hand, I found myself having to take regular breaks and constantly fiddle with the fit to get comfortable.

Not only is the Rift 80 grams lighter than the Vive (about 15 percent), but that lighter weight balances the head much better. This is mainly thanks to the Rift’s pair of stiff arms, which extend past the ears from the side of the headset and converge into a solid triangle that fits snugly under the back of the skull.

These arms sit on a pivot, allowing you to easily tilt the headset up and down on your face for comfort (and focus adjustment). The arms are also encased in a sheath that gives them about an inch of springiness. This makes the headset relatively easy to take off and put on like a baseball cap, even with one hand (although eyeglass wearers may experience difficulties).

The Vive, on the other hand, uses thick, hard-to-adjust vinyl Velcro straps that never feel completely secure on my head, no matter how many times I adjust things. This design means you have to clip the Vive to your face like ski goggles, pushing the heavy headset directly into some sensitive areas of the face with nothing but a layer of soft foam padding separating you from the hard plastic. That’s noticeably harder than the Rift, which almost floats on top of your nose thanks to plastic and vinyl spacers and firm, supportive foam around the eyes.

In addition to constant pressure on the sinuses, the Vive’s design also forms a tight seal around the eyes, trapping heat and keeping air out. This can lead to a lot of unnecessary sweating and noticeable facial redness after prolonged use. The design of the Rift is much more airy and breathable in this regard.

The Rift has a few other design details that just make it more comfortable to wear, like soft, over-the-ear headphones that flip all the way into place from their (removable) mounts on the support arms. The Vive, on the other hand, has a headphone extension cable that dangles annoyingly from the top of your head, and it comes with short-wire earbuds that tend to get tangled and pulled out of your ears during gameplay.

The Rift’s single, light connecting wire flows smoothly behind the left ear and past the computer, while the Vive’s three-piece cord runs heavily across the center of the head and back behind the base of the skull. And the Rift has a handy built-in sensor that automatically turns off the headset when you take it off. When it comes to comfort, it’s not even a competition.

A quick look at some of the smart design features that make the Rift so comfortable. Video edited by Jennifer Hahn.

Platform wars

If the headset design is the Rift’s biggest win over the Vive, the underlying software platform is the Vive’s biggest triumph over the Rift. The Oculus Store and Library management tools work well, but they’re terribly bare-bones compared to SteamVR’s more comprehensive features.

On the Vive, you can see your friends’ activity and chat with them from the headset via audio or text (via a clunky hunt-and-peck VR keyboard). Friends lists look almost decorative on the Rift; there are no real ways to interact with online friends through the menu. We also had trouble getting voice chat to work in Rift games that supposedly supported the feature.

On the Vive, you can call up a quick view of the Windows desktop from the SteamVR menu at any time, and soon you’ll be able to connect a Bluetooth smartphone to relay text messages, phone calls, and calendar alerts to VR. The Rift does not support any of these multitasking-friendly features.

On the Vive, you can also play 2D Steam games in a full-screen “theatre mode”, download one game while playing another, and download new 3D backgrounds for your standard VR menu. None of these features are available on the Rift yet.

Then there’s the Vive’s nifty front-facing camera, which can give users a quick view of the outside world (either as squiggly outlines or a little live color video) without having to take off the headset.

Oculus could add many of these features in the near future via downloadable platform updates (although the camera and Bluetooth connection seem like safe Vive perks). For now, however, the Vive enjoys a significant advantage in terms of its software platform.

By akfire1

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