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Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: What we've learned after the reviews

Engadget Engadget 8/04/2016 Devindra Hardawar

© Provided by Engadget

Well, it's finally happened. High-quality and immersive virtual reality is finally something anyone can have in their home — assuming you have a powerful PC and can shell out $600 for the Oculus Rift, or $800 for the HTC Vive. It's the realization of decades worth of VR research and sci-fi speculation, and it could end up having as big a societal impact as the introduction of the internet and smartphones.

Now that I've had a few weeks with both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it's worth taking a step back to see how they really compare, as well as where the VR landscape might go from here. And of course, you should also read my full reviews of the Rift and Vive for more detailed impressions of their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Price

First off, the HTC Vive's $800 retail price is going to hurt your wallet a lot more, compared to the $600 Oculus Rift. But really, if you're already willing to spend that much, you probably won't feel the price difference. Oculus users should squirrel away some money for its motion controllers, which are set to debut later this year, as well as additional sensors for room-scale VR.

Of course, those numbers don't take into account the price of a powerful gaming PC. Oculus has partnered with the likes of Dell, Alienware and ASUS to offer rigs starting at $1,000, and if you were to build your own computer from scratch, it would probably cost around $700 to $800. Both VR solutions recommend an NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 video cad, and at least an Intel Core i5 4590 or equivalent processor.

Ergonomics and comfort

Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are lighter than the prototypes that came before, thank goodness. The Vive is heavier than the Rift, though, and it's also a lot bulkier thanks to a plethora of cables coming out of the headset. The Vive is also a bit more front-heavy, which leads to additional strain on the front of your face.

Both devices give you a decent amount of flexibility with adjustable headstraps, but no matter what I did the Vive just wouldn't sit as comfortably as the Rift, and its cables would also get in the way far more often.

I'll admit, comfort is a very subjective thing. But while I managed to have the Oculus on for hours without much of an issue, the Vive always made its presence known, either by pressing down on my nose or forehead a bit too much. I'd also have to constantly readjust its cables. That's the price you pay for room-scale VR today.

Graphics and immersion

Both the Rift and Vive feature two OLED displays running at 1200 by 1080 pixels each, so you won't notice a resolution difference between them. The Vive's displays appeared a bit sharper to my eyes, but not by a huge margin. For the most part, the quality of what you see will depend on your graphics card and CPU.

Both headsets handle head tracking in completely different ways: The Vive uses two base stations and a plethora of sensors on its front, whereas the Rift relies on a single sensor that sits on your desk. I didn't have any trouble with head tracking for either device. The Vive's method allows for room-scale VR, whereas the Rift at most lets you stand up from your chair and look around.

Of course, the Vive's motion controllers help quite a bit when it comes to immersion. They effectively let you reach out and touch the virtual world. It doesn't take long for you to get the hang of grabbing objects, or using realistic gestures to interact with games. The Rift, in comparison, relies on its bundled Xbox One controller to interact with games and VR demos for now.

Ultimately, the Vive simply has more "wow factor" when it comes to showing off the benefits of virtual reality.

Ecosystem

Unlike game console launches, you've got a rich selection of VR titles to play on both the Rift and Vive. Many titles, like Elite Dangerous, work across both platforms. Games that rely heavily on motion controls can only work on the Vive for now, but I'd bet many of them will also support Oculus once its new controllers land. There are only a few exclusive games at the moment, like Lucky's Tale, an Oculus Studios title that's bundled with every Rift, but we'll definitely see even more of those over the next few years.

Again, it's hard to say which platform is better. For the most part, you just have to look at the available titles and decide on what you'd actually like to play. If you want to go all-in on motion controls, the Vive is your place to start right now. But if you prefer slightly more traditional games with a VR twist, the Oculus will suit you better.

I've had incredible experiences on both platforms. Eve Valkyrie and Lucky's Tale are simply tremendous on the Rift, while Valve's bundle of VR mini games, The Lab, and The Brookhaven Experiment truly sell the benefits of motion controls.

So which should I get?

Just get both! Kidding. Really, you just have to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and decide which suits you better. Personally, I prefer the comfort and games on the Oculus Rift, but I can't deny that the Vive is much more immersive. When it comes to something I have to strap onto my head for hours, though, comfort matters more than anything else.

The $400 PlayStation VR could also be a decent option when it debuts later this year, especially if you already have a PlayStation 4. Just don't expect an experience with the same level of fidelity that you'd get from the Rift or Vive on a powerful PC.

Alternatively, you could just avoid this entire first batch of VR hardware altogether. Everything will get cheaper next year, and you can expect followup headsets to fix plenty of ergonomic issues. If you're jonesing for VR on a low budget, grab a Google Cardboard headset or Samsung's $100 Gear VR (if you have a Samsung phone already).

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