Almost everybody says the same three-letter word the first time they put on an Oculus Rift for the first time – “Wow!”
You may not remember the first time you used an iPhone, but you definitely will remember your first time experiencing VR with the Oculus Rift. The Rift may not have been the first VR headset, just like the iPhone wasn't the first smartphone with a touchscreen. However, the Oculus Rift was the first virtual reality headset that truly matters.
The Oculus Rift headset has gone through five iterations before its first consumer edition shipped to the masses. From a design standpoint, the Oculus Rift looks much more polished and well-conceived than the HTC Vive. The Rift has a sleek all-black finish and is covered almost entirely in fabric. The headset is compact but doesn't feel too heavy like the Vive does. Its integrated headphones block out external sound, but they aren't as high quality as some other over-the-ear pairs. Fortunately you can use your own if you wish. The Rift connects to your computer with a single cord.
You can use two Velcro straps to adjust its fit on your head. You'll want it tight enough to block the light from the outside, but not too tight or else the headset will leave red marks on your face and give you a headache.
This virtual reality headset has the same resolution and viewing angle as the HTC Vive. Its two 1080 x 1200-pixel screens are sharp and games are detailed. However, we did experience the screen door effect, a pattern of lines throughout the display, more with the Oculus Rift than we did with the HTC Vive. This isn't to say the screens aren't impressive – they still are – especially since the Rift has a 90 Hz refresh rate. You should just know that this is a first-generation device and there is still some room for improvement.
Another downside is this virtual reality headset is only equipped with one tracking camera, meaning you don't have as much space to move around as you would with the Vive. For now, the Rift is primarily played sitting down in a chair. You place the camera on a desk and it senses when you turn your head, but it doesn't track your hands or your position in the room. Oculus has released firmware updates that give you the ability to connect up to four tracking cameras, but you won't be able to make use of the extra cameras until Oculus' touch controllers are released later this year.
As soon as you open the Rift's box you can see there isn't much to this virtual reality kit. The HTC Vive's setup is a lot more intimidating since you have to mount two motion trackers. The Rift has just one motion camera, which rests on your desk three feet from where you'll be sitting. You need two USB 3.0 ports on your computer and one HDMI port on your graphics card to connect the headset and sensor. After that, you just pair the included Xbox One wireless controller and Oculus remote to your gaming PC. Oculus has an 800MB setup file which you download. The instructions are concise and easy to follow. You'll also need to create an Oculus account to purchase games and download experiences.
The main menu, or Oculus Home, for the Rift is a modern and futuristic living room where you'll find all your games, the store and friends list. Just like the Oculus-powered Gear VR, the user experience for the Rift is simple and takes just a few minutes to nail down.
We thought the Rift was much easier to use than the HTC Vive's SteamVR software. Steam seemed much more complicated and bloated. One thing we didn't like with the Rift, however, was how it gives you no warning when you are about to leave the playing boundaries. The Vive has a virtual fence that alerts you when you step out of bounds. During our testing, some reviewers completely rolled the office chair out of the playing field and bumped into desks without being aware of their actual physical surroundings.
At the moment, two controllers are included with the Oculus Rift: a wireless Xbox One controller and an Oculus-specific remote. The tiny remote has a wrist strap that you can use to keep yourself from dropping it. There aren't a lot of games that you control with the remote; you mainly use it to navigate menus and make selections on lists.
The main source of control is the Xbox One controller, which most gamers are already extremely familiar with. The Xbox controller gets the job done for now, but we would be much more satisfied with wireless motion controllers similar to the HTC Vive's two included remotes. Motion controllers are much more immersive since they track your movement. Oculus and Facebook plan to launch a motion controller platform dubbed Oculus Touch sometime this year. With these controllers you'll be able to reach out and grab objects and interact more with the virtual world. There hasn't been any specific information as to how much these newer controllers will cost and if they will require the use of an additional motion camera.
Games and Experiences
Virtual reality is better experienced than explained. The Oculus Rift store has hundreds of games and experiences that are available to download. Several demos are available for free and most games are under $30.
When you purchase the Rift, you get Lucky's Tale. The 3D game that is similar to Sonic takes just a couple hours to complete. In it, you jump on objects and enemies while collecting coins and gems as you explore colorful environments. It's both a warm and welcoming first way to experience virtual reality.
Other more serious games like EVE: Valkyrie, an arcade-style shooter, take longer to complete. You get behind the cockpit of a space ship and have to shoot enemies with missiles and lasers.
Some video experiences like Everest allow you to enter places that you would never think you'd be able to go. This game used more than 300,000 images to construct the virtual mountain so you can see extraordinary vantage points. One of our reviewers got shaky knees while immersed in the experience.
The Oculus Rift is clearly one of the early frontrunners of virtual reality. However, the HTC Vive reigns supreme. The Oculus Rift still is an impressive piece of machinery that'll surely make your jaw drop the first time you experience it. Since this system only has one tracking camera, the experiences with the Rift just aren't as immersive. Fortunately, Oculus seems to be taking a step in the right direction by announcing the support for more cameras and motion-sensing touch controllers with the Rift. For now, though, you're stuck playing this headset in a chair for the most part. The Rift's future seems promising though.