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VR Comparison: The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

VR Comparison: The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

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I’ve just spent the past week with the HTC Vive, which comes off the back of having a good, long, hands-on session with the Oculus Rift the week before. I’ve developed some opinions on both devices and the concept of Virtual Reality in the home that I’d like to add to the conversation that has gripped the videogame industry. The following is written with the assumption that the reader has a more than basic understanding of the premise and functionality of both devices, but may not have used either device before. Also, keep in mind this is all anecdotal, opinionated, thinking-out-loud that is based off a relatively short exposure to these devices, and it’s likely that these opinions will change over time as these experiences ferment.


Device Similarities

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  • Both devices are incredibly similar in feel and functionality (ignoring touch controls for the moment).
  • Both have a good field of view that feels like you’re wearing scuba goggles in-game, and both have a small slit around the nose area that lets light in that you completely forget about when you’re five minutes into a game.
  • Both felt to be about the same weight on my head, and I found them both equally comfortable to wear.
  • General opinion is to wear the headsets looser than you might first expect, but I found it more comfortable and immersive to wear them nice and tight. However, this becomes uncomfortable after around 45-60 minutes of use, and I would eventually need to loosen the straps to keep playing.
  • Both devices took about 5-10 minutes of fiddling with straps, knobs, and buttons for me to get the most comfortable position and clearest image.
  • You can definitely notice the pixels on the screens on both devices if you’re looking for them. If not, you’ll forget about it.

Notes on the HTC Vive

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  • The Vive headset is smaller and lighter than I expected it to be from pictures and videos.
  • The Vive headset supports seated experiences as well as room scale experiences. Seated experiences on the Vive are functionally identical to using the Oculus and are very easy to setup.
  • You actually only need one lighthouse station to use the Vive. This is ideal for seated or standing experiences when using the headset at your desk.
  • Speaking of lighthouse stations, each box needs to be plugged into a power outlet and each box has a ~2m (6ft) long chord with a fat plug. These boxes have a motor and need to be turned on whenever you use the Vive. This motor emits a very slight high-pitched tone whenever the box is on, that you can’t hear over headphones, but forced me to unplug each box when not in use. These boxes can be set to power down when SteamVR isn’t activated.
  • The Vive headset plugs into a breakout box that connects to your computer via USB2.0, HDMI, and another power socket plug, totaling three power outlets required whenever the Vive is to be used for room scale.
  • A monitor needs to be connected to the same GPU that the Vive is connected to otherwise it will not boot. Meaning you can’t just take your PC box into the backyard to play in VR, you need to bring a monitor as well.
  • Setting up room scale is very simple and takes less than a minute if you know what you're doing.
  • You can use almost all Oculus Rift games using the ReVive third-party program. It’s as simple as installing Oculus home and running another installer. Takes less than five minutes and works perfectly. However, some games have compatibility issues with the Vive (see the ReVive forums for a list).
  • The Vive can connect to your phone via Bluetooth so that you can see notifications whilst wearing the headset.
  • The tracking controls work perfectly. They feel great – very light, sturdy and comfortable to use. Hand tracking adds a significant element to the VR experience.
  • The camera on the front of the headset really helps with safe use of room scale.

Notes on the Oculus Rift

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  • The Rift is also smaller and lighter than I expected from seeing pictures and videos.
  • The sensor for the Oculus Rift is bigger than I expected but didn’t cause any issues for me. It also works well at tracking the Oculus from most angles in front of the headset, doesn’t have to be directly in front of where you're sitting.
  • Installation is fairly simple and straightforward.
  • The Rift needs one USB3.0 connection for the headset, another for the sensor and will need another for the touch controllers when they are available.
  • Everything is powered through USB3.0 which makes the Rift much more ‘pick-up-and-play.' I often left the Rift plugged in, sitting on my desk ready to go, which I didn’t do for the Vive.
  • Oculus Home (Oculus’ version of the Steam store) functionally works fine and is similar to Steam. The prices of the games are bizarrely expensive, though.
  • Oculus integrates with Steam very easily.
  • The headphones are surprisingly decent quality, and I preferred them over having to plug in my own headphones on the Vive.
  • The padding is thicker on the Rift than the Vive and is very comfortable.

General VR Notes

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  • If you’ve never used a VR headset before, it’s important to know that the image from both devices is never crystal-clear like looking at a monitor or tv, and the best way to describe the view would be to say it’s like looking through a slightly distorted piece of glass. Again, you’ll completely forget about this when you’re in the middle of a game, but you will notice it when looking at things up close.
  • Some may consider this lack of clarity a negative. However, I think it actually adds to the immersion and realism of the game. It’s hard to describe, but it makes things look more realistic, more model-like. For example, your pistol in Raw Data looks like a real pistol with this distorted view, yet looks like a textured computer model when displayed on the monitor. Lucky’s Tale looks like you’re watching a toy fox jump around a playset when viewed through the headset. It looks like a computer game when viewed on the monitor or in videos.
  • Based on this, if you were planning on using a VR headset as a substitute for a big TV or monitor to play regular PC games, you need to try this out for yourself beforehand. You can definitely play those 2D games in a program like Virtual Desktop where the game appears as a large flat screen floating in space, but I find the lack of clarity coupled with the general constriction of the headset makes this a far less comfortable experience than just playing on a TV or monitor.

Motion sickness was not an issue for me apart from these exceptions:

  • The very first time I played Lucky’s Tale on the Oculus Rift gave me a slight feeling of nausea as the camera panned across the level. This feeling subsided quickly as I got used to it. This was also my first time using a VR headset.
  • VorpX is a third party program that aims to reproduce any DX9/10/11 game in 3D with head-tracking control using the Rift or Vive. It requires a lot of tweaking, patience and trial and error. I tried using this to play World of Warcraft in the first person. I didn’t optimise the settings correctly and attempted to explore the interior of some Goldshire castles. Five minutes of this led to an extreme feeling of nausea that persisted for over an hour.
  • Speaking of VorpX, if you planned on using a VR headset to play your favourite 2D game in 3D, you may be disappointed. VorpX is the most recommend software for doing this for games such as Skyrim, The Witcher 3 and GTA V and whilst the program does what it claims to, the experience really isn’t very good. I found the Witcher 3 to be far less immersive when played with a Vive headset in first person, as everything is far more zoomed in and even the fantastic visuals of the Wither 3 don’t hold up to such scrutiny. This will be a divisive issue that everyone forms their own opinions on.
  • You can filter games on Steam that are compatible with either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive so you can ensure your headset will work with your game on Steam.

Final Word

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Before I tried either VR headset, I was very excited for the idea of VR, yet sceptical of how well it would actually work and if the experience would actually be as significant as many people had claimed it to be. This scepticism faded after about an hour with the Oculus Rift and was gone completely after trying the Vive with the motion controllers. I was extremely impressed with both VR headsets, and the immersion that VR brings to an experience is actually quite incredible. At the same time, the headsets we have now definitely feel like the first generation of a new, incredible technology that will only get better with time and incremental iterations. The comfort of the headsets and clarity of the image are the two main areas that I would like to see addressed in future iterations.

Finally, the ultimate question: is either VR headset currently worth the price of admission? My answer is… try it first, then decide – but probably not. The technology is incredible, the library of games is pretty good at the moment and continually growing, but early adopter syndrome is in full effect. The headsets we have now offer incredible experiences that will only get better with time, yet future iterations are more than likely to feature improvements that will make them worth the wait.

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