Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Eight months into the future

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Eigh...
New Atlas has spent the better part of the last year with the Oculus Rift (left) and HTC Vive – this is our latest buying advice
New Atlas has spent the better part of the last year with the Oculus Rift (left) and HTC Vive – this is our latest buying advice
View 16 Images
New Atlas has spent the better part of the last year with the Oculus Rift (left) and HTC Vive – this is our latest buying advice
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New Atlas has spent the better part of the last year with the Oculus Rift (left) and HTC Vive – this is our latest buying advice
The highly ergonomic Oculus Touch controllers
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The highly ergonomic Oculus Touch controllers
A third Oculus positional sensor enables 360° tracking on the Rift
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A third Oculus positional sensor enables 360° tracking on the Rift
An HTC Vive base station
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An HTC Vive base station
New Atlas' David Nield playing with a pre-release version of the Vive's room-scale
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New Atlas' David Nield playing with a pre-release version of the Vive's room-scale
The Vive's Chaperone boundary system
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The Vive's Chaperone boundary system
Oculus' optional $50 earphones add higher-end audio
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Oculus' optional $50 earphones add higher-end audio
Optics and visuals are neck-and-neck on both systems
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Optics and visuals are neck-and-neck on both systems
Headset ergonomics favor the Rift (left)
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Headset ergonomics favor the Rift (left)
Glasses fit better inside the HTC Vive
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Glasses fit better inside the HTC Vive
Oculus exclusive Edge of Nowhere, one of VR's best gamepad titles
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Oculus exclusive Edge of Nowhere, one of VR's best gamepad titles
Oculus Touch title Superhot
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Oculus Touch title Superhot
The Vive's Arizona Sunshine
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The Vive's Arizona Sunshine
Clockwise, from top right: VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium, The Unspoken
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Clockwise, from top right: VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium, The Unspoken
HTC Vive (left), with Oculus Rift
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HTC Vive (left), with Oculus Rift
One of the Vive controllers
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One of the Vive controllers

Eight months after launch, the most fervent virtual reality enthusiasts have probably already settled on either the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. But maybe you've only tried mobile VR and are considering a splurge for a high-end, PC-based headset? We've been using the Rift and Vive since April, and have a few thoughts on which to buy in this comparison.

The first thing to know is that both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are outstanding; no other VR today comes close. We beg to differ with those who think Sony's PlayStation VR is worthy of equal consideration: We found its motion-controller-tracking to break the core illusion of virtual reality. If technology obfuscates VR's fundamental mind trick, what's the point?

The two questions we do recommend asking:

  • Do you invest in a PC-based VR setup now or wait another year or two?
  • If you are buying PC-based VR now, do you pick the Rift or Vive?

PC-based virtual reality is very expensive. Either the Rift or Vive, once you include tracking and motion controllers, rings up for around US$800. You'll also need to add a gaming PC, which usually tacks on another $700 or more (in October, Oculus said its partners would soon have $500 Rift-ready PCs, but at the time of publication they aren't yet available).

It isn't clear how long it will take for high-quality VR to fall into more consumer-friendly price ranges. But with an industry full of heavy hitters doing everything in their power to spark consumer interest, it stands to reason the next few years will bring more viable options in the sub-$1,000 (maybe even far below $1,000) range.

If budget is your highest priority, then you're likely better off standing pat. Mobile VR like the Gear VR and Daydream can provide a fix in the meantime.

Assuming you are ready to take the plunge, though, which do you go with? Earlier this year, we unequivocally recommended the HTC Vive. But today we prefer the Oculus Rift. What changed?

Motion controls

The highly ergonomic Oculus Touch controllers
The highly ergonomic Oculus Touch controllers

Oculus Touch changed, for starters. While we'd been using Facebook's motion controls at press events since mid-2015, their recent consumer launch let us compare them side-by-side with the Vive's controls. This accentuated Touch's superior ergonomics: The smaller controls hug the contours of your hands in ways HTC's accessories don't. This gives you a finer sense of precision in hands-based games and experiences; it's a more elegant way of interacting with virtual objects.

Finger tracking is another advantage for Oculus Touch. Sensors on the controllers' surfaces detect when you lift your real fingers. Your virtual fingers then mirror that movement in real-time.

One of the Vive controllers
One of the Vive controllers

The Vive controllers (above) are still very good. Their ergonomics aren't bad at all, and when it comes to holding weapons in VR – still the main use of motion controls – they fit the bill perfectly.

Ultimately, though, the best virtual reality is the one that creates the most convincing illusion of being somewhere else. And when it comes to the illusion of having hands, whether bare or holding a pistol, Oculus wins.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Tracking

An HTC Vive base station
An HTC Vive base station

Both the Rift and Vive have precise tracking that honors VR's core illusion, presenting a stark contrast with Sony's flawed system.

Early this year, the Vive had much better tracking than the Rift due to its 360-degree, room-scale focus. Two mounted base stations (above), which plug into power outlets, allow both headset and controllers to track their positions from anywhere in your space. You're free to move about a large room, with no "right" way to face.

Today the Vive still has superior tracking, but not by as wide a margin.

The Rift launched with one USB-connected camera that tracked in 180°. Adding Oculus Touch improves the Rift's tracking, as it includes a second camera that sits next to the first. Still, it's just better 180° tracking, not full 360° like the Vive; turn your back to the sensors and things get ugly.

A third Oculus positional sensor enables 360° tracking on the Rift
A third Oculus positional sensor enables 360° tracking on the Rift

Today Oculus offers the option of buying a third optical sensor (above) for $79. It snakes behind you, sitting opposite the first two sensors and enabling 360° tracking on the Rift.

We recently got a third sensor in house, and while its tracking is pitch-perfect for 360° experiences in smaller areas, it doesn't handle larger areas nearly as well as the Vive. For example, our Vive setup is in a 12 x 9 ft. space. The Rift setup in that same area had too many tracking dead zones to work properly. Shrinking the Rift's down to about 8 x 9 ft. worked better, though even then there was one corner where it had problems.

The Vive's 360° tracking has the advantage of requiring zero USB ports to the Rift's three. It also wins on content designed for 360° room-scale: While the Rift's hardware now supports this, the action in most of its current games takes place in one half-pie direction.

Winner: HTC Vive

Room-scale boundaries

New Atlas' David Nield playing with a pre-release version of the Vive's room-scale
New Atlas' David Nield playing with a pre-release version of the Vive's room-scale

This was another big advantage for the Vive in April. In VR, you can't have physical freedom without also having virtual boundaries that let you know when to stop moving. At that time, Oculus hadn't yet announced or demonstrated anything similar for the Rift and Touch.

That changed in the last couple months, as Oculus rolled out its Guardian system, which is essentially the same as Chaperone: get too close to the edge of your playing space, and a gridded wall pops into view, triggering your don't-walk-into-walls instinct.

The Vive's Chaperone boundary system
The Vive's Chaperone boundary system

We prefer the Rift's approach, though, because it lets you create walls that have irregularities jutting in and out. Since the Vive's Chaperone only allows for a rectangle with perfectly-straight lines, Oculus' approach better accommodates imperfect playing spaces.

Winner: Oculus Rift (by a hair)

Audio

Oculus' optional $50 earphones add higher-end audio
Oculus' optional $50 earphones add higher-end audio

The Rift wins on audio, both through ease-of-use and quality. Out of the box, the headset has a pair of headphones attached to the headband: Put on the Rift and audio is already good to go.

With the Vive, you plug in either included earbuds or your own pair of headphones. This is clunkier, as the earphone wires can get tangled with the headset wires and, in the case of the earbuds, you'll have to fumble around to figure out which belongs in each ear. It sounds nitpicky, but tedious tasks like this, when repeated every time you play, can add up to a major annoyance.

Oculus also gives Rift owners the option of getting a significant audio upgrade for only $50. The Oculus Earphones (above) are earbuds that replace the stock headphones, giving you much better-defined audio with clearer separation, a wider soundstage and solid noise isolation. It doesn't dramatically change the VR experience, but great audio is an underestimated factor in feeling like you're somewhere else.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Visuals

Optics and visuals are neck-and-neck on both systems
Optics and visuals are neck-and-neck on both systems

In terms of display, we don't notice any significant difference one way or the other. Both headsets have OLED screens that use the same resolution, and roughly the same field of view.

A bigger differentiator in the quality of visuals is your PC's graphics card, with Nvidia's relatively-affordable GTX 1070 and 1080 offering notable upgrades over the minimum-spec GPUs available when the Rift and Vive launched in April.

Winner: Tie

Headset ergonomics

Headset ergonomics favor the Rift (left)
Headset ergonomics favor the Rift (left)

The Rift headset is smaller and lighter, with integrated audio, without sacrificing anything visually. The Vive, while not uncomfortable, is a bulbous contraption.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Room for glasses

Glasses fit better inside the HTC Vive
Glasses fit better inside the HTC Vive

The Vive lets you slide its lenses forwards and backwards, to either make space for specs or optimize the field of view. The Rift doesn't do this, and can be uncomfortable with certain glasses.

Winner: HTC Vive

Gamepad content

Oculus exclusive Edge of Nowhere, one of VR's best gamepad titles
Oculus exclusive Edge of Nowhere, one of VR's best gamepad titles

While Steam sells some gamepad-based games for the Vive, that was never the system's specialty. The Rift launched as a gamepad-only system and the Oculus Store includes some terrific classic-gaming experiences with a AAA feel, like Edge of Nowhere (above), Damaged Core, Chronos and Lucky's Tale.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Standing content

Oculus Touch title Superhot
Oculus Touch title Superhot

"Standing VR" constitutes primarily-180° experiences where you're upright and can move around, but don't require a large, room-sized space. This is what Oculus Touch was aimed towards until recently, so it's the category most Touch launch games fall into.

While it doesn't quite soar to the heights of room-scale, there's great fun to be had with this semi-mobile form of VR: Superhot (above), Dead & Buried, VR Sports Challenge and the upcoming Robo Recall are all great examples of 180° games for Rift + Touch.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Room-scale content

The Vive's Arizona Sunshine
The Vive's Arizona Sunshine

The Rift only recently added the option of room-scale, so Oculus Store developers haven't had time to tailor their games for 360°, free-roaming experiences. The Vive, meanwhile, was focused on room-scale since its inception – its games reflect that.

Vive room-scale highlights include Arizona Sunshine (above), Job Simulator, Vanishing Realms, Star Wars' Trials on Tatooine, Final Approach, The Gallery and Raw Data.

Winner: HTC Vive

Overall content

Clockwise, from top right: VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium, The Unspoken
Clockwise, from top right: VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium, The Unspoken

Since the Facebook acquisition, Oculus has been investing big bucks in VR content development, and it shows. The Rift is home to the most polished collection of games and experiences in VR. And it isn't by a small margin.

While the Vive's launch lineup was solid enough, we've been disappointed in the lack of progress since. There have been a couple of gems, but the vast majority of SteamVR releases have a rough-cut, indie, small-team feel.

We love indie games. But when you're sinking $1,500+ in a high-end system, we expect better than "rough draft" and "Early Access." While room-scale's immersion can mask the Vive's software shortcomings to some degree, we still think the system needs more AAA-style content to justify its considerable price.

Winner: Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Overall

HTC Vive (left), with Oculus Rift
HTC Vive (left), with Oculus Rift

If you want 360° room-scale VR, the Oculus Rift doesn't have the content or large-scale tracking accuracy of the HTC Vive. While we wish the Vive had more big-budget developer support, it's still hard to turn away from the mesmerizing level of immersion you get from its free-roaming, room-sized virtual worlds where there is no "right" direction to face.

If highly-immersive room-scale VR is your priority – we wouldn't blame you if it is – then the Vive is still your best bet.

Ultimately, though, "Go where the content is" isn't a bad rule of thumb in the world of consumer tech, and this mandate heavily favors the Rift. When you add the superior Touch controls, integrated audio and some wise pivots to offer serviceable-enough alternatives to the Vive's biggest strengths, we're comfortable saying Rift + Touch is the better choice for the majority of shoppers.

Top recommendation: Oculus Rift

If your mind isn't quite made up, you can check out our spec-by-spec comparison of the top VR headsets, along with our individual reviews of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

This article was updated on December 19 and 26 to reflect further testing of the Oculus Rift's three-sensor, room-scale setup.

7 comments
Milton
Great write-up, and thanks for calling out gamepad content. I've read in a few other places that the resolution just isn't high enough to avoid seeing pixels. I understand that for most VR content, you probably won't notice the pixels, but if I were to buy one of these for simply using as a more immersive 2D gaming experience I have a feeling the pixel issue (called "screen door effect") will be a problem.
Mr_Thumpy
If you use the simple setup mode to create your Chaperone boundaries on the Vive, it will give you a simple box. If you use advanced mode, you can create a complex wall that mirrors your room layout and can be any shape you like, depending on how many data points you give it, the Vive has had this since launch.
ChairmanLMAO
hyper excited! for the Vive BTW. Steam is a better platform. waiting for the second generation and hope HTC learns from this article. won't buy rift on principal idc if it is better. would be wise of htc to make the rift stuff work in the vive somehow. they can regain the lead especially if YOU buy their model.
guzmanchinky
I sat in a chair and played minecraft on the rift yesterday, made me nauseous. Tried the HTC (again) and didn't feel that at all. The store employee says several people have said the same thing.
J0hnny2468
This is a very biased article and I'll explain why. Room-scale: The Vive's available play area is substantially greater than the Rift. If you've played any room-scale games, you will appreciate that bigger will always be better and will only be best when you can roam freely anywhere. For me, and most people, once you experience a well engineered room-scale game...there's no going back. This was the primary deciding factor for me when choosing the Vive over the Rift. If room-scale is your most important factor, you need not read further. Room-scale Boundaries: I'm addition to other article flaws already pointed out, the boundaries can be controlled by the games themselves. Call of the Starseed uses a method that makes the bottom more visible than the top to minimize immersion break. Personally, I turn the boundaries off completely to maximize the immersion. I set the floor boundary to permanent so I can look down and see the edges of the room if I want to, which is typically between rounds or scenes so I can recenter. Arizona Sunshine is amazing with this configuration. That said, I DO NOT allow the kids to play without the boundaries. Visuals: Were rated at being equal; however, they are far from equal. Granted the technical specs appear the same, there is a lot more going on than just number of pixels and FOV. First and foremost, if you need glasses when wearing a headset, the Rift is pretty much a write-off. I don't know what percentage of the population this affects but if it's you, don't even consider the Rift. Second, the viewable in focus space on the lens is greater on the Vive than the Rift. This means that when you're looking around with your eyes rather than moving your head (think, checking a HUD for ammo information), the field of view that is still in focus is greater on the Vive. There are many other visual factors that may influence your preference but I consider the above two as important differentiators. Audio: The nod is given to the Rift because of the built-in earpieces. Granted this is most convenient, there are two other perspectives being ignored. First, 95% of the time, I or my kids use VR, we only use the sound from the desktop speakers. This is because we're typically sharing the experience with other people and that's harder to do when the player is fully immersed. Second, sometimes I prefer earbuds like when I want immersion but also want to be aware of what's going on in the real world. Other times I prefer a nice set of headphones where I can hear every nuance and none of the real world. Content: if you install Oculus Home, create an account, and setup Revive, you can play Rift titles on the Vive. The Steam Store also now supports Open VR, Rift, and Vive hardware. There may be other reasons someone may chose a Rift over a Vive but the bulk of what is cited in this article are not valid reasons. There are many other non-biased articles out there that can help you decide which way to go. I'd encourage you to do some more digging. In my opinion, the best setup is still the Vive and it's still best by a good margin...for what I want to get out of VR. That said, The Rift is continuously closing the gap and with Facebook backing the technology, I suspect Oculus is the best future bet. To be clear, I do not believe the Rift is or ever will match the Vive. What I do believe is that Oculus will outpace HTC. If I had to place a bet on the next generation of headsets (think 4K imagery per eye at 90 FPS with >110 degree FOV), I would bet on Oculus. Remember, Steam supports Open VR, Rift, and Vive. From a storefront perspective, Steam doesn't care what headset you come to the table with...they just want your money and I believe Oculus has better backing and future support. The current Rift headset is certainly not the best though...IMO.
Steve Jones
Please do try PSVR for yourself before ruling it out on the basis of New Atlas's issues with their controllers; many people are reporting that their PS Touch works just fine and the issue may be with New Atlas's specific set-up.
ChristerSjöberg
I agre with everything J0hnny2468 says. This article feels very biased. The VIVE is the clear winner of these two. Only thing rift maybe does better depending on what u like is smaller controllers and comfort but i personaly prefere the vive on those two as well.