The year of virtual reality has already had its fair share of shakeups and controversies. The Oculus Rift struck first, with a completely bungled launch that has continued getting worse for many of its most die hard customers. On the other end, the HTC Vive saw a few delays, but seemed to handle things in a more professional manner, getting most customers their headsets within the estimated time frame.
Looking beyond the two VR headsets’ respective launches, gamers have multiple questions on their mind. At the top must be the central debate of the newly started VR war. Which is better, the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive? Of course, there is the PlayStation VR to worry about as well. We recently checked it out and came away very impressed with what it was doing. However, those impressions were tinted by the vastly lower cost of the device and its required hardware. If you’re looking for the top of the line VR experience it will be one of the two PC options. So which should you get? We’ll break it down into categories, announcing the winner of each, though the ultimate winner will be based on the whole picture, not just a tally of the categories.
Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Which is Better?
Price – Winner: Oculus Rift
This is a tough one because both headsets are doing things differently. On paper there is a $200 difference, with the Oculus Rift hitting shelves at $599, and the HTC Vive tipping the scales at $799. However, you get a whole lot more with the HTC Vive, due to it coming pre-packaged with motion controllers, and room scale setup. The Oculus also has an Xbox One controller come with it, so if you need one of those it chips a bit off the price tag. Still, this is largely a tie, as the Oculus Touch controllers will later create essentially the same price point for both, but one headset gives you the option to pay less, so if you spent the thousand plus it takes to get a PC and are strapped for cash, there is only one choice for this category.
Comfort and Design – Winner: Oculus Rift
VR headsets have to be worn on your face, and for a decent stretch of time. This means the design is pretty important. How comfortable it is on your face can determine how much time you are willing to put into the games that you play. In this category there is a definite winner with the Oculus Rift. Weighing a good 100 grams less, and fully designed for comfort, the Rift excels in this arena.
This isn’t to say that the Vive is poorly designed, but it is a definite function over form kind of device. It’s heavier weight isn’t a major concern, but you will notice it on your face, and it can get uncomfortable after playing for an hour or more.
The Oculus also has headphones built in, which makes for an overall better fit. However, if you have a high quality headset like most PC gamers, you’ll probably prefer using it, even if it does make for a less comfortable experience.
Features – Winner: HTC Vive
The whole point of the budding VR revolution is the amount of cool features these headsets bring to the table. Both offer 3D, head tracking visuals, but only one goes beyond this and delivers what I would call the “full VR experience. The HTC Vive blows the Oculus Rift out of the water in terms of its feature set, giving players not only motion controllers right out of the box, but also full room scale, allowing you to walk around the virtual space.
The HTC Vive blows the Oculus Rift out of the water in terms of its feature set
The Oculus Rift will be getting its Touch controllers later in the year, but not including them with the headset turns them into peripherals, and we all know how well those usually turn out. And the Oculus will likely not receive full room scale support at all, or at least not for the foreseeable future (it seems to have some support, but nowhere near what the Vive has). This is one of, if not the most important category on this list and the HTC Vive wins it hands down.
The Games – Winner: HTC Vive
Another massively important category. If there weren’t any good games to be played, there would be no reason to even own a VR headset. It’s also a pretty interesting point of contention between the two devices, with the HTC Vive sticking with SteamVR, and allowing an open platform, while Oculus Rift has shifted to the walled garden approach. Both are viable options, but in terms of morals and ethics it does feel like the Vive is the better option. The PC platform is built on being open, and the amount of exclusivity and other shady business practices that we’re seeing out of Oculus should really give early adopters pause.
However, the real question is, which headset has the better games. You’d think this would be an easy Oculus victory, since it has its exclusives, while still playing Vive compatible games on Steam. However, this goes back to the Features category, with the Oculus being unable to play many Vive games, or having an inferior version of it. The Lab, for example, simply can’t be played without motion controllers. Down the line the Oculus might pull ahead, though there are also options for how to play Oculus exclusive games on the Vive, if you’re willing to violate some terms of service. Overall, by far the best experiences I’ve had in VR games have all come from Vive exclusive titles, such as Holopoint, The Lab, and Space Pirate Trainer.
Conclusion – Winner: HTC Vive
We could keep breaking down these two VR headsets into more and more categories, but these four seem to give the overall picture better than any other. As you can see, the four categories split evenly, with Oculus Rift snagging two, and HTC Vive grabbing the other two. However, the two that the Vive won were by far the more important categories for the majority of players. In terms of specs, like the screen quality and other stuff, it is essentially a tie, with the Oculus Rift having worse light bleeding or “God rays”, and the Vive having more of a screen door effect. If price is a major concern, or if you really have to have the lightest and best looking VR headset then the Oculus Rift is for you. But if you care about the actual experience of VR then for now the HTC Vive is the best option by far.