Oculus Rift review

Oculus Rift is missing key ingredients to make it a fully realized VR experience
Oculus Rift

It's taken four years for Oculus Rift to go from Kickstarter to a consumer edition ready to reviewed and critiqued – and it's generated near rabid interest in VR.

The HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard all owe their success in part to riding Oculus' coattails, but as we've sat around anxiously, ready to finally experience the Rift for ourselves, our expectations have perhaps risen too high.

The Rift rallying cry, 'Step into the Rift' is itself a sad understatement considering you aren't really doing that much stepping around. In reality, it's really more like wheeling if you're sitting in a desk chair that can roll about. While standing and sitting VR are both options Rift offers, the lack of walking doesn't make for a very immersive experience.

Where the Vive's barriers to entry are price and requiring lots of space to play, Rift's are also price and simply put, a need for a more well-rounded VR experience. It's certainly a lower cost than Vive at $600 (after shipping), but you have to also factor in the upcoming Oculus Touch controllers that are sorely missing right now, and of course, the PC set-up if you don't already have one.

But is it a deal breaker? We sat down and dived in to find out.

Oculus Rift: Initial set-up

You don't need a lot of space to use an Oculus Rift but you'll want to clear away plenty of desk top and again, have a rolling chair. This makes it all easier to place the sensor and to look around in VR.

In the box you get an Oculus sensor, Oculus remote, Xbox One controller and headset. There are no giant papers to tell you what's what like the Vive. Instead, you simply head to Oculus' setup site where various prompts lead you through the process.

It's all pretty simple regardless of the prompts since it's only an HDMI and a few USB cords to connect up, sensor configuration and you should be good to go.

Generally it's not a ton of cables to plug in and deal with but regardless, I've laid out the steps on how to set up the Oculus Rift which should make it even easier. It's been nice not having to figure out where to put sensors or deciding if I want to drill holes in the wall. Lack of space also isn't an issue with Rift since there aren't games that require walking around.

Oculus Rift: Design and comfort

There's no doubt the Oculus Rift is a sleek device, and perhaps even more eye catching than the Vive. It's also come a long way from its SDK days with Oculus sourcing soft and stretchy materials for the headset. It's also lighter than the Vive, making hours of using it fly by unnoticed.

There's only one cord that runs out from the side of your head which makes it easier to adjust the top and sides with the velcro straps. Because you're not walking around, the cord also doesn't interfere with gameplay. It could get rolled on with your chair since it's still pretty long, so be wary of that.

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe has said at a press event that, "it feels like you just put on a pair of glasses" when wearing Rift. That's not exactly the case if you already have glasses like I do, and comfort can actually be a bit of a problem.

After fiddling with the straps, and pushing my glasses a bit forward while wearing Rift, the fit isn't too bad and comfier than my demo times during press events. There's a bit of spring action that the Vive doesn't have which does make it a slightly easier process. Still, sometimes it feels like a fight to figure out the best way to adjust (and readjust) the Rift in order to find the best fit.

Some people with glasses who used my Rift had a much harder time trying to adjust the straps to make it comfortable.

To make sure faces of all shapes and sizes can wear the Rift, the headset is built to accommodate for various noses. Being a person with a small nose, that means my Rift sadly has a considerably large gap right below my eyes. It's been annoying during VR time, but it's also kind of useful to see through if I have to find a controller or change a computer setting. Still, it's saying a lot about the light leakage if I can do all that with a Rift strapped to my noggin.

The earpieces look dinky, but don't be fooled. They're quite the spatial sound powerhouse when in use, and fit over my ears quite well. The pieces are also easily adjustable for different ears, and if you want to keep one off to talk to a person in real life. They're also optional if you want to switch them out for other headphones.

Oculus Rift: Performance

The Rift offers a 2160 x 1200 resolution, across the two OLED displays on board, working at 233 million pixels per second with a 90Hz refresh rate.

The important thing is that it has been bright and dense enough to generally avoid the dreaded 'screen door effect' that plagues lower-res displays. I also only noticed brief moments of screen door, much like my time with Vive, and wasn't bothered by it. Other than that, the display remains crisp and clear. The cartoon colors on Lucky's Tale are positively vivid while space in ADR1FT and Eve:Valkyrie are stunning. It's the exact same specs as Vive so it's hard to notice a difference between the two - which isn't a bad thing.

The sensor is able to recognize if you've turned your body more than 180 degrees. The sensor sits about 10 inches above your desk and can be tilted up or down, depending on your preference. Tracking worked well which is what I expected since there isn't a lot of movement involved. But for the games like Valkyrie where I'd turn my head to look around, it was done without the lag I've experienced before playing previous versions of Rift.

The refresh rate is also the ideal sweet spot which developers have found causes little to no amount of motion sickness - but again, this is wholly dependent on the game. While I felt fine most of the time in Rift VR, certain titles like Eve: Valkyrie could only be played for half an hour or less before I felt like upchucking my lunch.

Other games like Chronos or Lucky's Tale were made a bit differently so the camera isn't swooping around and scenes are shot from a God-like angle. Both were still fun and immersive and I was able to play for hours without feeling nauseous.

There are ways to figure out whether a game will make you feel sick, at least according to Oculus standards. When going through the library, you can sort by comfort level, alphabetical or most recent. Comfort level isn't clearly explained unless you're in desktop mode but it's easy enough to guess what the categorization is - while wearing the headset, a small symbol appears on the bottom left of the thumbnail image if you're sorting by comfort. A green circle denotes the most comfortable experience, a yellow square is moderate and a red diamond is intense.

Oculus Rift: Games

There's no doubt Valve has a larger catalog of games than Oculus but the impending release of Touch should even the score. Despite the numbers, the games on Steam aren't exactly the polished, well thought out titles you find in the Oculus store. This is due to many of the games being exclusives so developers have the financial back of social media giant Facebook.

While some take issue with this, including HTC who doesn't believe in exclusives, the quality is not something that can be refuted. Most games span two to five hours, or if you're going slow, you can hit around eight - at least according to Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price, developer of Edge of Tomorrow.

Pricing is still all over the place as the industry is trying to find its footing. I found that some games weren't worth $20 and, at the top end, $60 just seems like a lot if you aren't going to get much gameplay. But at the moment, I feel more comfortable shelling out for the Oculus exclusives than the promised installments on Steam.

Speaking of gameplay, there isn't a lot of head movement in general for the titles I played so there wasn't a heavy amount of swiveling my head around or turning my chair 360-degrees. When I did turn, it was just to look at scenery and not keep up with gameplay. In all honesty, I'm on fence about this kind of experience. On the one hand, it's not sweat-inducing and relatively comfortable not moving around with room-scale VR. On the other, it doesn't really taking advantage of what virtual reality can offer and it's not room-scale immersion either.

Don't get me wrong, the games are still beautiful but I'm not sure if I want to just sit and stare in one direction while in VR - I can do that without a headset already.

Part of the problem lies with the lack of the Oculus Touch controllers. Perhaps if I was able to use my hands to interact with the virtual worlds, I'd feel part of the VR worlds, but using the Xbox One controller (or Oculus remote) and staying stationary for the most part, ends up being a mediocre experience.

Oculus Rift: Extra features

Aside from the games, Oculus offers up various apps like Discovery VR which lets you explore shipwrecks and places around the world through 360-degree videos. In fact, most of the apps are video based experiences or 360-degree photos, which is reminiscent of the Samsung Gear VR homefront. Kismet is the one exception that is both a horoscope app and a mini-game against an AI. There's also a Hulu app but Netflix is noticeably absent from the mix for now.

There's a small selection of short films and film-like experiences (nine in total) that have been screened previously at festivals as well like Invasion, Butts and Henry, but also a few I hadn't personally seen before like Lost and ABE VR.

Everything can be chosen from inside the headset through Oculus Home which is simple to navigate and should be familiar if you've used Gear VR. The interface is designed slightly better than Vive's since everything is neatly laid out in front of you.

You can also buy and download games from the headset but sometimes, you'll have to switch to desktop mode (i.e. take the headset off) to finish installations. This part can get annoying especially if you've adjusted to the perfect fit.

Oculus Rift
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Oculus Rift: Closing thoughts

There's no doubt Oculus revived the virtual reality industry and made it what it is today. Heck, there probably wouldn't be an HTC Vive or PlayStation VR if Rift never made it out of Palmer Luckey's imagination. But that doesn't mean it's the best headset you can get.

I was firmly in the Rift camp for a long time, following the company's movements and getting my hands on every demo I could find, but now that it's at home, I find myself less inclined to use it.

At best, there are moments I can see days where I don't want to use Vive to walk around in VR and would rather use the Oculus Rift to sit and VR. Considering it's a matter of switching around cables, it wouldn't be a difficult task to rotate HMDs. But not everyone has that luxury. Not every one can even afford one headset and/or a PC to go along with it.

Later in the year when PS VR comes out, it'll be a tougher decision considering you'll generally get the same sitting/standing experience without much movement and walking around. PS VR is also cheaper especially if you already have a console, controllers and camera.

When it comes down to it, if choosing a VR headset is financially feasible, I would only recommend the Rift with heavy caveats. You can't walk in VR, there's still an unknown date for Touch controllers and it simply isn't as immersive when playing games. That said, if you truly want something easy to set-up that offers a wider range of experiences than a Gear VR or Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift is for you. When the Touch controllers finally arrive and more games are on the table, I'm hoping Rift will be a better experience. Whatever the case, I'll revisit the headset and see whether my feelings remain the same.

Oculus Rift
By Oculus
Oculus Rift boasts a small collection of games right now that should be boosted at a later date when Oculus Touch controllers land, and that’s just one of the problems it has. It’s an easy set-up, but experiences aren’t as immersive as room-scale where you can walk around; instead you’re confined to a rolling chair where you’re generally facing one direction the entire time. This means you’re paying about $600 and then some, for an experience that in reality, just resembles VR.

  • Great games
  • Easy setup
  • Comfy, light fit
  • No room-scale VR
  • No Touch controllers (yet)
  • Expensive

Shop for VR headsets on Amazon

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift
PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR
HTC Vive
HTC Vive
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung Gear VR

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  • ElNido says:

    What about those of us who wear glasses? Oculus taking this into consideration for their consumer release?

    • rwarwar says:

      It says right in the article:

      "the headset has been refined for users with glasses."

      At least you have proved you need your glasses! ;)

      • ArmEagle says:

        I think his vision was blurred by the time travel.

        Joking aside. Just one line about something being done is far from enough to make me outright want it (though I'll certainly want some VR set). I'll go look for a review by a glasses wearer.

        • l.prasuethsut says:

          Heya! I wear glasses and have used the Consumer Edition several times. I like the notches that the Vive has for glasses wearers but the Rift is also actually pretty comfy. My frames are pretty large and they sit in the headset well. I just have to adjust the straps so it's comfortable. Though they do get stuck sometimes when I'm taking Rift off. The longest I've used it with glasses was about an hour and it was fine - however it was with Dragon Front (tutorial and an actual game) so I'm not sure how comfy it will be with a game that requires you to move your head more. Hope that helps!

  • shackdaddy says:

    Why is it still wired? Htc vive made there's wireless. 

    • p.lamkin says:

      Erm. Nope. There's a lot of wires with the Vive

  • streamRPG says:

    So shady review. DK2 mentioned, and pixels pixels pixels, mentioned, in the end, I guess Facebook told them to not give any specific details either consumer version took care of the pixel problem that was so apparent in DK2. Even though I am waiting on mine, I still wanna see an honest review from someone, who wasn't limited from what they can say under a penalty of not getting their CV for an early review.

  • Christopher says:

    Yoda from wash, dc claims that this VR technology beats old school imagination because "this technology allows you to interface with the imagination of others!"

    However, There's another, more ancient, technology that also allows you to interface your imagination with others. I'm doing it right now. It involves 26 little squiggly black things arranged in a very specific order. Remarkably, just rearranging those 26 squiggles (aka letters) can allow me to interface just about anything that goes through my head. And almost anyone can do it! You don't have to be a computer genius.

    Now granted, it takes a bit more work than having it all defined and fed to you. But the exercise of interfacing with someone else's mind through reading expands your mental abilities. Rather than becoming a gluttonous mental consumer you participate in the creation process as your imagination creates it's own unique vision of what you read.

    I am afraid that the concept of creating imaginative content will be more and more limited to experts as the popular creative formats become specialized and sophisticated. How many people can create an expressive, creative video? How many people can create a virtual reality video? And I say this as a professional digital artist who is capable of doing much of the above. I don’tquite understand why so many people view the advance of technology as something extremely negative as we can witness in many technology essays. The masses are becoming consumers of creativity and imagination rather than participants, each on their own level. There is a trade-off in this advanced imagine-for-you technology.

    • tide0 says:

      I appreciate your angle (and for that matter I think there are also other, even more ancient methods than the written word for interfacing our imaginations, but that's another story), and while the trend of spoon feeding the imagination, and for the content to largely come from monopolized sources (as is true to a reasonable extent with TV\film) does have detrimental effects, the truth is we are well and truly entering a digital renaissance, and as the technology for digital content creation becomes less exclusive, more intuitive, more open and community driven, the playing field is really starting to level out and the independent and hobbyist digital media communities are exploding with life.

      Just take a look at the trend for the major game engines at the moment (Unity and Unreal are free for anyone to begin creating content in, and I hear that Valve's Source 2 engine is to be the same) and how many bedroom dabblers are empowered to share their imagination with the world and, potentially, simultaneously begin down a viable career path. All change is a re-balancing and there are always trade-offs, but the truth is that the generation of children growing up now who are lucky enough to have access to this technology are more creatively empowered to share their vision with the world than the generations who came before. Don't forget that the further back in history you go, the more exclusive and 'elite' the use of the written word was too.

      VR is just the cutting edge of what mankind has been doing this whole time, anyway. All art... literature, painting, music, theater, film.. they are all kinds of virtual reality. Not to mention that in a world where atoms are almost entirely made of empty space, and quantum entanglement implies a holographic, fractal structure to reality, waking experience is a virtual reality too. We are the universe reflecting, imitating itself, in an attempt to know itself.

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    Given the the Xiaozhai Z4 BOBOVR VR Box,the eye adjustment for the lens is very helpful and means my girlfriend can use them as well. The foam around the face and nose makes them comfortable to wear for prolonged use, I had the cardboard ones before and they we're uncomfortable and left lines all over my face! Great for VR apps and work particularly well with 3D films

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