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: 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.
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