It's taken several years for Oculus Rift to get from Kickstarter to consumer, ready to be reviewed and critiqued – and in that time, it has generated near rabid interest in VR.
The HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard all owe their success in part to riding on Oculus' coat tails, but as we sat around anxiously, ready to finally experience the Rift for ourselves, our expectations were perhaps too high. With the arrival of the Oculus Touch controllers, we now have the full picture of what Oculus Rift should have been all along.
The rallying cry, 'Step into the Rift' was at first a sad understatement, considering you weren't really doing that much stepping around. In reality, there was a lot of sitting, and maybe a little bit of spinning if you were on a desk chair. The addition of the second sensor has opened up a new world of possibility for room scale, which, coupled with the Touch controllers, truly makes the Rift into an immersive VR experience.
However it now also matches the Vive's barriers to entry, with its high cost and new space requirement – i.e. you have to move some furniture around and ensure you have a large enough area for room scale VR.
But these are small prices to pay if you're a die-hard virtual reality fan. We've even changed our score based on the addition of the controllers to reflect the new experience they bring. Read on to see how well the Oculus Rift works with the new Touch controllers in our updated review.
Oculus Rift: Initial set-up
If you're opting to go the controller-less route you won't need a lot of space to use Oculus Rift, but you'll want to clear away plenty of desktop space and again, a rolling chair is also useful. This all makes it 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 as you get with the Vive. Instead, you simply head to Oculus' setup site where various prompts lead you through the process.
It's a pretty simple setup since it's only an HDMI and a few USB cords to connect up, plus a sensor configuration to go through and you should be good to go. I've laid out the steps on how to set up the Oculus Rift, which should make it even easier.
If you do pick up the Oculus Touch controllers, then you'll want to make sure your desk is large enough to support the second sensor. No holes in the wall are necessary, but I found myself needing to set up the sensor on a stack of books since my desk wasn't long enough.
You'll also have to clear some furniture wherever your computer is situated – 7 x 5 feet to be exact. During the setup process, you'll draw a line around your play area, similar to how you do with HTC Vive, to set up the Guardian System. Once done, you can reset if the system says it's too small. I only managed a 'moderate' sized play area, which has worked for most of the games, but a few titles said my space was too small.
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 lighter than the Vive as well, making hours of use 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 though 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 it's certainly 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 various noses. Being a person with a small nose, that means my Rift 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 pretty well. The pieces are also easily adjustable for different ears, or 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.
As I mentioned before, the spatial audio on Rift is pretty good. I haven't used other headphones with the headset because I didn't feel like I needed to.
But Oculus decided to give people more options in the form of new Oculus Earphones for what it calls "passive noise isolation". Since these are earbuds, it seems Oculus thinks they'll provide an even more immersive experience. I decided to give them a try for myself.
Just like the ear pads, the earbuds don't look particularly fancy. They're simple in design and while I didn't think it was possible to look sillier with a VR headset on, the Oculus Earphones do the job. They loop into your ears making the wire stick out a bit, unlike the pads which just go straight over your ears. As for comfort, if you've worn earbuds before, these won't feel too different. They have a soft feeling rubber that sit nicely in your ears.
However the comfort level is of course subjective and after a week using the earphones, I ended up preferring the ear pads for long periods of usage. But for people who normally use earbuds for hours without issue, the earphones won't be a nuisance. I personally dislike any earbuds for more than a few hours since they start to dig in and hurt.
The sound on the earbuds remains top quality though. Like the ear pads, they were surprisingly robust and they provided an equally immersive experience during gameplay. The spatial audio remains in place since it's built into the Rift, so you won't be missing out on that either.
In the box, you'll get the two earphones, different sized earbuds and a tool to switch out the pads. Yes, you'll need to use a little plastic "audio tool" to unscrew the current pads – don't just yank them off and break the Rift. The earphones are also designated right and left so make sure they're fastened on the correct locations. And that's all there is to it when it comes to replacing the pads. It's an easy process that takes about five minutes to complete. The Oculus Earphones ship out for $49 which isn't too expensive for the sound quality you're getting. But if you're happy with your own set of cans or the stock Rift ear pads, then I would use the money to save up for the Oculus Touch controllers and an extra Rift sensor to finally try out Oculus' room scale abilities.
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 colours on Lucky's Tale are positively vivid, while space in ADR1FT and Eve:Valkyrie is stunning. It's the exact same specs as the Vive so it's hard to notice a difference between the two – which isn't a bad thing.
The sensor is able to recognise if you've turned your body more than 180 degrees. It 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 games like Valkyrie where I'd turn my head to look around, it was done without the lag I've experienced before when playing on 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 categorisation 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: Touch controllers
At long, long last the Oculus Touch controllers are in our hands. As mentioned previously, Rift hasn't felt complete until now. Just as Vive lets you 'touch' stuff and walk around in VR, Rift now lets you do the same thing.
However the controllers are vastly different in appearance and even provide different functions when compared to Vive's. The hardware hasn't changed much on the outside since we last used Touch despite going through many iterations in development.
The familiar half-moon design has stayed the same, along with the three buttons on each controller with X, Y and menu buttons on the left and A, B and the universal Oculus menu button on the right. You can also still do pointing and thumbs-up motions, as the controller's sensors are able to pick up the slightest movements.
The full range of buttons include a clickable thumb stick, a trigger for your forefinger and a touchpad button for the three remaining fingers. There's also a strap in case things get dicey in-game – after all, you don't want to break any screens.
Unlike Vive's rechargeable controllers, the Touch run off one AA battery each. That means you don't have to worry about charging up but you will have to eventually replace the batteries.
There are a couple of familiar titles in the Oculus Store for Touch, including Fantastic Contraption, Call Of The Starseed and Job Simulator, which all work fantastically with the controllers. You get the same range of movement as you would in Vive – like walking around to build, grabbing items and shooting weapons.
Room-scale with Oculus Rift
A deeper discussion of how room-scale works in-games can be found in the 'Games' section of the review. I'll just touch upon the performance of the second sensor here.
In the early days the sensors didn't feel that intuitive with Touch – I'd be able to hit targets sometimes, but then the aim would veer off despite pointing a gun at an unmoving object. To be fair, those experiences were only demos. At home, the sensors feel polished and able to capture my movements more precisely.
You also get a little visual warning in the form of a blue grid if you step too far outside the Guardian System, but there's no front facing camera to show you what you might run into. This is perhaps the biggest discrepancy between the Rift and the Vive, and I prefer the front facing camera of Vive's chaperone a bit more.
For full 360-degree room-scale on Rift, you can pick up a third sensor to put behind you. This way, every single movement can be captured. While it worked fine with just two sensors, there were moments when I was turned away and movements weren't picked up immediately.
Oculus Rift: Games
There's no doubt Valve has a large catalogue of games, but the release of Touch has added 53 more titles that have definitely evened the score. Despite the numbers, a lot of the games on Steam aren't quite the the polished titles you'd find in the Oculus store. This is likely due to many of the Oculus games being exclusives, so developers have the financial backing of social media giant Facebook.
While some take issue with this, 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 Nowhere.
Pricing is still all over the place as the industry tries 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 instalments on Steam.
In terms of gameplay, there initially wasn't a lot of head movement for the titles I played like Dragon Front, Lucky's Tale or Chronos which only require the Xbox One controller. These are more sit and lean in types of games where turning involves looking at scenery rather than keeping up with gameplay.
With Touch and room scale, though, it gets a lot more exciting. Don't get me wrong, many of the Xbox One controller-based games are still great, 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.
With the list of games so large now, I've only been able to try about 15 or so, plus the upcoming Touch titles from earlier demos. Let's just say Super Hot still sits pretty high on the list of the best Touch games you can get. It utilises the room-scale quite well as you sweat up a storm from dodging, shooting, punching and ducking your way through the game.
Other titles that have you moving around a lot like Fruit Ninja, Holoball and Space Pirate Trainer utilise room-scale as you'd expect. You're able to spin around to manoeuvre and use objects/weapons without issue, though the Guardian System may show up quite a lot if you haven't allocated enough space.
For less intensity and more creativity, Quill is the equivalent of Google's Tilt Brush for Vive. The menu is less sophisticated but the mechanics are generally the same, where you use the controllers to paint and draw in VR. But you can also choose Medium for sculpting/more painting or Kingspray VR for graffiti to get your art on – and you can't go wrong with either.
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, as 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 slightly better designed 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 had never made it out of Palmer Luckey's imagination.
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 try, but when it first arrived at home, I found myself less inclined to use it.
With Oculus Touch and an extra sensor for room-scale now out, my opinion has greatly shifted. Rift offers tons of experiences for room-scale and a library that's finally well rounded enough with plenty of options for gamepad and Touch.
Yes, Oculus arrived late to the room-scale game, but it's done a far better job by allowing sensors that don't require wall mounts. You'll still have to rearrange your furniture to find the space but that's expected now with immersive VR.
While not everyone can even afford a headset and/or a PC to go along with it, and shifting the house around may be a huge hassle for many, Oculus Rift is finally a system you can consider as a worthy addition to living room VR.
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