The virtual reality headset industry is far more mature than when it re-emerged with exciting new hardware in 2016, but Oculus and HTC’s flagship PC headsets are still two of the best choices out there.
While you might be more excited about the HTC Vive Pro, Oculus Go, or Oculus Quest, the Oculus Rift versus HTC Vive comparison is still a major debate worth having when it comes to picking the right VR headset for you — especially if you already have a capable gaming PC.
The Rift and Vive both utilize adjustable Velcro straps and comfortable padding on the interior faceplate. The Vive is the heavier of the two, which makes sense given that it touts 37 visible sensors on the front to pick up the laser signal from its external tracking sensors. If you like, you can update the Vive with the Deluxe Audio Strap, though it is an extra $100.
The Rift, on the other hand, showcases a sleeker, fabric-coated exterior design and smaller footprint. It’s easier to get on and off and is a little more comfortable over long periods of use. While the Vive still looks a bit experimental, the Rift looks like a futuristic device you’ll be happy to show off.
Both models accommodate glasses (though with some added discomfort) and connect via USB and HDMI to your PC.
Display quality, field of view
The Rift and Vive both come outfitted with a pair of vibrant OLED displays, each of which offers 1,080 x 1,200-pixel resolution for each eye. Said displays bring the final resolution to 2,160 x 1,200, with 90Hz refresh rates, thus ensuring the frame rate is high enough to prevent motion sickness and provide a smooth experience overall.
By the specs sheet, both headsets also offer a 110-degree field of view (FOV), though in actual usage there’s a lot of subjective evidence (and some slightly more scientific) to suggest that the Vive offers a slightly wider and certainly taller field of view. It’s not hugely noticeable when you’re in the midst of gunning down robots or exploring abandoned buildings, but it’s there.
One aspect that does affect the visuals of each headset is their lens designs. While there are some differences in manufacturing style, the only time it’s noticeable is when bright objects appear on darker backgrounds. The Vive has somewhat obvious concentric rings that appear due to the lens’ machining. In comparison, the Rift has a more general aura around the bright objects.
Controls and tracking
The Rift and the Vive both utilize custom, motion tracked controllers — known as Oculus Touch and Vive Controllers, respectively. Although an Xbox One controller initially shipped with the Rift, the Touch controllers now come as standard. Read our hands-on for the details.
The Touch controllers have a joystick and button setup. They utilize the same low-latency tracking technology that determines the relative position of the headset and allow for some simple gesture mapping based on how you’re holding the controller. The design allows the pair of controllers to function more like your real hands when gaming, capitalizing on internal tracking sensors and haptic feedback.
The Vive’s controllers function much like a modified Steam Controller. They sport touch-sensitive, circular pads under your thumbs, and trigger buttons that act as primary selection buttons. There is also a pair of grip buttons on the sides, which some developers have used for in-game grasping mechanics.
Two “lighthouse” sensors track the Vive controllers and headset and when placed in opposite corners of a room can track a space that’s 15 x 15ft. They were designed to offer room-scale tracking from the get-go, so the two bundled sensors are all that’s needed for it. The Vive tracking works near flawlessly most of the time.
The lighthouse trackers and wand controllers also support the HTC Vive Pro headset.
The Rift set up uses a pair of “Constellation” tracking cameras, which use infrared light to offer 360-degree positional head tracking in a short, but broad and deep play area, enabling a smaller room-scale tracking space than the Vive. With an additional tracker, you can achieve better tracking for the Touch controllers and a larger tracking space, though Oculus only recommends a maximum tracking space of eight by eight feet to avoid occlusion.
Both headsets project a virtual grid at the edge of your virtual play space to stop users from walking into walls.
The Oculus Rift is compatible with software through the Oculus Home store, as well as supporting games through Steam and most recently HTC’s Viveport store too. The headset currently comes with seven games: Lucky’s Tale, Medium, Toybox, Quill, Dead and Buried, Dragon Front, and Robo Recall.
The Rift store has a decent library of titles, though the total is noticeably less than that of the Vive’s catalog.
HTC’s Vive is designed to primarily work with Valve’s Steam platform. Steam has a catalog of thousands of games and experiences to enjoy, and ultimately gives the Vive the most extensive content library of any VR headset right now. When you buy the headset, you also get a code for free games of your choice, as well as a free subscription to its Viveport game rental service.
The Oculus Rift bundle has settled on a competitive $400 for the headset, Touch controllers, and a second Constellation camera. You probably still want to spend $60 for a third one, though. The Vive is sold at a base price of $500. Both headsets come with motion controllers and room-scale tracking as standard, though the Vive’s tracking has fewer problems with controller occlusion.
That means that the Rift is the cheaper option, even factoring in the cost of an additional sensor. That price is narrower today than it was when both headsets first launched, though, and the Rift bundle does include less hardware — it lacks the Xbox One controller and wireless remote. When you factor in the cost of a third sensor for the Rift, which is recommended for large room-scale VR, the price difference is quite negligible.
The HTC Vive is still the best
Although the HTC Vive Pro’s launch in early April steals the crown from the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in terms of visuals, and the Oculus Quest is a viable alternative for both, they’re still fantastic VR headsets for the money — even now that the PSVR can be had in bundles for under $300.
When pitted head to head, many of the hardware specs are comparable between the Rift and Vive. Other facets — notably the controllers and tracking system on each device — differ, even if they aren’t that far apart in price.
While the specifications make it difficult to declare a winner, our personal experiences with the Vive have been more favorable, as you can read in our review. Even though the Oculus Touch controllers bring the experience up to par with the Vive, the room-scale focus of the HTC headset still feels like the better choice.