The Oculus Rift was, and still very much is, the poster child for virtual reality. Born in Palmer Luckey’s garage, the Rift not only rocketed to Kickstarter success but lit the fuse for the big VR bang.
In a way the HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VRand Google Cardboard VR headsets all owe their initial success in part to riding on Oculus’ coattails, but these systems have since grown in their own right. Today there’re a whole bunch of headsets to pick from, including the burgeoning Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem.
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But the Rift wasn’t perfect out the door; more of a fizz than a bang, if we’re honest. Then came the Touch controllers and support for room-scale movement, and better games. For a long time the HTC Vive had it, but today, in our view, the Oculus Rift is the best virtual reality headset out there.
It’s also become much more affordable. The Facebook-owned company (or maybe we should just start calling it Facebook and leave it at that) has been driving the price of the Rift down and it now stands at $399 with the Touch Controllers included.
We reviewed the system when it first launch but have since revisited. Here’s our refreshed review.
Oculus Rift: Initial setup
The Rift now comes bundled with Touch, but if you got an early unit without them… well, what the hell are you waiting for? If you’re insisting 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.
If you buy a Rift bundle today you’ll get two sensors in the box, which is enough for space to move around, but you’ll want to buy a third sensor to max out that play distance. With a third sensor, Oculus still recommends a maximum play space of eight by eight feet. There’s an in-depth guide on the nitty gritty here.
It’s a reasonably simple setup since it’s only an HDMI and a few USB cords to connect up, plus a sensor configuration to go through. You’ll need to download the Oculus software first to do this, and might need to update the headset to the latest firmware.. The sensor setup might just take a few minutes as you get everything correctly adjusted, but it’s relatively straightforward.
If you do pick up the Oculus Touch controllers, you’ll want to make sure your desk is large enough to support the second sensor. No holes in the wall are necessary, but you may need to stack it on something depending on your personal setup. If you get a third sensor, you’re best placing it behind you to get 360-degree tracking.
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. After that, you’re good to go.
Oculus Rift: Design and comfort
There’s no doubt the Oculus Rift is a well mad headset, and we reckon it’s sleeker than the Vive. It’s also come a long way from its SDK days, with Oculus sourcing soft and stretchy materials for the headset. While it was at first lighter than the Vive, HTC has been cutting the fat from its headset, and these days the two are on par.
Where the Rift is different to some other headsets out there is in how it distributes its weight. The Rift puts a lot of this on your face, where systems like the Lenovo Explorer center it on your forehead. We prefer the latter but the Rift is definitely comfortable, even for extended play sessions. Just make sure you have a tight fit to stop the image slipping out of focus.
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. With the ability to get up and walk around with the Rift on these days, this means it’s liable to getting caught on things. No getting around that until the Oculus Santa Cruz or the Oculus Go, though neither of Oculus’s upcoming standalone headsets will be as powerful as the Rift.
Getting the Rift comfortable is pretty easy but if you have glasses it’s more of a struggle. The Rift doesn’t accommodate people with glasses very well, but if comfort becomes a problem there are replacement face covers out there.
Other than that, the Rift does a decent job of supporting different face shapes comfortably, although one team member with a smaller nose found there was an annoying amount of light leaking in. Again, if this is a big problem then a replacement face plate might be a makeshift solution.
The earpieces look dinky, but don’t be fooled. They deliver powerful spatial sound when in use, and fit over the ears comfortable. 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.
Still, 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.
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. For people who normally use earbuds for hours without issue, the earphones won’t be a nuisance.
Hands on: Oculus Santa Cruz review
The sound on the earbuds remains top quality though. Like the ear pads, they’re surprisingly robust and 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 to 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.
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. That resolution was top notch at launch but has now been surpassed by headsets including the Windows Mixed Reality systems, the Samsung Odyssey at the top of the pile (1400 x 1600 per eye).
The important thing is that Oculus is been bright and dense enough to generally avoid the dreaded “screen door effect” that plagues lower-res displays. That’s not to say we never see it, but it’s less noticeable. Other than that, the display remains crisp and clear. The cartoon colours on Lucky’s Tale are positively vivid, while space in Lone Echois 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.
Sensor recognition is very accurate, but liable to occlusion, especially if you only have two sensors. If both of them are based in front of you, turning 180 degrees and blocking the sensors from seeing the signal from the Touch controllers can cause dead zones. The Vive is a bit better in coverage with just two of its sensors, but a third Oculus sensor will guarantee 360-degree tracking.
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 we felt fine most of the time in Rift VR, certain titles still have a tendency to make us feel like upchucking our lunch. This is less of a problem than it was in the early days, as developers have got a better grasp on the tech, but it does stil occasionally happen.
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
As mentioned previously, Rift didn’t feel complete until the Touch controllers arrived. Just as Vive lets you “touch” stuff and walk around in VR, Rift’s Touch controller let you do the same thing.
However the controllers are vastly different in appearance and even provide different functions when compared to Vive’s. There’s the half-moon design, 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 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.
Oculus Rift: Games
There’s no doubt Valve has a large catalogue of games, but the release of Touch has added more titles that have 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. We understand the argument, but ultimately it’s meant the Rift has landed some really top-line titles.
In terms of gameplay, most developers are onboard with the Oculus Touch, and going back to the Xbox controller really feels like a step back. With Touch and room scale, though, it gets a lot more exciting. Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of Xbox One controller-based games are still great, but once you’ve tried Touch, it’s hard to look back.
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: Beyond games
When Facebook announced it was buying Oculus, you could almost hear the cogs in Zuckerberg’s head whirring. The social potential of VR is huge and already coming through with games like Echo Arena and Star Trek: Bridge Crew. But Facebook integration seemed inevitable, and it’s happening with Facebook Spaces, a social hangout made by Facebook and free for Rift users.
Boot this up from your home area and you’ll be transported to a different virtual environment where you’re given tools to create art, graffiti Facebook photos and take selfies. Facebook friends can also join you in here so you can mess around together, and it’s a lot of fun, filled with some pretty creative ideas.
There are plenty of other non-game apps to enjoy too, like Discovery VR, which lets you explore shipwrecks and places around the world through 360-degree videos. There’s also a Hulu app, but sadly Netflix is only available on Gear VR.
Everything can be chosen from inside the headset through Oculus Home, which is simple to navigate with the Touch Controllers. The interface is slightly better designed than Vive’s, in our opinion. You can also buy and download games from the headset, and have the downloads running in the background while you go about other VR business or play a different game.
Oculus Rift has come along way, and we now rate it as the best virtual reality system money can buy – especially now that it’s so much cheaper. 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. The Oculus library is better than ever and the Touch controllers give Rift a whole new dimension. It might be surpassed by other headsets on some specs, but as a whole the Oculus Rift is the virtual reality system to beat.
- Great games
- Easy setup
- Comfy, light fit
- Room-scale not as good as Vive
- Resolution not as high as some headsets
- Motion sickness (but with fewer games now)
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