OCULUS RIFT – VR HEADSET REVIEW
|Product Name:||OCULUS RIFT|
|Sensors:||3D head tracking sensor (1)|
|Controller:||Xbox One gamepad, Touch motion controllers|
Oculus Rift is definitely in the premium VR category. It has become synonymous with VR, even if the brand has lost some of its luster against the HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon) and the PlayStation VR. From a technical standpoint, the headset is nearly identical to the Vive. It costs $200 less than the Vive (499,99$ at Amazon), but it lacks the Vive’s whole-room VR, and if you want motion controls you’ll need to spend $100 more for the (admittedly excellent) Oculus controllers. (You can buy them on Amazon for 99,99$)
Oculus justifies the expense with far more advanced technology than earlier models. It has a fully functional software platform and store, as well as solid compatibility with options like SteamVR. The Oculus Rift (Wikipedia) is functional and immersive, if you have a computer that can handle it.
It was the product that kicked off the virtual reality craze and got the world interested in new medium. But after its announcement other competitors came to market with a more complete vision, with motion controllers included in the box and other technological advantages.
Oculus Rift has taken a few steps forward. But it still lagging behind the market leader, and its main rival, the HTC Vive. The HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon) edges it out in sheer capability with its whole-room tracking. While the Sony PlayStation VR has lower price and superior game selection.
How the Oculus Rift works
This product is the fruit of a four-year research project that launched on Kickstarter. It made $2 million, then was purchased by one of the most powerful tech companies in the world, Facebook. The Oculus Rift was the first commercially available unit.
The latest iteration of the headset is significantly better than any of the previous development kits. It’s easier to setup thanks to an intuitive program that you’re prompted to download when you plug it in, and it takes less technical know how to install games and troubleshoot when things go awry.
Like other virtual reality headsets, the Oculus RIft has the arduous task of completely immersing you in a video game by producing two images simultaneously. It does this by hooking into the back of your graphics card’s HDMI port and using a camera to track your head movement. You can either sit or stand while wearing the headset, whichever you find more comfortable. But, unlike the HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon), you won’t be able to use the hardware inside the box to actually walk around at all. For that, you’ll have to shell out another $100.
What you’ll get inside every Oculus Rift box is:
- The headset itself
- Oculus Sensor
- Oculus Remote
- Xbox One Wireless Controller (with 2 AA batteries)
- Xbox One controller adapter
- Lucky’s Tale (game designed exclusively for the Oculus Rift)
What you’ll find when you’re done is a library of about 100 titles that are longer than anything found on the HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon). The Rift is a fun gaming system, even if it’s not number one right now.
It’s almost scary how far the Oculus Rift has come in such a short period of time. Just two years ago the headset felt rough, cheap and borderline shoddy. It didn’t track well and trying to get lag-free gameplay was just short of impossible. The final consumer version of the headset on the other hand is an elegant, sleek and stylish black brick you stick on your face.
When you first hold it, it’s not weighty, it almost has a hollow feel, like all the weight has been put into the chassis and there’s nothing but glass and thin film inside. Put it on, however, and those expectations of fluffy weightlessness will all go away. The straps are a bit on the rigid side. Made from bendable plastic. There’s velcro located on each strap that you use to adjust the position of the headset on your face. These straps are absolutely vital as the Rift needs to be positioned properly on your face, otherwise the focus in the VR experience is off.
To address this, Oculus includes a pair of small ear pads that sit flush on the side of the headset. They can be rotated to sit directly on top of the ear, or flipped up when someone needs your attention back in the real world. Headphones provided with the Rift work well. They offer 3D surround sound and have enough clarity to clearly hear all the in-game audio cues. The only real problem with the headphones is that they randomly disconnect from time to time.
However, like the HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon), the Oculus Rift allows you to use your own headphones instead of forcing a pair on you. You can plug the headphones into your computer’s audio jack or, if you’re sitting too far from your PC, straight into the 3.5mm jack on the Xbox One controller. The other benefit of using your own pair of headphones, especially one with a volume slider on the side or in the cord, is that it makes it easier to manage the volume when it’s too loud or too soft.
Oculus recently introduced a third option into the mix – Oculus Earphones. These in-ear earbuds replace the on-ear pads that shipped with the original system and promise VR-compatible drivers for more immersive experiences and better noise isolation for only $49,99 on Amazon.
With the Xbox One controller, games in first-person that use the left thumbstick to move create a sort of cognitive dissonance: it feels like you’re moving, but your body is just sitting there, creating a sinking feeling in your stomach. The Rift isn’t anywhere close to Nintendo’s Virtual Boy system that caused seizures back in the ’90s, but expect to get varying degrees of nausea while trying out the different titles.
The last important part is the long strand of cables connecting the headset to the PC. It comes out the rear of the headset and curves over your back or shoulder, so you can then hide it behind your chair. When you’re sitting or standing, the cord doesn’t get in the way.
Oculus Rift: Design
The Oculus Rift headset is simple. It’s a plain black rectangular visor with rounded edges and little visual flair. Front panel is completely flat marked only with an Oculus logo. The sides of the visor are similarly flat, and connect to arms that pivot slightly up and down and attach to the three-strap harness for securing the device on your head.
A strap extends from each arm around the sides of your head, with a third strap extending from the top of the visor over the top of your head, meeting at a padded triangle in the back. The straps are easy to adjust. A set of on-ear headphones sit on the arms, able to separately pivot and flip up and down to properly fit on your ears.
The headset is fairly light and comfortable. You can wear glasses with the Rift, but it will make the fit a bit tighter.
The headset connects to your PC directly through a lengthy cable that splits off near the end into HDMI and USB 3.0 connectors. The cable winds down the left strap before running clear of the headset. It’s a little more awkward than the over-the-top-of-the-head cable of the HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon).
The Rift uses a single external sensor. A black cylinder that sits on a nine-inch-tall metal desktop stand. The sensor can tilt up and down. It must be placed where it can maintain a clear view of the headset when in use. 2,160-by-1,200 OLED panel is used to produce a 1,080-by-1,200 picture for each eye, separated by the lenses in the headset (just like the Vive ). Lenses can be adjusted using a small lever on the right underside of the visor.
Tips for glasses-wearers
- Make sure straps are as loose as possible on all three sides
- Put on Oculus Rift back to front by placing on back of head first, pulling outward over face, then over glasses
- While putting on top of glasses, push glasses a little forward to avoid hitting eyes/eyelashes, otherwise you’ll have to take everything off to wipe clean starting the process over again
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. 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.
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 setting up sensor on a stack of books may be an option if needed. You’ll also probably have to clear some furniture around your computer. During the setup process, you’ll draw a line around your play area, similar to how you do with HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon), to set up the Guardian System. Once done, you can reset if the system says it’s too small.
Oculus Rift: Performance and content library
Performance is rock-solid. You will never noticed a screen tear or a dropped frame in any of the games you play. Tracking, done through the included Oculus Sensor, is fairly sturdy, too. You’re able to turn your body more than 180 degrees and it will still recognize what you’re doing. The sensor sits about 10 inches above your desk. Depending on what position you’re currently in sensor can be tilted up or down.
Take off the headset and the visor shuts off. Pick it up and put it on, and the screen will light back up. The external and internal sensors are pretty smart. You won’t need to manually switch the headset on when you want to use it.
Because every game seems to be shoehorned to work with a controller, it feels like you could take almost any game on the Oculus storefront and port it over to an Xbox One without actually losing anything. This is made up for, somewhat, by the huge selection of well thought out titles. All the games you’ve been drooling over are here: EVE Valkyrie, Elite Dangerous and ADR1FT, with plenty more to come sooner rather than later. Even more exciting, though, are that there are plenty of games that work with the Rift that aren’t on the store, including family-favorite Minecraft.
Oculus sorts games by how much motion there is in the game, and how likely it is to make your stomach churn. Comfortable, moderate and intense are three sets of levels. Comfortable games barely require moving your head and, if you do, you do so slowly. Moderate steps it up a notch. You’ll either need to move more quickly or be faced with more moving objects. Finally, intense games will probably be the ones that do you in. These stick you on the side of a mountain or floating around haphazardly in space. They’re more visceral of experiences, but ones that are more likely to provoke anxiety and induce nausea, too.
Some games are appropriately priced in the $4.99-$9.99 space, while others come in at $40 or $50 for what are essentially extended demos. Speaking of payment, Oculus will prompt you to enter your credit card information as soon as you have your system setup, but will allow you to skip past it if you’re not quite ready to hand over your digits sight unseen.
While you’re able to buy games without ever leaving the confines of the luxurious home screen, some titles require you to take off the headset to complete the installation. And, yes, in practice it’s just as annoying as it sounds.
Oculus Rift: PC requirements
- Intel i5-4590 or better CPU
- Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better video card
- at least 8GB of RAM
- HDMI 1.3 output
- three USB 3.0 ports
- one USB 2.0 port
One of those ports is for the additional sensor of the Oculus Touch controller. And you can set up the Rift itself with just two USB 3.0 ports: one for the headset and one for the external sensor.
Oculus Rift: Ultimate clarity?
The screen in the Oculus Rift uses OLED technology, so is vibrant and rich when in use. It has a resolution of 2160 x 1200 pixels in total, so serves 1080 x 1200 pixels to each eye. A 90Hz (90fps) refresh rate ensures action is smooth enough to prevent nausea during movement. It’s a higher refresh than many competitors.
It must be said that the headset gets warm with lengthy use and your eyes can also get a little sore when flitting from one experience to another. 30-minute blast is absolutely fine, but more than that and you are wholly advised to take breaks.
Oculus Rift: Staring at the sun
Because of an inherent issue with super-focused lenses Rift has to be handled with care when not in use. You cannot leave the lenses pointing anywhere near a window or it runs the risk of irreparably damaging the OLED panel.
Remember the old trick of burning a piece of paper with a magnifying glass on a sunny day? Well imagine that, only replace the paper with a hugely expensive, inaccessible full-colour display.
We’d suggest that only those who are experienced in handling their tech are best suited for Oculus Rift. They’ll certainly get the most from it, as it is an impressive piece of kit that provides experiences that still wow, even after countless hours of play.
Oculus Rift: Note about nausea
Throughout Oculus development phase, there have been plenty of reports of headsets making people feel sick. It tends to vary from game to game, depending on their control systems and construction. Thankfully, Oculus rates each available experience in terms of how extreme or comfortable they are to play.
For the most part, we have felt fine whenever we’ve used the consumer Rift, as long as we took regular breaks from the action and there was plenty of air circulating through the room. There’s often a sense of displacement and an odd acclimatisation period as soon as the headset is removed. But it soon passes and doesn’t feel too uncomfortable.
Oculus Rift: Extra features and Games
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. There’s a few selection of short films and film-like experiences that have been screened previously at festivals as well like Invasion, Butts and Henry.
Everything can be chosen from inside the headset through Oculus Home. The interface is slightly better designed than Vive’s, since everything is neatly laid out in front of you.
In terms of gameplay, there initially wasn’t a lot of head movement, like for the 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.
Most games made for the Rift essentially limit you to a static position and expects that most of your VR experiences will be chair-bound. Oculus includes an Xbox One controller in the package when you order. There’s only one tracking camera included with the Rift. Setup is not as messy as the Vive. Unfortunately, experience is limited because it does not come with Touch controllers. However it does come with an extra sensor. You can stand, and move your head in any direction. But you can’t really walk around inside a virtual room, something the Vive was designed from the beginning to do.
You can also buy and download games from the headset. But sometimes you’ll have to switch to desktop mode (take the headset off) to finish installations. This part can get annoying especially if you’ve adjusted to the perfect fit.
Oculus Rift: Worth the cash?
How much is the future worth to you? If you do want to take the plunge into VR and buy an Oculus Rift headset then you have to consider the cost. It also requires a beefy PC to run everything. That will invariably cost you much more if you want games to run at their best.
When considering price you need to know that the touch controllers don’t come in set and they cost around $100. $99,99 at Amazon.com to be specific. Oculus Rift price has never been lower, for $599,98 you can buy full Oculus Rift headset that contains headset, two sensors, remote, Xbox One Wireless Controller ($499,99) + Touch Controllers ($99,99). And if you wanna have more immersive personal audio experience you can also buy Oculus Rift earphones for $49,99.
The future of the Oculus Rift
Oculus has amazing plans for the Rift. It could very well be the next evolution of Facebook. We might one day hold meetings in virtual reality. It has a microphone built-in, so there’s absolutely nothing stopping Oculus from enabling such a feature. (Actually, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg showed off this exact functionality at October’s Oculus Connect developer conference.)
One day you might use it as a therapeutic tool, transporting yourself to a beach where you can meditate. There are plans to use it as a gateway to music festivals, like South by Southwest and Coachella, as well as live concerts and sports games. There are even porn companies that are shooting 360-degree videos that you can watch on devices like the Oculus Rift.
There’s a lot of potential here. Once we learn how to tap into it better by becoming native VR users, it’s only going to get better.
Oculus is a smart, but it’s not the best headset on the market. Even though it pioneered the space, invested millions in developers and development and has a partnership with one of the foremost companies in the world, Oculus can’t hold a candle to the HTC Vive (the current king of virtual reality headsets 799,99$ at Amazon), a system that not only has touch controllers in the box, but sensors capable of room-scale VR that allow you walk around to naturally explore your virtual space.
That said, even though it’s not the absolute best headset on the market, the story of Oculus is and always will be an awe-inspiring one. Oculus has stuck to its vision. Even when those early prototypes were questionable and the demos nearly too laggy to bear. It was wrought from pure imagination, created an entirely new industry from scratch and built out a platform that could one day fulfill the promises sci-fi films and novels gave us when they showed us the Holodeck in its various forms for the first time.
Oculus Rift isn’t the all-encompassing “future of entertainment”, but we’re optimistic that it might earn that title in the coming weeks, months and years. We see huge potential for Oculus down the road. It’s an immersive window into dozens of new worlds. And we are sure that one day it will play host to hundreds, maybe thousands, of such experiences.
The games that are there now are absolutely great. Some might induce a bit of nausea for first-time VR adventurers. But some will offer an untold amount of happiness. Seen simply as a game console, the Rift has a lot to offer. Gameplay is fun in short bursts, and the headset is comfortable to wear.
What Oculus completely understands, however, is that the Rift is more than just a gaming headset. There’s already ways to watch 360-degree movies through Facebook, Vimeo and Twitch, and it’s not hard to imagine a future where the Oculus Store is brimming with media content.
It is immersive virtual reality. But one of its downsides is that you need to buy a costly gaming rig in order to enjoy it. It comes with a pack-in Xbox One controller, but that’s only because the real gamepads, the Oculus Touch Controllers that allow you to actually use your hands in VR, are optional ($99,99) accessories.
One day Oculus (or one of its competitors) will be a must-own piece of technology. The Oculus Rift ($499,99 at Amazon) is the example of a finished consumer product approaching the HTC Vive (799,99$ at Amazon). It’s a lighter headset that most find more comfortable, with an easy strap system and pin-sharp screen
NEED TO KNOW
Resolution: 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Tracking: 360 degrees, full space
FOV: 110 degrees
Controller: Xbox One controller
Sensors: 3D head tracking sensor (1)
Touch controllers price: $100
Note: Does not include Touch controllers