The Oculus Rift is probably the most famous VR headset to date, and arguably started the VR wave that we’re all riding on in 2016 after its successful Kickstarter campaign way back in 2012. However, fast forward to today and there are more VR headsets available now than you can shake a stick at, from the mobile-powered Gear VR to the likes of PlayStation VR and the high-end HTC Vive, so how does the Oculus Rift compare? I’ve gone hands (or eyes) on with the Oculus Rift, and here’s what I think.
Before I go any further, I’d like to thank the lovely people at Dynamo PR for letting me come over and use their personal Oculus Rift headset for my hands-on review.
If you’re interested in the world of virtual reality, take a look at our complete guide to VR.
Oculus Rift hands-on review: Pricing and availability
The Oculus Rift initially went up for pre-orders back in January 2016, but was hit with shipment delays shortly after launching however at the time of writing, the company claims it has caught up with all Rift orders. With that being said, users now can order the Oculus Rift from the Oculus website for £499/$599 and expect to have it shipped out within two days for those in the US, UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Users that order the Oculus Rift right now will receive the headset and all accessories (sensor, etc) along with an Xbox One controller to be used with Rift-enabled VR experiences. The company has announced the development of handheld VR controllers, dubbed Oculus Touch, but these are yet to hit the market and there’s no word yet on pricing once they do.
Oculus Rift hands-on review: Design and build
The Oculus Rift could possibly be the best looking VR headset when compared to other headsets in the 2016 line-up (like the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR), however – just like my mum always told me – looks aren’t everything. The Oculus Rift broadly resembles a pair of Ski goggles that is mostly wrapped in a special black fabric that hugs the plastic body of the headset beneath it. But why is this this fabric so special? According to Oculus, the fabric helps to keep condensation build-up to a minimum because who wants to fog-up while dogfighting in space?
Wearing a VR headset can become pretty hot and sweaty fairly quickly, especially with more active games. I’ve experienced this myself in the past when using other VR headsets and it becomes very uncomfortable, but I must admit that even when using the Rift for an extended period of time, I was still relatively cool and comfortable.
The reason for my lack of sweat might not only be due to the material that covers most of the Oculus Rift headset. In fact, the Oculus Rift is extremely lightweight, especially when compared to the HTC Vive. While the HTC Vive acts as a receiver, picking up signals from the base stations to work out its location within the physical space, the Oculus Rift does it the other way around.
The Rift comes with a sensor that sits on your desk and tracks the position of the headset, along with a myriad of sensors in the headset. This allows the Rift to be much lighter as it doesn’t need as much built-in tech, resulting in a 470g headset that is comfortable to wear over long periods of time with no issues. It’s also smaller than its competitors, measuring in at roughly 171x216x102mm when including the headphones.
Just like with the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift isn’t wireless and requires a physical connection to your PC at all times. It’s not an issue exclusive to the Rift so it shouldn’t be penalised for it, but it is definitely worth noting that you’re not tether-free in your virtual world.
Read next: HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift hands-on review: Features and spec
Let’s move onto the features and spec of the Oculus Rift, first discussing arguably the most important aspect of the headset – the display. The Oculus Rift features a 2160×1200 OLED display, the same as what is found in the HTC Vive, but is higher resolution than the slightly-cheaper PlayStation VR. That display is coupled with a 90Hz refresh rate and a 110-degree field of view which combined provides users with a gorgeously smooth and high-definition VR experience.
The Oculus Rift also comes with built-in headphones, but not just any kind – it features 3D spatial audio headphones for a more immersive experience. The best part is that these are removable, allowing users to use their own headphones if they so desire. I like the idea of having built-in headphones as it’s one less thing to worry about (especially when putting on and taking off the headset) and I found the headphones to be comfortable to use, and easily adjustable. I could slightly angle the headphones away from my ear in order to talk to my friend when I needed to, then simply moved it back once we were done chatting.
The Oculus Rift comes with both an Oculus remote and an Xbox One controller. Why? Even though Oculus is actively developing the Oculus Touch handheld controllers that’ll allow users to interact with the environment around them, they aren’t out until later this year – or possibly even early 2017, as I haven’t heard anything about them in over a year. So, until that time, Rift owners are limited to using an Xbox One controller, and while it provides something familiar for gamers, it doesn’t provide an experience as immersive as say, the HTC Vive with its handheld remotes and room-scale play area.
The Oculus Rift is, of course, compatible with Oculus Home, the company’s answer to Steam. The software hub provides a place for Rift owners to browse new content and games to play, and cannot be accessed by other headsets like the HTC Vive. However, while Vive users can’t access Oculus Home content, Rift owners can access VR content on Steam, the platform used by the Vive. There are a number of Oculus Rift exclusives too, like the hugely popular Eve: Valkyrie, which we recently played – you can find out a little bit more about what we experienced below.
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Oculus Rift hands-on review: The experience
So, what’s it actually like to actually use the Oculus Rift? The first thing I noticed when donning the Oculus Rift is just how light it is – I already mentioned above that it’s a lightweight 470g, but it really does make a difference when resting on your head. It’s comfortable to wear thanks to a soft material around the edge of the headset, and the headband is easily adjusted for the perfect fit.
However, while the Rift was extremely comfortable to wear, I noticed an issue with the headset before I even fired up my first game – light leakage. Even with the Rift tightly secured to my head, there was a fairly large gap around the nose section of the headset which let in light, and was big enough for me to see my feet below me. While I ignored it as best as I could, I have to admit that it did ruin the overall experience a little bit. Of course, noses come in all shapes and sizes so you need to provide enough room, but at the same time the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive aren’t plagued with the same issues.
Anyway, once I got over my light leakage issues, I fired up Eve: Valkyrie and I was immediately impressed. I’ve played Elite: Dangerous in VR on the HTC Vive and that was a beautiful experience, and Eve: Valkyrie provides something similar (although not quite as complex!). I found myself sat in the cockpit of my fighter ship, and within seconds I was launched from a bigger ship and was headed into battle above an Earth-like planet.
The tracking on the Oculus Rift is smooth, like butter. I experienced no screen tearing, frame rate drops or loss of headset tracking at all during my time, which helped keep me immersed in the game. I could look around my spaceship, and even behind me – although there wasn’t anything exciting happening behind me.
What was exciting was a number of enemy fighter ships weaving in and out of clumps of mass within an asteroid belt trying to shoot me out of the sky (or space, as it were). While in standard dog-fighting games you’ve got one single view – straight ahead – in VR you can watch and follow your enemies, allowing you to stay on their tail and blow them to smithereens. Games like Eve: Valkyrie are a great example of games that work well in virtual reality, especially if used with a joystick and thruster.
Seeing asteroids whizzing past my head as I weave in and out and watching enemy fighter ships blow up in front of me provided a more satisfying feeling than from anything I’ve ever felt when playing a standard PC game. It’s safe to say that Eve: Valkyrie is a great flagship VR game, and is exclusive to the Oculus Rift – for now, anyway.
Interested in other Oculus Rift games? Take a look at our Best Oculus Rift games roundup.