Oculus VR missed its mark in failing to open up preorders for its namesake headset before the close on 2015. On the last day of last year, the company announced that the virtual reality headset’s touch controllers have been delayed, but it still maintains that the Oculus Rift’s release is still on the rails.
Comparing VR headsets—whether it’s the Oculus Rift vs. the HTC Vive, or one generation of Rift vs. another—invariably means fighting a losing battle against my own memory. Usually hours, days, or even months separate my tests. It may be easy to remember the overall experience from a VR session, but comparing head tracking or display brightness or the screen door effect purely from memory is impossible. When it comes to those minute details, taking notes just doesn’t cut it.
CES this year was different: for the first time, I got to try out the HTC Vive and the oculus back-to-back (big thanks to AMD for accommodating me and providing the time for multiple demos). Testing the two HMDs together solidified a few things for me: the Vive definitely offers a larger field of view, the Oculus Rift is definitely the lighter and more refined headset, and both of them have to be adjusted perfectly to offer a clear, focused image.
Right now, the best VR experience is a combination of Oculus VR and Vive VR. Both have their own strengths. If wishes were magic VR amalgamations, I’d use the Vive’s screen and tracking system in the Oculus Rift’s body, with Oculus Touch controllers on my hands. But since most of us are going to be buying one headset or the other, here are my observations from back-to-back testing.
The Vive’s field of view is notably larger—specifically, taller—than the Oculus Rift’s. It’s a fairly striking difference when you look at them in quick succession. The Vive definitely doesn’t fill your entire field of view, but the extra verticality is a real plus. If the Oculus Rift is a movie shot at 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the Vive is more 16:9. That’s an imperfect comparison (for one thing, I like movies shot at 2.35:1!) but in VR, the Oculus experience feels a bit more like looking through a window.
When both the rift and Vive are perfectly adjusted and in focus on my head, the actual display looks virtually identical, with a very minimal screen door effect. There might be some small differences in brightness, but they should look identical—they’re actually using the very same OLED panel. There are differences in the implementation of that panel and definitely differences with the lenses for the two systems. The Vive’s lenses give a view of a wider portion of the display, and do so without creating any significant distortion.