Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Which VR Headset Is Right for You?

By Chris Stobing on March 25th, 2016

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With pre-orders for the HTC Vive flooding in, and the release of the Oculus Rift just a week away, the long awaited debut of in-home virtual reality is finally here.

Like gaming consoles, both Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive come with their own set of unique specifications, system requirements, and exclusive games. Which headset you eventually decide on will be influenced by an array of different factors, so it’s important to stay educated on the pros and cons of each system and how they’ll fit your home best.

Minimum System Requirements

Because of their high resolution displays and accelerated refresh rates, both the Oculus and the Vive will need some serious PC hardware to power their virtual experiences.

Both will require at least an Intel Core i5-4590 processor (or equivalent), and an Nvidia GTX 970/AMD Radeon R9 290 GPU just to get up and running. The Oculus requires twice as much RAM as the VIve (8GB or greater), and both will need a graphics card or video output capable of supporting HDMI 1.3-out.

Lastly, the Vive will need a lone USB 2.0 port to communicate postional data back to the PC, while the Oculus will need two free USB 3.0 slots to do the same.

Tracking Technology

Both the Vive and the Oculus use an array of cameras and sensors to detect where you are in the real world, and translate those movements into actions inside the virtual environment. The main difference between each system is how wide of a field of view the sensors have.

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The Oculus has a maximum tracking field–5×11 feet (width-to-length)–compared to the Vive’s symmetrical maximum field of 15×15 feet. The Rift base stations can only see what you’re doing from a front-on angle, so if you stray outside its narrow field of vision, the detection accuracy of your movement will quickly fall off. Oculus says it has plans to incorporate larger tracking footprints in the future, but users will still have to deal with these limitations at launch.

The Vive, on the other hand, opens things up a bit, and lets you track a larger space using two “Lighthouse” camera towers. The increased tracking footprint allows you to walk, zig-zag, and dodge between any part of your game space without losing detection, and interact with virtual objects in a truly 360-degree environment.

Controllers

Both the Vive and Rift utilize their own proprietary set of movement-based controllers that take the place of your hands while you’re inside the virtual environment.

The Oculus Touch controllers feature three touch-capacitive buttons and a joystick on each hand, a trigger on the back, and can be tracked anywhere within the camera’s range.

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Unlike the Vive’s Steam VR wands, the Touch controllers can track your hands with a 360-degree spatial representation of your finger movements. In layman’s terms, this means that if your finger turns one way, the object you’re holding will turn with it. This increases the precision you’ll have while interacting with in-game elements, and help add to the immersion effect overall.

The Vive’s Steam VR controllers work a bit differently, in that they only track on a 1:1 basis. If you swing your arm one way, the Lighthouse towers will see it, but using your hands or fingers won’t register as accurately as they would on the Touch.

The wand-like controllers have one trigger button, one menu button, and one thumbpad that’s based off the Steam Controller’s trackpad technology, plus two “squeeze” activated buttons on each side.  If that doesn’t sound like enough inputs, remember that the Steam trackpad works both for movement and as a configurable button pad, depending on if you hold a command or just quickly tap it instead. That means each quadrant on the touchpad can be set as its own customized button, depending on the game and how the developer chooses to use the controller in an environment.

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Of course, both VR headests also work with a standard Xbox One or other PC controller. So if you only plan on playing racing games or flight sims, the difference between the two controller types may not matter all that much to you.

Launch Titles

Similar to the Xbox One and Playstation 4, the Oculus and Vive will share many of their launch titles, while also maintaining a few system exclusives designed to entice undecided buyers over to their side of the field.

By the time Oculus launches, the company says they’ll offer 30 games to choose from. Everything from triple-A titles like Eve: Valkyrie and Elite Dangerous down to indie titles like E. McNeill’s cyberpunk puzzler Darknet, Oculus plans to have a something ready for everyone once their headset goes on sale.

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The Vive will also have a hefty selection of 50 games to play when the system launches on April 5th. Tech demos like Tilt Brush and Fantastic Contraption have become a staple hit at conferences where the Vive went on display, and will be included as a free part of the package deal when you pre-order the Vive online.

Price and Release Date

The Oculus Rift has been tagged with a price point of $599, a figure that took many prospective customers by surprise when it was announced. After the company’s CEO was famously quoted as estimating the final cost of their unit would be “somewhere between $200-$400”, VR enthusiasts were unhappy to find that even the most costly projection was still $200 short of the final sticker price. As for the release date, customers who pre-ordered during the first wave will have their units shipped out on March 28th, while any new orders that have come in since then will be pushed out several months further to July of this year.

Even with the price hike, the Rift is still a good chunk cheaper than HTC’s $799 Vive. The Vive’s price tag does include two tracking towers as well as two Steam VR controllers though, with three free games and applications included in the launch bundle. The Oculus Rift only comes with the single front-facing camera, an Xbox One controller (no Touch), and no added games.

The Vive is set to release on April 5th for early pre-orders, with the latest orders predicted to ship out sometime around mid-May according to the company’s timetable.

Specifications

For you tech-heads, here is a table displaying the down & dirty specs of each headset:

 Oculus Rift hto1

HTC Vive

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Display Type OLED OLED
Resolution 2160 x 1200 (1080 x 1200 per eye) 2160 x 1200 (1080 x 1200 per eye)
Refresh Rate 90Hz 90hz
Field of View 110 degrees 110 degrees
Minimum System Requirements NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
8GB+ RAM
Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
2x USB 3.0 ports
Windows 7 SP1 or newer
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 /Radeon R9 290 equivalent or greater
Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater
4GB+ of RAM
Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
1x USB 2.0 port
Controller Oculus Touch/Xbox One Controller SteamVR controllers/Any PC-compatible controller
Tracking Area 5 x 11 15 x 15
Price $599 $799
Release Date Pre-orders March 28th, new orders July 2016 April 5th

It seems like it’s been a decade since John Carmack first showed up on the floor of E3 with a couple of screens duct taped to a pair of repurposed snowboard goggles, but the dawn of true consumer-grade virtual reality is finally upon us. The VR industry has evolved quickly from its humble beginnings only a few short years ago, and whether you go with the Vive or the Rift will ultimately come down to your personal playstyle.If you prefer to play most of your games sitting down or are shopping on a budget, the Rift is a good pick.

If you want the premium, full-room VR experience and have the extra coin to get it, the Vive is likely the better choice. Either way, virtual reality is set to change the way we game and interact with each other in the very near future, and I for one couldn’t be more excited to see where it takes us next.Image Credits: deniskolt/Bigstock, HTC 1, 2, Facebook/Oculus 1, 2, Google

Chris Stobing is a writer and blogger from the heart of Silicon Valley. Raised around tech from birth, he's had an interest in PC hardware and networking technology for years, and has come to How-To Geek to contribute his knowledge on both. You can follow him on Twitter here.

  • Published 03/25/16
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