Assuming you can’t justify buying both, the question remains: which is better, HTC Vive or Oculus Rift? As it turns out, that’s a loaded question. The answer ultimately depends on a range of different factors – from the types of immersive experiences you’re looking for to the amount of cash you’re willing to drop.
Though it started as an ordinary Kickstarter project, Oculus Rift now has Facebook backing it among storied game makers, such as legendary video game programmer (and co-creator of Doom) John Carmack. However, notably the creator of the Rift, Palmer Luckey, has left his passion project behind in favor of a more elusive venture.
HTC Vive, on the other hand, comes from the minds of two notable tech companies, one known for its hardware and the other for software. HTC has created some of the most critically and commercially successful smartphones and tablets, while Valve is a long-time ally of PC gaming fans with Steam, a PC gaming client neatly packed with the Vive in the form of Steam VR.
Even if each gets cheaper with a new model, both headsets are sure to set you back a considerable amount of dough, so you're likely only going to be able to afford one. So, who wins the battle of HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift? Let’s find out.
Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift successfully offer expansive video game worlds and out-of-body experiences within your living room, and that's because the technology backing them up is similar in a lot of cases.
The all-important displays are everything your mother warned you about when she said not to sit too close to the TV. That’s right, your eyes are just inches away from two OLED panels boasting a combined 2,160 x 1,200 resolution. As a result, each eye gets its own 1,080 x 1,200 resolution display to mindlessly gaze at.
With a 90Hz refresh rate on both headsets and asynchronous spacewarp on the Rift for 90 fps VR, this means there are 233 million pixels flying at your face every second, making for a grown-up VR experience versus the 60Hz Samsung Gear VR.
HTC Vive and Oculus Rift also have a wider 110-degree field of view (measured diagonally). This causes the virtual reality world to feel as if it truly wraps around your head.
You're not going to be able to break free of the required computer, though, as both headsets have to be tethered to a powerful computer with a smorgasbord of cables in order to function. Luckily, that may not be the case for long, as Facebook revealed during its Oculus Connect 4 keynote that its PC-less Santa Cruz headset will make its way to developers early next year.
For Oculus Rift fans, this is an honest-to-goodness wireless VR headset or, as Oculus describes it, an ‘all-in-one VR device.’ The cameras are built into the device, too, since Santa Cruz has an example of what’s known as inside-out tracking. This gives you a fully 360-degree VR experience without the need for any cables whatsoever.
Also important to bear in mind is that that are 37 sensors in the Vive headset proving fluid, seamless movement, while there’s also a front-facing camera that makes a world of difference. It’s not clear whether all of these facets, which ensure accuracy and precision, will be replicable in a VR headset that’s completely wireless.
HTC's camera also allows for a Chaperone safety system, which fosters room-scale VR within a 15 x 15 space by casting a blue outline on walls and objects established by the Lighthouse sensors when you get too close. What’s more, you can turn it on for a Matrix-like look at everything at once.
At the same time, third parties like Intel are designing additional camera add-ons for the Vive that allow for improved hand-tracking and real-time environment scanning to avoid walking into obstacles. And, with Valve having made its tracking tech royalty-free, more developers will be able to create similar accessories for the Vive.
Oculus Rift doesn't have a camera on the front of its headset for augmented reality vision, but you can buy a $79 (about £63, AU$104) sensor that enables room-scale VR comparable to that of the HTC Vive. Until earlier this year, that option was in beta, but now Oculus fully supports sitting, standing and room-scale VR.
Design and comfort
Your gateway to other worlds is through a VR headset strapped to your noggin via adjustable velcro. It's the ski mask of a dystopian future with no clear visor, although you can see so much more.
This is where the Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive differ the most, actually. While both are comfortable enough with face padding and are lightweight, there's definitely more heft to the Vive.
Oculus Rift is a bit more refined looking with a compact design that amounts to a big, black brick sitting against your face. There are lightweight headphones that are thankfully removable, though these can be swapped out for a $49 pair of earphones that “sound like they cost $900,” according to Oculus.
HTC Vive is bespeckled with 37 visible sensors, and while it's otherwise black like the Oculus, it is noticeably larger. It looks almost as if the Oculus headset has had a puffy allergic reaction.
And though we said Vive is lightweight, it's technically heavier at around 555g without headphones included. Oculus is 470g by comparison and throws in headphones.
That bigger size and weight does have advantages: a lens distance knob moves the Vive lenses further and closer to your face. This is a helpful extra for people who wear glasses. Oculus Rift supports glasses, too, but the headsets doesn't have this handy adjustment knob for good measure.
Neither VR headset requires a phone, like the Samsung Gear VR, but HTC Vive does connect to your phone via Bluetooth for answering calls and messages. You can really wear it all day, but we don’t recommend it.
Stepping into virtual reality is surreal enough, but it really becomes a tangible world when you can reach out and seemingly feel the VR environment with controllers.
Wielding the Vive wands puts our hands into the game virtually, and we've demoed the same with the Oculus Touch, which is bettered only by its abundant catalog of 53 launch titles and then some.
That deeper experience wasn't ready for March's Oculus Rift launch, but the Oculus Touch controllers with a hand-confirming, half-moon shape finally arrived in December 2016 for the conscious price tag of $199 or £189 (about AU$265).
"Oh, I'm never going to get the hang of this" was our reaction when briefed on the controls for Bullet Train. Seconds later, we were hitting switches and picking up guns, then throwing them at enemies when they were spent.
Now that the Oculus Touch controllers are within reach, Oculus poses a serious challenge to the HTC Vive in ways it never did before. Though it still ships with a normal Xbox One gamepad in lieu of the HTC Vive’s unique pair of waggle wands, the optional addition of the Touch controllers gives Oculus the advantage of customer choice.
- Need something to play? Here are the best VR games to date
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article