HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift: which VR headset is better?

Getting real with virtual reality headsets comparisons

HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have made the VR revolution a reality in 2016, and they're being updated all of the time with new controllers and games to make your buying decision even tougher. Buying both is still a fantasy for most people, not a reality.

So then, the question remains: which one is better? It turns out, that question is oversimplified. The answer depends on what type of immersive experiences you're looking to get sucked into, the controls you want to hold onto and the amount of cash you're willing to dispense.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Tattooed dude with Oculus Rift

Though it started as a small Kickstarter project, Oculus Rift now has some huge names backing it, such as legendary video game programmer (and co-creator of the original Doom titles) John Carmack. Plus, in 2014, the Oculus VR company was purchased by Facebook, which means there's a truly authoritative presence in the background keeping the Oculus platform intact.

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 well-received smartphones and tablets, while Valve is a long-time ally of PC gaming fans with Steam, which is neatly packaged with the Vive in the form of Steam VR.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Your considerably less tattooed author wearing HTC Vive

They're both expensive, so you're likely only going to be able to afford one. To help you wrap your head around these VR headsets, here's our HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift comparison.

Hardware

Both 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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

This is what you see, every which way you turn

The all-important HTC Vive and Oculus Rift displays are really two OLED panels that combine for a 2,160 x 1,200 resolution. That means each eye has its own 1080 x 1200 resolution.

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. This makes for a grown-up VR experience vs 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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Here, put this on. It'll change your world

With a 90Hz refresh rate on both headsets, there are 233 million pixels flying at your face every second. This makes for a grown-up VR experience vs the 60Hz Samsung Gear VR.

You're not going to be able to break free of the required computer, as both headsets have to be tethered to a powerful Windows machine with a number of cables in order to function. A wireless dongle, however, developed by TPCast in conjunction with HTC is in the works to provide “a seamless tether-less high-end PC VR experience” for the Vive.

What’s more, besides the 37 sensors in the Vive headset that provide fluid, seamless movement, there's also a front-facing camera that can make a virtual world of difference. HTC's camera allows for a Chaperone safety system, casting a blue outline on walls and objects when you get too close. You can even 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 vs HTC Vive comparison

The HTC Vive camera has incredible potential

Chaperone is a mind-blowing safety net that serves to foster room-scale VR within the 15 x 15ft tracking space allowed by Vive's two "lighthouse" base stations. They look like small speakers, but emit invisible lasers. Laser!

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. With all accessories equipped, this means the Rift equates to a price tag of around $880 (roughly £697, AU$1,160).

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, but you can see so much more.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

The Oculus Rift is a little more compact

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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

HTC Vive is noticeably larger, but it's not like you're seeing it from the outside

And though I 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.

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.

Controllers

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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

This is one of two Oculus Touch controllers - but it's not out yet

Wielding these Vive controllers 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. 

That deeper experience wasn't ready for March's Oculus Rift launch, but the Oculus Touch controllers with a hand-confirming, half-moon shape are finally here 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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

The HTC Vive controllers look odd, but really put your hands in the game... today

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Swider is TechRadar's gadget-savvy, globe-trotting mobile editor in Los Angeles. As an expert in iOS and Android, he owns over 120 phones that someone keeps setting the alarms on – simultaneously. He received his journalism degree from Penn State University and is never seen without his TechRadar headphones.