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

There’s no denying that, in 2017, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have made a dent in the VR revolution, made better by the constant introduction of new peripherals and games that make it even tougher to decide between the two.

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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Tattooed dude with Oculus Rift

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.

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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Your considerably less tattooed author wearing HTC Vive

Even if both get 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.

Hardware

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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

This is what you see, every which way you turn

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. 

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

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

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 Windows machine with a number of cables in order to function. That is, unless you opt for a wireless workaround such as Intel’s DisplayLink XR.

Using WiGig based on the 802.11ad standard, Intel promises a solution that reduces latency down to less than 7ms over a 60Hz band at any given time. Shown at E3 2017, the DisplayLink XR joins TPCast and Quark VR in eliminating the hindrance of cables during HTC Vive use, even if the end result only lasts two hours over battery power.

Nevertheless, aside from 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 established by the Lighthouse sensors when you get too close. You can even turn it on for a Matrix-like look at everything at once.

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

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

The HTC Vive camera has incredible potential

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 just recently, that option was in beta, but now Oculus fully supports sitting, standing and room-scale VR.

With all accessories equipped (excluding the now-released Deluxe Audio Strap), this means the Vive 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, although 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 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.

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. 

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.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

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

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.

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