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

Getting real with virtual reality headsets comparisons

HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift VR headset comparison 2016

The VR revolution is finally here in 2016. Whether it actually qualifies as a revolution or not, the two biggest contenders arrived earlier this year in the form of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

So then, the question remains: which one is better? In reality, 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 2160 x 1200 resolution. That means each eye has its own 1080 x 1200 resolution.

With a 90Hz refresh rate on both headsets, 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.

However, 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.

What's more, 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 (which look like small speakers, but emit invisible lasers).

Oculus Rift doesn't have a camera on the front of its headset for augmented reality vision, and its VR space is limited to 5ft x 11ft. But it does have 360-degree positional head tracking.

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

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.

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.

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

Weidling these Vive controllers puts my hands into the game virtually, and I've demoed the same with the Oculus Touch. It's just that one is here now and the other is not.

That deeper experience wasn't ready for March's Oculus Rift launch, but its Oculus Touch controller with a hand-confirming, half-moon shape are slated for later this year.

"Oh, I'm never going to get the hang out this" was my reaction when I was briefed on the controls for Bullet Train. Seconds later, I was hit switches and picking up guns, then throwing them at enemies when they were spent.

Oculus Touch needs to hurry up, however, because while Rift ships with a normal Xbox One gamepad, the HTC Vive comes with two unique-looking controllers with buttons and touchpads.

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

Wielding these Vive controllers puts my hands into the game virtually, and I've demoed the same with the Oculus Touch. It's just that one is here now and the other is not.