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

Getting real with virtual reality headsets comparisons

Games

All of this VR headset technology, regardless of the differences under the almost literal hood, is enough to power virtual reality worlds. So which translates into better games?

There were 30 Oculus Rift (and 53 Oculus Touch) launch games, and a whole bunch more came subsequently. That count is bound to be significantly higher by the end of 2017, too. 

Early Oculus Rift buyers have been graced with two of the best pack-in games as well: a mascot platforming game in the style of a classic Rare game called Lucky’s Tale and a dogfighting space shooter dubbed Eve: Valkyrie.

Testing Lucky's Tale, I felt like there was finally something new brought to the 3D platformer genre pioneered by Super Mario 64. All of a sudden, looking in all directions for hidden coins opened up a new dimension.

Eve: Valkyrie is vastly different, taking full advantage of VR's 360-degree view, spaceship dogfighting included. The gameplay trailer above really gives you a sense of the chaotic action involved.

Other notable Oculus games out now include Chronos (an RPG), Radial-G: Racing Revolved (futuristic racer), Pinball FX2 VR (a pinball game) and more on the way, like Star Trek: Bridge Crew from Ubisoft and probably even Resident Evil 7 after its 12-month exclusivity deal with PlayStation.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

I really enjoyed Lucky's Tale

HTC Vive had some 50 launch window games, but no exclusives (many are also on PC sans VR). This included bundled games Job Simulator and Fantastic Contraption. We enjoyed playing Space Pirate Trainer and Tilt Brush with the Vive headset and its controllers, but HTC's game lineup wasn’t as striking as core gaming experiences of the Oculus Rift.

That can certainly change, as VR developers have more time to craft engrossing virtual reality gameplay, especially given the native Steam support on the Vive. On the other hand, with basically every Vive game now compatible with Oculus, thanks to Oculus Touch, the differences in software are effectively diminished.

System requirements

As expensive as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are, the hidden cost is in the computer hardware that's required to start playing any of these graphics-intense games.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

We're going to need a bigger boat

You're going to need a Windows PC with a beefy GPU for the HTC Vive in particular, whose specs require an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card at a minimum. That's at least $200 (about £158, AU$268) for the graphics card alone. The Oculus Rift, on the other hand, is a little less demanding, calling for at least an Nvidia GTX 960.

Then there's the processor and RAM. The Oculus Rift minimum requirements call for an Intel Core i3-6100 or AMD FX-4350 minimum and 8GB of RAM. HTC Vive is a little more lenient, calling for that Intel Core i5-4590 or an AMD FX-8350 or greater, and you can squeak by on 4GB of RAM.

Other prerequisites for Oculus Rift include two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI 1.3 port or better. HTC Vive only needs one USB port and wants either an HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 or better.

Price and availability

You clearly want a virtual reality future, but you know it comes at a cost. Owning a VR headset may be the ultimate fantasy for some people until a price drop happens. Even then, the promise of short-lived upgrade cycles will turn anyone off who opposes planned obsolescence on extravagant tech.


Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

HTC Vive costs more and you don't even get this glass mannequin head

HTC Vive is especially expensive, with the price set at $799 (£689, AU$899). That's how much it costs before shipping and without a PC, remember. Oculus Rift costs $600 (£400, AU$839), and again that's without the shipping charge and a PC to go along with it. Not to mention the $200 (£189, about AU$265) Oculus Touch controllers.

How much is the future worth to you? At first, no one was able answer that question simply because both headsets were initially backordered, but the Vive managed to come around first, given it a default head start.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Good luck seeing this anytime soon - Oculus Rift is on backorder

While the Oculus released first in March 2016 and the HTC Vive units started shipping to customers in time for its official April 5 release date, you were likely to get a Vive headset before a Rift.

New Oculus Rift orders didn't stock until July, while HTC Vive were ready to ship two months sooner: May 2016. It took a while for the future to arrive for so many anxious gamers, but now both are here and ready to be strapped to your face and take you to new worlds.

Conclusion

There's a lot that goes into an HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift comparison and that ultimate decision, more so than our PS4 vs Xbox One debate. That's because VR headsets are gaming's great unknown at the moment, while both Sony and Microsoft's consoles have always been seen as safe bets.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

If only it came with those Oculus Touch controllers, slated for later this year, instead of an Xbox One gamepad

The good news is that Oculus Rift interest is strong, as were its games out of the gate. You're getting a powerful virtual reality headset for a price cheaper than the Vive. That's a big plus, unless of course Rift's more stringent processor and video output requirements add more to your bill than the savings are worth.

HTC Vive, on the other hand, is a futuristic-looking headset that's a little more set to last with a front-facing camera, room-scale VR and two controllers bundled with the order. Oculus Rift can’t accomplish all that while keeping under the cost of its competition – the Touch controllers bring it right up alongside the Vive in price.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

You can't see it, but Gareth Beavis is dancing in this photo

You certainly pay for that extra technology and those Vive controllers. Its price will pull the plug on virtual reality for many eager gamers with a smaller budget. We’re also still waiting for more core game experiences from the HTC Vive, but that’s sure to happen given the advanced technology involved and the Steam platform backing it up.

You really can't go wrong with either VR headset. They're both mightily impressive, and have tremendous support, whether it's from Facebook or Valve. Which one is best for you really comes down budgetary restrictions and the type of immersive games you want to play… That is, until HTC reveals what Vive 2 has in store.

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.