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

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 arrived subsequently. That count is bound to be significantly higher by the end of 2017, too. 

Early Oculus Rift buyers were graced with two of the best pack-in games: a mascot platforming game in the style of a classic Rare game called Lucky’s Tale and a dogfighting space shooter dubbed Eve: Valkyrie. Both have since made their way to non-VR platforms.

Testing Lucky's Tale, we 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.

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

HTC Vive had some 50 launch window games, but no exclusives (many were 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. Bethesda, for instance, is bringing Fallout 4, Doom and Skyrim for VR and, at least on PC, they’re all exclusive to the Vive. As a matter of fact, Fallout 4 is being bundled with the Vive, only reiterating on the partnership.

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, though overall, the barrier of entry is rather steep.

Fortunately, the HTC Vive will soon be supported on Macs too – at least for developers. Due to Metal 2 optimizations done by Apple, the SteamVR SDK will soon be supported in addition to Unity and Unreal, two of the most commonly used VR engines.

Comparatively speaking, Oculus Rift isn’t getting the same treatment any time soon. While you might have expected Facebook to follow suit, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said Oculus Rift support won’t come to Mac until Apple makes “a good computer.” More recently, an Oculus spokesperson told Road to VR that they have “no news on macOS support at this time.”

While the average Mac user won’t reap the benefits of Vive support right away, it is comforting to know that it’s bound to happen at some point in the future. At the same time, it’s worrying to see Oculus’ complete dismissal of the platform, especially as the iMac Pro blows most consumer PCs out of the water when it comes to performance.

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 particularly expensive, with the price set at $599 (£599, AU$999). That's how much it costs before shipping and without a PC, remember. Luckily, you can now finance one for a modest monthly subscription cost in both the US and UK, making the price a little more digestible

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

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

Oculus Rift, meanwhile, costs $399 (£499, $549) now – Touch controllers included but, again, that's without the shipping charge and a PC to go along with it. That’s notably $200 more than the $199 (about £150, AU$255) Oculus Go, which drops the external tether requirement altogether in favor of a more travel-friendly design, albeit with lower specs.

Conclusion

There's a lot that goes into an HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift comparison and that ultimate decision, more so than even 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

There's a lot that goes into an HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift comparison and that ultimate decision, more so than even 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.

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 HTC for that extra technology and those Vive controllers upfront. 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. Of course, that could all change once we find out more about the next-generation of VR headsets.