Taking the Oculus Rift for a spin: The best VR experience money can buy
VR has undoubtedly taken its time, but it’s finally here. Now, we can all experience the multidimensional digital realm that is virtual reality. In the current market, you’ll find cutting-edge VR solutions ranging from entry-level smartphone-based headsets to premium, expensive console and PC gadgets.
This generous variety is all thanks to market leaders like Samsung, Google, Sony, HTC, and Oculus, whose competitive enthusiasm has propelled the technology to heights that were previously only seen in Sci-fi media.
The big brands in virtual reality each have something different to offer a prospective customer. For starters, while both the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream View are both mobile phone headsets, the Gear VR offers more motion-sensing hardware to detect head movements better.
The Daydream, on the other hand, relies on the sensors inside the phone itself, and although things aren’t as smooth as in the Gear, it weighs less and eliminates the need for compatibility between a phone and the headset’s electronic hardware. You can, therefore, use many different phones with your View, as opposed to only high-end Galaxy handsets, as is the case with the Gear VR.
Similarly, the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are both PC-based headsets, but they take different paths towards the same goal. And, let’s not forget the PlayStation VR which is quite frankly in a class of its own.
So, when choosing your VR equipment, it’s best to know what you’re getting for your money. This is especially important if you want virtual reality on a computer. PC VR is expensive because not only do the Vive and the Rift cost over $600, but there’s also the investment of a high-end VR-ready gaming laptop or PC.
If you have the money, however, there’s nothing to stop you from picking out the best equipment on the market.
The Oculus Rift: First impressions
When the Oculus Rift first hit the shelves, it fell short of the HTC Vive for a couple of reasons. First was the lack of motion controls and room-scaling capabilities. Then there was the content issue, which just couldn’t match what Valve’s Steam had for the Vive.
Since then, however, things have changed. Today, a complete Rift package will get you Oculus Touch controllers and two sensors for room scaling. And, although the Oculus Store still fails to match the variety on Steam, the number of titles has significantly grown.
I’ve had the Oculus Rift for nearly a month now, during which I’ve explored pretty much everything that recreational VR has to offer. However, it’s hard to forget the first time I got my head into the headset.
As a previous HTC Vive user, what pleased me the most was how comfortable it felt. In fact, the Rift’s lightness is arguably the biggest strength it has over its rival, which weighs a good 7 ounces (200 grams) more. I haven’t had a problem wearing the headset for hours of gameplay.
Getting the Rift ready is a breeze. As with the Vive, however, you’ll require a capable PC to make it all work. My rig’s NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, Intel Core i5-6600K and 8GB RAM seemed to handle things acceptably well, but if your wallet allows for a higher configuration, I’d suggest you invest in even better equipment.
Once your computer is in place, it’s smooth sailing the rest of the way. The Rift’s twin sensors are much easier to set up than the Vive’s lighthouse trackers. They work best when placed a meter or so apart, pointing at the center of your intended play area.
The Oculus Remote is also an excellent addition, as it lets you move around menus and control the volume easily when you’re doing other things besides gaming.
The Oculus Rift in Use
Of course, you may want to get some games running as soon as you get your headset, but as I quickly realized, the best place to start your VR experience is with the Oculus DreamDeck. Here, you’ll find a couple of demos, which will give you the much-needed introduction to what virtual reality is all about.
After you’ve gotten enough of viewing a city atop a skyscraper or chatting with aliens in a distant planet, you can head back to Oculus Home and explore the rest of the content available on the Rift. Admittedly, the interface is a little tricky to navigate, as the lack of a Search option means you’ll have to go through menu after menu with the tiny remote to find a video or game.
Things improve quite drastically once you get past the slight software limitations and fire up a game. The visual quality leaves something to be desired, but it’s great all around. Moreover, the new Oculus Touch controllers add a much better feel to involving titles than the previously included Xbox One gamepad and even the HTC Vive’s wands.
Playing fast-paced shooters like Superhot is, therefore, an absolute blast. However, it’ll likely take a while for your brain to adjust.
This brings us to the Rift’s biggest weakness: virtual reality sickness. Most first-person games, especially the ones that involve a combination of forwards and sideways movements and the ability to move around, will have anywhere between mild and adverse effects on your insides.
Nonetheless, this problem isn’t limited to the Rift, as all VR headsets will occasionally induce some level of queasiness and disorientation. Furthermore, Oculus is looking into ways to eliminate the issue, and game developers are using “Comfort” ratings to inform a player how intense a game is, before playing it.
I’ve had a go at several “Comfortable” and “Moderate” games with no ill effects at all. If you want to play “Intense” rated titles, however, be sure to experience the Rift first hand before you buy it.
Is the Oculus Rift worth it?
The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are both praised for ushering the world into the age of virtual reality, and although there’s still a long way to go, they both do a great job of showing us a glimpse of what’s down the road.
If you pit the two against each other, however, it’s the Oculus Rift that comes out on top. It’s lighter, its controllers are better, and setting it up is easier. Sure, HTC and Valve are still ahead regarding content, but developers are increasingly coming to grips with virtual reality and Oculus is steadily evening the playground.
That said, the Rift doesn’t come cheap. The summed cost of a top-notch PC and the headset will make it a tough sell for many buyers. It’s therefore not a bad idea to hold onto your money a while longer, until Oculus addresses the weaknesses and adds more convincing features. Voice-over control and social-media integration, for example, could spice things up significantly.
Nevertheless, if you’re hell-bent on experiencing VR on your computer as soon as possible, there’s no headset out there that’s better than the Oculus Rift.