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

HTC Vive or Oculus Rift? That's the question facing many shoppers who want to jump into virtual reality (VR), and for most it boils down to this question: which VR headset is better?

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 spend. Each headset has its own set of pros and cons, as well as different price points. 

[Update: HTC unveiled a brand-new headset in early 2018, called the HTC Vive Pro. This upgraded headset features a 78% resolution boost over the original HTC Vive, plus built-in audio. The new HTC Vive could give Oculus Rift a run for its money when it launches sometime in the first quarter of 2018. The big question remaining is exactly what the HTC Vive Pro price will be. HTC also announced a wireless adapter that allows both the HTC Vive and Vive Pro to roam free away from a PC. ]

Oculus Rift's story began as an ordinary Kickstarter project, but within a few years the company was snatched up by Facebook for $2 billion. Now, Facebook is throwing its considerable weight behind Oculus Rift, convinced that virtual reality is the future of social interaction. The social network certainly put its money where its mouth is.

Oculus Rift also has the backing of storied game makers, such as legendary video game programmer (and co-creator of Doom) John Carmack. However, notably the creator of the Rift, Palmer Luckey, has left his passion project behind in favor of a more elusive venture.

Oculus and Facebook aren't stopping with the Rift, either. The companies also announced the Oculus Go in late 2017, a cheaper standalone headset that doesn't require a smartphone or tethered PC to run. There's also a much more robust standalone headset in development, called Project Santa Cruz. Though we've tried this device out, it remains shrouded in mystery. 

Despite the emergence of these new headsets, Oculus Rift remains the star product in the Oculus and Facebook VR line.

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Tattooed dude with Oculus Rift

HTC Vive, meanwhile, 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.

HTC Vive has seen a few add-ons over the years, such as the HTC Vive Tracker, and though there were plans to create a standalone HTC headset that ran Google's Daydream VR platform, those plans fell through. HTC did launch the Vive Focus standalone headset in China. 

Things really got shook up, however, when HTC unveiled the HTC Vive Pro in early January 2018. The key upgrade here is a much sharper screen resolution, but the even bigger question is how much the headset will cost. If it's more expensive than the HTC Vive, it could keep many shoppers away. 

Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive comparison

Your considerably less tattooed author wearing HTC Vive

While both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have introduced new models, the original and most well-known headsets are what most shoppers find themselves choosing between. And both 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 computer with a smorgasbord of cables in order to function. Luckily, that may not be the case for long, as Facebook revealed during its Oculus Connect 4 keynote that its PC-less Santa Cruz headset will make its way to developers early next year.

For Oculus Rift fans, this is an honest-to-goodness wireless VR headset or, as Oculus describes it, an ‘all-in-one VR device.’ The cameras are built into the device, too, since Santa Cruz has an example of what’s known as inside-out tracking. This gives you a fully 360-degree VR experience without the need for any cables whatsoever.

Also important to bear in mind is that that are 37 sensors in the Vive headset proving fluid, seamless movement, while there’s also a front-facing camera that makes a world of difference. It’s not clear whether all of these facets, which ensure accuracy and precision, will be replicable in a VR headset that’s completely wireless.

HTC's camera also allows for a Chaperone safety system, which fosters room-scale VR within a 15 x 15 space by casting a blue outline on walls and objects established by the Lighthouse sensors when you get too close. What’s more, you can turn it on for a Matrix-like look at everything at once.

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 earlier this year, that option was in beta, but now Oculus fully supports sitting, standing and room-scale VR.

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
  • Need something to play? Here are the best VR games to date

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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.

  • Here's a list of the 20 best VR games to date

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

Oculus Rift stock can come and go

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.

Worth the price of admission?

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.

  • The VR headset for your console: PlayStation VR

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