Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive

UPDATED: Do the Oculus Touch controllers put the Rift on top?

Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have been out for months now, and the VR market continues to evolve and expand with the recent release of the PlayStation VR and Google's Daydream View.

Of course, if you're looking for the highest of the high-end, these are your absolute best options right now. Both the Rift and Vive pack plenty of wow factor into their immersive experiences, and while there are commonalities between the two pricey headsets, there are also a number of ways in which they stand apart.

When we originally did this comparison in April, right after the release of both headsets, the difference was much starker: the Vive was pricier and seemed less consumer-ready, but the ability to deliver room-scale immersion gave it the upper hand. However, with this week's release of the Oculus Touch controllers, the Rift is right there with similar, albeit optional capabilities.

Planing on making the plunge into PC-based VR? Here's how the Rift and Vive match up after several months on the market.

The experience

While both headsets have some similar hardware and capabilities, they have very different aims right out of the box. The HTC Vive is all about room-scale VR: that means that games may offer an experience that requires as much as 15x15ft for you to move around in, deftly maneuvering the virtual worlds while you carefully navigate your own. With a headset on, of course. Even with a smaller space, the sense of scale is astounding.

By comparison, the core Oculus Rift is focused on the seated VR experience: your backside is in a chair, you've got a very traditional Xbox One gamepad in hand, and you're free to look around the game world. But looking around a virtual world and moving around it are two very different things, and it comes through in the play experience.

The Oculus Touch controllers change that experience - but they're wholly optional. You'll pay £189 to get the lightweight controllers and another sensor, allowing for 360-degree tracking, but then you'll need to buy a third sensor to enable room-scale tracking.

Allowing roaming doesn't automatically make room-scale games better than seated ones, but it does offer a more transformational gaming leap and really shows the unique potential of VR. In our review of the Touch controllers, we concluded that the Vive still feels like the more advanced experience of the two, although the Touch might show off more capabilities in time. They're very close, however.

Winner: HTC Vive

Controls

As mentioned above, there's a very large difference in the way you interact with games on either headset out of the box, and it's not just about sitting versus standing/moving. The Rift ships with a plain 'ol Xbox One gamepad, which is a very fine game controller, but you're essentially still playing games the old way while getting a much-enhanced visual experience. You also get a small touch remote, but it's just meant for menu navigation and video controls.

By contrast, the HTC Vive comes with a pair of motion controllers that are simply brilliant – we likened their use as being like "going from an Atari joystick to a PS4 controller" when compared to what the Rift has on offer. The sense of immersion is just incredible, and the motion tracking means they appear right in the games with you, only enhancing the illusion and saving you some time spent fumbling around for them.

With the optional Touch controllers and a third sensor, the Rift experience feels almost as powerful and immersive as the Vive. In fact, the Touch controllers are even more ergonomic and lighter than the Vive's wands, and are obviously a huge improvement over using a plain 'ol Xbox gamepad. Without them, the Rift's version of VR feels like a compromise... but since they're not included in the box, Touch isn't the "default" Rift experience. The tracking feels a smidge less consistent than with Vive as well, and that ultimately hands this round to HTC.

Winner: HTC Vive

The games

With the release of the Oculus Touch controllers, we're starting to see the barriers break down between the platforms. Games previously built for the motion controllers of the Vive, like the fantastic Job Simulator and Valve's brilliant The Lab, are now playable on the Rift via Steam with a bit of tweaking.

That's not necessarily true the other way around, however. Anything built exclusively for the Rift and sold only through the Oculus Store won't be playable on the Vive... at least not easily. Some games can be played with a third-party hack called Revive, however. And anything on Steam is fair game for either headset.

The Rift does have a few of those sharp exclusives, including Edge of Nowhere, Damaged Core, and The Climb. Still, for the most part, both platforms trade in shorter experiences and compact demos of sorts, with neither having enough can't-miss, must-have VR games that can sell the hardware on their own. At least there's a steady stream of things worth trying out, but as of this point, neither platform has strongly swayed the balance in its favour.

Winner: Draw

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