Let’s be honest, neither the Rift or Vive is going to win any fashion awards. Both are bulky, yet lightweight devices you strap to the front of your head like a wearable brick, which then allow you an unobstructed view into the world of virtual reality.
That said, the Rift and Vive both utilize adjustable Velcro straps and comfortable padding on the interior faceplate. The Vive is still a bit on the heavy side, which makes sense given it touts 37 visible sensors on the front designed to connect to wireless cameras within the tracking space.
The Rift, on the other hand, showcases a sleeker exterior design and smaller footprint. Both models accommodate glasses (though with some added discomfort), connect via USB and HDMI to your PC, and feature integrated audio at launch with the option to plug in your own headphones if desired.ControlsOculus Touch
HTC Vive controller
The headset itself is only one aspect of the design, though. The Rift and the Vive both capitalize on two custom controllers — known as Oculus Touch and SteamVR, respectively. Although a standard Xbox One controller will initially ship with the Rift, the aforementioned Touch will arrive at some point in 2016.
These mirrored controllers will include a joystick and button setup, yes, but they’ll also utilize the same low-latency tracking technology that determines the relative position of the headset. The design will allow the pair of controllers to function more like your real hands when gaming, capitalizing on internal tracking sensors and haptic feedback for a more immersive experience. Pricing has not been announced, but Oculus has suggested they’ll be in the $150 to $200 range.
The Vive takes a different approach. The device’s controllers, available at launch and bundled with the headset, function much like a modified Steam Controller, sport touch-sensitive circles under your thumbs, and trigger buttons that act as primary selection buttons. The latest iteration of the controller is a step up from the original. Vive’s new controllers are sleeker, the jagged edges of the previous model smoothed for better comfort. Textured buttons and grip pads aim to ensure a more ergonomic experience. The grip can even detect when you squeeze, furthering their responsiveness while allowing you to interact with virtual objects with a more realistic sense of touch.
Both devices will also support gamepads, though only the Rift ships with an Xbox One controller.Display and tracking
Virtual reality headsets are only as good as the display they utilize. That said, the Rift and Vive both come outfitted with vibrant OLED displays, each of which offers 1,080 x 1,200-pixel resolution for each eye. Said displays bring the final pixel resolution to 2,160 x 1,200, with 90Hz refresh rates, thus ensuring the frame rate is high enough to prevent motion sickness and provide a smooth experience overall.
The Vive’s redesigned sensors are much smaller
The Rift also relies on 360-degree positional head tracking and delivers a 110-degree field of view, whereas the Vive makes use of laser positioning and more than 70 sensors, including a gyroscope and accelerometer (among others).
The latter also supports a 110-degree field of view, though, unlike the Rift, it’s intended to function in the space roughly the size of a walk-in closet when used in conjunction with a pair of Steam VR Laser Tracking base stations. The Rift is more as a sit-down device, opposed to one you wear and physically walk around the room with, though some Rift demos require the user stand.
Perhaps the biggest addition to the Vive is a front facing camera that allows the user to see real-world objects while they are in VR. With the mere press of a button, users can activate the “chaperone” system, which will cause any objects seen by the camera to shimmer into existence in the virtual world. Aside from looking impressive, this feature solves on of the biggest issues with VR — allowing users to safely interact with or avoid objects in their rooms while wearing the headset.Performance and requirements
So, how do the Rift and Vive perform in real-world scenarios when stacked directly against one another? That’s a phenomenal question. Because both headsets and their accompanying controls function as peripherals as opposed to standalone device, they’re also heavily reliant on the hardware powering them.
When it comes to minimum requirements for the Rift, Oculus recommends an Intel i5-4590 processor, more than 8GB or RAM, and Windows 7 SPI. You’ll also need a GTX 970 or AMD 290 graphics card and a few ports, and though a less-beefy PC can run the Rift, the experience certainly won’t be ideal.
The Vive’s requirements are basically identical with one notable exception — the AMD Radeon R9 280 is the minimum recommended card, rather than the R9 290. That was actually changed very close to release, and Valve has stated it wants to further reduce the minimum system requirements as refinements to the hardware allows it.
If you need to build your own VR rig, check out our PC build guide to see the hardware we suggest.Software
The Oculus Rift is compatible with software through the Oculus Rift store, as well as other outlets. It comes with the game Lucky’s Taleincluded for free.
HTC’s Vive, meanwhile, is designed to primarily work with Valve’s Steam platform, though it also can be used with other software if it’s coded to support the device. The Vive ships Job Simulator, Fantastic Contraption, and Tilt Brush.
Both models have a small but reasonably robust launch lineup. The Rift is compatible with games like Eve: Valkyrie and Adr1ft, while the Vive’s exclusives include the bundled Fantastic Contraption and Valve’s demo bundle, The Lab. The headsets also run a variety of games, like Elite Dangerous, that came out before the retail launch of VR, but were developed with VR in mind.Availability and pricing
The Rift is $600, while the Vive is a considerably more expensive $800, likely due to the production cost of the room-scale movement sensors and its two included controller wands. The Rift’s Touch controllers do not come standard, so the price of the Rift with Touch controllers will likely come close to the Vive.
Ultimately, neither headset is cheap, and that’s not even taking into account the powerful computers needed to run the devices.Conclusion
Many of the hardware specs, such as the internal display and field of view, are virtually the same between the Rift and Vive. Other facets — notably the controllers and tracking system unique to each device — differ.
While the specifications make it difficult to declare a winner, our personal experiences of the Vive have been more favorable, as you can read in our review. The Vive feels more immersive because it’s a standing, walking experience, rather than a seated headset. And its controllers, which shipped at launch, completely change how users interact with VR.
Yes, the Vive is more expensive. If you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on a VR experience, why not buy the most immersive headset available?
Update 4/5/2016 by Matt Smith: Added new information available at launch
Update 2/22/2106 by Gabe Carey: Added new information about the HTC Vive’s launch.
Update 1/6/2016 by Will Nicol: Added new information regarding software, released duringCES 2016.