Oculus Rift review

Review: Oculus Rift



We have been waiting for Oculus Rift since 2012, ever since Oculus VR launched their original Kickstarter campaign. Back then, it was a new and unexpected product category that emerged seemingly out of the blue. Not long after, the company was acquired by Facebook, and long before any competitors had announced rivaling products. In the mean time we have examined the two so-called "development kits" (1 2); hardware designed for developers.

So, here we are. Oculus Rift is a finished product and we have it in our hands - 699 Euro plus shipping. If you order now you will have to wait 3-4 months for the product to ship. It is not easy to get your hands on the "future of entertainment". And yes, it is the future of entertainment. Of that I am fully convinced after reviewing Oculus Rift.

Price and retailer:

Specifications

2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye)
90 Hz
AMOLED (Samsung)
FOV: 100 to 110 degrees (no official numbers)
6 "degree-of-freedom" tracking system
External IR LED sensor
470 grams
1x HDMI 1.3
1x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0
Built-in headphones
Touchpad, Back button, Volume button, Focus adjustment
Bluetooth remote
Xbox One controller
Xbox controller wireless receiver
Infrared camera
Cables
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Introduction

Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset - or VR headset - that you connect to a PC using a pair of USB cables and a single HDMI cable. The headset packs, amongst other things, built-in sensors, optics, OLED displays, and infrared diodes. That does not sound too advanced but it is more than the sum of its parts. It is a doorway to an infinite number of virtual worlds that in many ways are as compelling and vivid as the physical reality we all live in today.

How it feels to be inside Oculus’ virtual world is hard to describe. You just have to try it yourself. Unlike a monitor, a TV screen or a movie theatre, it looks nothing like a screen, but instead a 3D world that you oftentimes feel fully immersed in. Wherever you look, you see a virtual world. It can be amazing and very addicting. Once you have tried it, a TV screen or monitor feels extremely flat and small.


Oculus Rift review


High PC requirements

Before you throw your savings at Oculus Rift be aware that your PC must meet very strict requirements. We are talking powerful desktop PCs here that typically cost $1000 or more. No laptops can meets the stringent hardware requirements.

According to one survey on Steam, only 9% of gamers have the hardware to run virtual reality so most of us will have to update our hardware before we get started. Oculus has released a website tool tool to check if your PC is ready.

If you want a ready-to-go solution you can buy Oculus Ready PCs from Alienware, Asus, Dell, and other. Learn more about them here. If you buy one of these machines you also get the Oculus Rift headset and rumor goes that you will get it faster than those who opt to buy the headset alone.

The official minimum PC requirements are:
  • CPU: i5 4690 or better
  • GPU: GeForce 970 / AMD 290 or better
  • Ram: 8 GB
  • Windows 7, 8 or 10



    First impressions

    The headset is connected to a PC through HDMI and USB (3.0) that Oculus has fitted into a single thin and light cable. The infrared camera sensor is more or less just a wide-angle HD camera that you also connect through a USB cable, and place on your desktop pointing towards yourself.

    The bundled Xbox controller uses another USB (2.0) port for the wireless dongle, besides the two you need for the headset and camera. It takes around 5 minutes to set everything up, including installation of drives and software. Oculus has clearly made it a priority to make it as easy and user-friendly as possible. Everyone can join the fun. It is almost Apple style.

    Sound and headphones

    Oculus Rift has a built-in headset that rests on top of the ear, like 80s and 90s headphones such as Koss PortaPro. Therefore it might surprise some users that the sound experience is as good as it it. Sound is surprisingly good and balanced, and comfort is great.

    Compared to my Sennheiser HD 650 that are quite expensive headphones, I do not feel like I am missing much. The is a minor difference in the top and bottom but it is a compromise that I am willing to accept for the excellent level of comfort.

    It would be a mistake to underestimate the advantage of headphones that simply work and fit on a VR headset. I hope that Oculus’ competitors are taking notes. I do not recall trying any product where the bundled headphones are of such high quality.

    If you still wish to use something else you can detach the built-in headphones in the matter of seconds. There are no wires because the headphones are connected through a pair of terminals. This is an example of excellent industrial design.



    Ergonomics

    Unlike Gear VR and the two development kits (DK1 and DK2) that we have examined, the final version of Oculus Rift is worn more like a cap than like strapping rubber bands around your head. The bands are not elastic but support around the back of the head and from the top strap. Once adjusted correctly, you will feel very little pressure on your face. Oculus has implemented a spring mechanism to apply the right level of pressure once the straps are adjusted.

    A good tip is to adjust them straps to be so loose that only the first 1/3 of the spring is applied. Once correctly adjusted you actually tend to forget that your are wearing the headset when action starts.

    Oculus Rift review


    The ergonomics aspect is a major improvements over both Gear VR and the development kits that could cause neck pain after just 15-20 minutes of use because they were too heavy.. Unlike Gear VR we did not experience issues with the optics clouding up or the headset getting warm either.

    Because the display in Oculus Rift is - unlike Gear VR - actually two separate OLED displays - one of each eye - it is possible to adjust the distance between the lenses so that it corresponds to the distance between your two eyes (IPD). It is done with a small slider underneath the headset. This allows everyone to optimize the optics, which will ensure that picture stays sharp and that you put less strain on your eyes.

    The headset supports an IPD from 59 to 69 mm but you can actually adjust it a little higher and lower so it probably corresponds to approximately 56 to 72 mm. If your eyes are within this range you will get a good experience. If not I would recommend that you skip Oculus Rift since it will be a bad experience. The average for a human is 65mm IPD.

    Oculus Rift review


    User experience

    In many ways Oculus Home looks like the user interface in Gear VR but everything looks sharper and smoother. The broad lines are the same and that is a good thing because it feels intuitive.

    Once you have installed the software and power up the glasses for the first time Oculus Home is automatically initiated and you are ready to go. No additional steps are required. You can navigate the interface with the Xbox One controller or use the bundled bluetooth remote. From Oculus Home you can switch between apps, purchase new apps, and in general carry out any operation that one would expect to be able to without leaving the virtual environment. Once you have are in a game or application you can exit it with a single press of a button. It is a trouble-free experience that just works.

    I experienced a few issues with waking up the headset after my computer went into standby. I restarted the PC and it worked again. Oculus Home is still in beta so this is something that I expect to be fixed within long.

    If you prefer to purchase apps and games without having to wear the headset you can do it from your regular PC monitor. Oculus Store has a traditional 2D interface. If you are waiting for your Rift to arrive you can prepare by purchasing apps and installing them beforehand. There are quite a few free apps and movies that you can try before purchasing anything.

    However, just like the interface on Gear VR, Oculus Home on Rift feels too light. It is missing many features that one would expect from a modern "app store".

    Amongst other things we were promised 3D scenes from within games in the store instead of traditional videos and screenshots but Oculus has delayed that without specifying a date. The most disappointing thing is that there are no user reviews. I believe that user reviews are an essential part of any modern app store. I am convinced that Oculus is working on bringing it to the Home interface but until it happens I will keep pointing it out.

    When you press the Xbox One button on the controller you are taken to a basic menu one layer behind Oculus Home. From here you can adjust the headset, view notifications and more. It is not a very comprehensive settings menu but that is probably a good thing. Oculus has clearly made and effort to make everything as user-friendly as possible. The company wants the product to appeal to everyone, not just gamers and tech nerds.


    Resolution is low

    Let us be very clear here; the display resolution should be higher and in some applications it is a problem. In other applications it is not an issue. You will notice the low resolution every time you want to read text or need to look into the horizon, while the object in the foreground looks detailed and sharp. However, unlike the two development kits the display resolution is now acceptable and undoubtedly a big improvement. Once you start playing games you often forget about it, except for the situations highlighted above.

    There will always be a compromise between the field of view and the resolution. A smaller field of view will result in a higher effective resolution and vice versa. I think that Oculus has chosen the right compromise for resolution based on what current gaming PCs can do. There is no doubt that this is one area where future virtual reality headsets will be improved upon immensely but at the moment it is up to developers to create applications that bypass the current limitations of resolution. If the developer has been aware of the limitations and if done right it is not a real problem. I noticed it most often in games that were not designed for VR to start with.

    Problematic "God Rays"

    Another problem related to picture quality is the so-called "halo effect" - or "God rays" - that look like a white halo around bright objects on a dark background. It can be very distracting if developers are not aware of the issue and completely avoid using white-on-black backgrounds and contrast-rich scenes.

    It is unclear if this is a limitation of Samsung’s pentile subpixels in AMOLED or if it can be attributed mostly to the (fresnel) lenses used by Oculus. However, one must assume that it is a problem that the companies are addressing in future generations of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Because I can reveal that HTC Vive suffers from the same problem, although in a slightly different manner.

    Example of the "Halo" effect
    Oculus Rift review
    It is a shame that the only way to avoid this is for developers to avoid using pitch black. The ability to reproduce true black is one of the major advantages of OLED display technology but for now we will not experience that.

    The "halo effect" is after all more detrimental to the picture experience than slightly reducing contrast. It also appears that brightness is slightly too low and I suspect that Oculus has reduced it in software to avoid even more severe halo issues.

    FOV, optics & picture quality

    FOV (Field of View), as the name implies, describes how wide the picture looks inside the headset. The experience of using Oculus Rift can probably best be described as resembling the vision you have in an ordinary ski mask. It looks wider than Gear VR and while the current FOV still feels like a limitation it is fully acceptable. I am not sure if it is actually wider than the earlier development kits.

    On the other hand we have the focus area of the screen, which has been visibly improved. This is the "sweet spot" area where the display looks sharp and detailed. In my opinion this is a very important aspect of the experience. We have tried quite a few VR headsets by now and it is wildly distracting constantly having to look for the "sweet spot". Oculus has managed more or less to eliminate this problem on Oculus Rift.

    To sum it up I think that Oculus has done a good job in terms of both optics/lenses and picture quality. They have chosen the right compromises. The company has made significant improvements over a span of few years, especially compared to DK1 and DK2 but also compared to Samsung Gear VR. There is room for improvement in several areas, especially resolution but I am mostly pleased with what I see and in several areas positively surprised. Mostly surprised about how big an area of the display is in focus. The lenses are allegedly fresnel lenses. It is advanced technology and it is nice to see that Oculus has made the effort.

    Tracking

    Unlike Gear VR, Oculus Rift implements "positional tracking", which relates to the ability to accurately track your position in the three-dimensional space, just like PlayStation Move or Kinect, but at a higher level of precision. In other words, you can crouch or lean to each side, even walk around a little. It is a very important aspect to ensure a decent virtual reality experience and to help avoid feeling dizzy. It also helps make the VR experience more immersive.

    Tracking works by employing a camera that you place at least 1 meter away, pointing towards your face. The camera can register movement by tracking the small infrared diodes on the headset. These diodes are placed on the front and back, meaning that you can turn 360 degrees. It works as advertised and I never experienced problems with lost tracking - or any form of lag for that matter.

    It works while standing or sitting. However, while standing I often missed an option in the software to adjust height. It simply felt wrong many times. The feeling of immersion is broken whenever you feel that you are taller or lower in the virtual world than in the real world.

    Touch has to wait

    Unfortunately we must arm ourselves with patience when it comes to Oculus Touch, the two controllers that are motion enabled and will make it possible to translate hand movement into virtual reality movement. Oculus Touch was introduced some time ago but were never meant to ship with Oculus Rift. Touch will be released this autumn and will cost extra.

    I also have HTC Vive (review coming up soon) and I have to say that Touch will be an indispensable part of the virtual reality package. There is no doubt that HTC Vive has a major advantage at the moment because it ships with hand motion tracking.

    If you can wait a few extra months for Oculus Touch this will not be a major issue. Anyways, if you order Oculus Rift now you will not receive it for at least a few months. By that time Touch should be here.

    Oculus Rift review


    Games for Oculus Rift

    Let us take a look at some of the most important launch game titles, and some additional games that I have had a chance to try over the last couple of weeks.


    ADR1FT

    ADR1FT is a must-have game for Oculus Rift if you like science fiction
    A space simulator where you have to navigate around a gigantic space station in weightlessness, only accompanied by your space suit. You have to use your sparse oxygen to breathe and move around, and you are constantly on the lookout for more. It is claustrophobic and a magnificent experience.

    It is crazy that it actually feels like being weightless once you glide around in the gigantic space station that in some areas have been smashed to atoms. If you like science fiction and space this is a must-have game and it almost single-handily makes the investment in Oculus Rift worth it.

    It is amazing.

    Score: 9/10


    Blaze Rush

    A racing game where you watch the action from a short distance away. This camera angle makes it feel like toy cars that you can reach out for. It is an very addictive and fun game that is hard to put down once you start. I spent over 2 hours playing it in my first try.

    This is also a must-have title for Oculus Rift in my opinion. Many hours of fun at a good price. Oculus Rift is not required to play Blaze Rush but it is just so much better in VR.

    Score: 8/10


    Chronos

    A action role playing game resembling Legend of Zelda. For every scene the producer has chosen a fixed camera position and you cannot move it, not unlike the first Alone in the Dark or Resident Evil games.

    A very evocative and addictive game. Many hours of fun and not just a extended demo like many other VR titles at the moment.

    Score: 8/10


    Eve Valkyrie

    One of the first titles that were announced for Oculus Rift was Eve Valkyrie. It is a multiplayer game based in the universe of Eve Online. It is about one thing; dog fights in space. It is a streamlined and polished game but personally I feel that the game lacks charm and atmosphere.

    After just 20 minutes I got terribly bored. I simply missed some substance and a compelling storyline.

    Score: 7/10


    Elite Dangerous

    In my opinion Elite is a much better space simulation game than Eve Valkyrie. It has better dog fights and more depth. Of course these are two quite different titles but if you ask me I would recommend Elite over Eve Valkyrie. I think it is a better buy.

    I still think that the classic Elite for C64 was a better game in most areas but on the other hand it has never felt so real to sit inside a space ship.

    Score: 9/10


    Vanishing of Ethan Carter

    A great game with a fantastic atmosphere. However, the conversion to VR is not very successful. I started feeling dizzy after a short time since the game is controlled like a traditional first-person game. It has beautiful environments and a compelling story but it is just not designed for VR in the first place.

    So far it is the only game that has made me feel a little sick after 15-20 minutes play.

    Score: 6/10



    Lucky’s Tale

    Lucky’s Tale comes free when you buy Oculus Rift
    A 3D platformer game that in some ways resemble Super Mario 64. However, it lacks the "depth" of Super Mario World 3D and Super Mario 64. On the other hand it is much easier to judge distance and jumps in VR than in 2D. I think that the 3D platform genre will experience a resurrection with the rise of VR because it simply works.

    A very polished although short game that is free for now.

    The developer has said that it will be an episodic game so we should probably expect them to start charging money at a later point.

    Score: 8/10


    Pinball FX2 VR

    This is a genre that works so much better in VR than on a flat monitor. It is much easier to survey the entire table and it feels very natural. On a traditional screen you often miss the ball but in VR you feel in control. There is a major difference.

    Unfortunately the game only offer three tables so far so we hope to see more in the near future. It is worth the price.

    Score: 9/10


    Oculus Rift review


    Movies and video

    Oculus Studios has created several movies designed bottom up for VR. You are typically placed in the middle of the scene, meaning that you can look around as you please. You are in other words your own camera man. Titles include Henry, Lost, and Invasion, and all of them are free through Oculus Home. I recommend that you take a look.

    All three are best described as short films and even though animation quality is not on par with Pixar the difference is not as big as one would expect. I am excited to see the full feature-length movies in virtual reality. I think that movies and TV could be some areas that benefit a lot from VR.

    Oculus Rift review


    Concerts and sports events also seem to be an obvious match for VR. Traditionally only a few persons can sit in the best spots. In the VR world you eliminate the physical limitations.

    When it comes to movies and TV the selection is quite poor at the moment. Unfortunately there is no Netflix app, even though it is available for Gear VR. Luckily the same video player has been integrated. From this app you can sit and watch movies and TV in different simulated environments, including a big movie theatre and a smaller cozy home cinema. Depending on your choice of movie or TV series you will quickly find the best match. Picture quality is visibly better than on Gear VR. It looks a bit sharper and more detailed.

    However, you instantly notice that movies look soft. I think that quality is slightly above DVD quality whereas Gear VR was slightly below. It is not the best picture experience but can be enjoyable. Color balance and contrast is, in my opinion, spot-on. I always use the movie or cinema profile when watching movies on a TV and based on that reference Oculus Rift looks good. However, the "halo effect" that I mentioned earlier is a problem when watching certain movie scenes, especially white objects on black backgrounds, including the opening scene for Star Wars. It is not a major issue when watching movies but at times you will see it.

    Unfortunately you have to move movie files into the Windows Video folder for the application to find them. It feels ancient that you cannot specify a folder or point the app at a NAS directory or another drive. A sloppy and unacceptable compromise. It is also a little alarming that there are no apps for Netflix, YouTube or HBO. I guess we will just have to accept the fact that it will take some time to build a compelling VR platform.

    Social apps

    Oculus VR was acquired and is owned by Facebook. So when powering up Oculus Rift it struck me as odd that the Oculus Home has absolutely no focus on social features or apps. If you expect it to be a social platform you will be disappointed.

    Facebook recently showed off its vision for a virtual reality social future. That might give us a hint of what is to come.



    What about simulator sickness?

    I experienced simulator sickness and dizziness when I reviewed Rift DK1 and DK2 and to some extent Samsung Gear VR. Luckily I experienced no such issues with Oculus Rift. At times I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach but it never felt uncomfortable. To me, this is a major improvement and it actually means that I can enjoy virtual reality for hours without becoming uncomfortable or feeling tired. This was not possible with the development kits or Gear VR.

    I do not know if it can be attributed to the lower latency or the upgrade from 75Hz to 90Hz OLED panels but I just know the it is a major improvement. Family and friends who tried Oculus Rift said the same. None of them started feeling uncomfortable. This is a very important step forward for VR in general.


    Competitors

    Oculus Rift is not alone. HTC Vive was launched a week after Oculus Rift with similar specifications, except for one important detail; "roomscale VR". Roomscale VR means that you can walk around freely in a room and use two controllers to translate arm and hand movements in the real world into movement in the virtual world. You are not confined to sitting down on a chair or standing still.

    Right now Oculus Rift does not offer roomscale VR. The company will launch its Oculus Touch controllers later this year (September or October if we are to believe the rumors), which will bring your hands into the virtual world. But if you want it now there is no other option than HTC Vive. My advice is to try HTC Vive before you buy Oculus Rift because Roomscale VR is very convincing. As said we will publish a full review of HTC Vive soon.

    There are of course other things to take into consideration when choosing between HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The former is simply not as comfortable to wear as it feels heavier. You feel it after just 30 minutes of use. The built-in speakers in Oculus Rift are also much better instead of the cheap in-ear headphones for HTC Vive.

    The optics in Oculus Rift are a little sharper than the optics in HTC Vive and the focus area is larger. On the other hand the field of view in HTC Vive is bigger. There is an interdependent relationship between resolution and field of view. Improving one reduces the other. The "halo effect" is less distinct on HTC Vive. Between the two I still think Oculus has the strongest card on its hands when it comes to optics, primarily because of the slightly sharper image and the larger focus area.

    However, the difference is so small that it in no way should determine the choice. In our future review of HTC Vive we will examine the more important differences between the two, including the differences between the two software platforms (Oculus Home and Steam VR).

    Sony will release the third major VR headset later this year with PlayStation VR for $399 / €399 (plus PlayStation Move and camera). It "only" requires a PlayStation 4 console, making it significantly cheaper than both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. I think we should expect a VR experience somewhere between Gear VR and Oculus Rift. Sony’s strength is of course its strong support from game developers, which could make PlayStation VR a strong product.


    Conclusion

    Oculus VR has created the product that it promised. The technology is polished and ergonomics are good enough for everyone to enjoy VR. It has markedly reduced issues with resolution, the "screen door" effect, cumbersome installation, and simulator sickness. There is surely room for improvement, especially for resolution, but we have reached a point where most people would be satisfied with the VR experience.

    I miss apps for TV and video and I hope it is something that Oculus is working on. It could potentially make Rift an alternative to the home cinema. For now there is a feature-poor video player that allows you to watch movies in simulated environments but no apps for Netflix, YouTube, HBO or Amazon. Also, be aware that it currently looks like DVD quality being projected on a 80" screen and not 4K quality on a 60" screen. Still, as an alternative to watching movies on a phone or monitor, Oculus Rift feels like a full cinema.

    Oculus Rift is a landmark product that will forever change entertainment
    Gaming is where Oculus Rift shines. The selection of games and experiences in Oculus Home is very good considering that this is an entirely new platform. There are at least 3-4 very good games and that is a strong start compared to game consoles. It will be interesting to see if Oculus can maintain developer interest over the coming years. It appears that big and small studios are working on new titles.

    The only thing standing in the way of Oculus Rift’s place in the spotlight is the underdog from HTC called Vive. It came seemingly out of nowhere and although not as polished it might turn out to be a more complete package. We will soon publish our full review of HTC Vive.

    Oculus has more tricks up its sleeve and later this year the company will release Oculus Touch for hand tracking. That could tip the scales in Oculus Rift’s favor and it might be a good idea to wait for it if you are currently trying to decide between Rift and Vive. Still, I want to make it clear that Oculus Rift is one of the best VR headsets on the market and after years of development Oculus has delivered. VR is expensive, very experience, but Oculus Rift is a landmark product that will forever change entertainment and it is worth the high price. It deserves our Highly Recommended Award.

    Price and retailer:

    High quality & design
    Excellent sound
    Very comfortable, great ergonomics
    User-friendly
    Acceptable picture quality
    Decent games selection


    User interface too light
    "Halo effect"
    Resolution
    Price
    No Oculus Touch







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