Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Oculus Redemption! How does it compare to the Vive now?

Last Spring, after driving for an hour across town to demo the Oculus Rift CV1 at Best Buy I was surprised when the 20-something-year-old kid asked if I would like to purchase one.  Even though most preorders hadn't yet shipped, he informed me that there had been an inventory problem.  While their computers said that they didn't have any in stock, he actually had 6 in back and would gladly sell me one if I wanted.

I hadn’t officially preordered Oculus’ headset; however, I’d been lurking in the shadows of the VR scene for years.  My excitement towards VR had definitely started as a kid way back in the 80’s. I had been rooting for Oculus all the way from the beginning with their Kickstarter campaign.  The only step left was to pool my limited resources and buy it.

 I found it humorous, but not too surprising in retrospect, that even though thousands of people had waited years to get their hands on Oculus' consumer version that I was being offered cuts in the preorder line by this acne-laden kid.  One quick walk around the block to consult with my wife on making a fairly big impulse purchase and I was back to pull the trigger; after all, it must be fate that had brought me to this precipice and all that I could do now was take the plunge.

Oculus had me right where they wanted me, I was finally experiencing many of the VR experiences I had seen in demo videos and read about.  This was it . . . or was it?

My hyped up, much anticipated VR dreams quickly deflated a few weeks later when I was at a conference and tried out a demo of the HTC Vive.  HTC and its motion-controlled-goodness surpassed almost every aspect of the consumer VR experience.  I immediately had buyer’s remorse which even led me to post up some ads on Craigslist trying to unload my new toy in an effort to swap out for the Vive.  Not even a nibble. 

Actually, if Craigslist prices were any indication, I had just gotten on the wrong side of the VR arms race.  
The continued depreciation of the headset as well as my VR experience resulted in my joining the masses of other Oculus owners who were doing the next logical thing, what else could we do?  We waited for the release of the Oculus Touch controllers.

The future is finally here, I’m happy to report that with the addition of the Touch controllers, my VR excitement level has gone from a 5 back to a 10.  It’s often been said that competition is healthy for the market and I’m glad for what Vive has done to jumpstart VR and add variety.  I also look forward to the competition in years to come that hopefully results in a faster turn-around and more innovation by way of VR technology.  Round 1 goes to Vive.  Round two without a doubt goes to Oculus.  I’m officially back on with team oculus.  I can’t really think of any way in which the HTC Vive outperforms the Rift except maybe with the addition of the front camera. Here are a few of my observations as to why the Rift is currently the hands-down winner.  I should note that I have since had a lot more experience with the Vive and tested out most games that support both.

Ways in which Oculus is beating the competition:
  • The guardian system.  I was pleasantly surprised when setting up for Touch that the guardian system seemed more polished and helped keep me more  aware of my surrounding space. I especially appreciate the hand blobs that intensify as I approach my boundaries.
  • The controls are more natural and precise. That's not to say that Vive isn't fairly intuitive, I would say that the difference is that Vive is more intuitive for people with a gaming background whereas anyone can pick up the touch controllers and not even really know how they're doing it, it just works.
  • Comfort and design.  This is where Facebook's Oculus really stands out.  This isn't really a surprise given the head start that Oculus had in designing their product.  While impressive that Vive seemed to take the quick route to producing an amazing and comparable product, now that Oculus' offering is complete, they are hard to even place into the same ballpark.
  • Software.  The Oculus store and the experience hardly skips a beat.  While I have experienced a few hiccups with sensors disconnecting, the current build of the Oculus software is rock solid on my setup.
  • Screen.  I notice a bit of white glare on the Oculus with really intense whites but other than that the screen is clearer and more vibrant than the Vive.  I’m sure this has been debated to death and the specs are surely out there but from a real-world standpoint, I can simply say that Oculus is better.
  • Tracking system.  Oculus claims that you need 3 sensors to have full room scale VR.  I’m not convinced that if you were to wall mount the Rift cameras in the same configuration as the Vive that you wouldn’t get very similar results with just two cameras.  I think that Oculus’ line of “VR is meant to be a seated experience” was simply poor sportsmanship on their part.  However, at the current state of the technology, I don’t really see much benefit in trying to create 360 experiences when more often than not the cord starts to get tangled around the user’s feet.  I find myself quickly adapting to find ways to keep my forward orientation in VR just to avoid all the confusion that comes with turning around in circles.  This will definitely change when VR is freed from cords.
  • Games.  Oculus is double dipping here but the results are beneficial for the consumer.  In my experience, almost all Vive games work with Oculus and Touch whereas the opposite is not true.
  • Sound.  This one seems simple but I haven’t seen a single person try to get out of the Vive experience who doesn’t inadvertently drop their headphones to the ground while taking off the headset.  Oculus’ effort to build in audio was a great decision.
  • Weight.  Again, I’m sure the specs are readily available but the Rift feels almost too light in the hand considering the money it costs while with Vive definitely starts to get uncomfortable after any prolonged wear.

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