At this point, you're probably getting tired of hearing about our (and other media outlets') event demo impressions of the big VR headsets. After three years worth of this, we're all pretty much to the "release the damn things already!" stage. And we're almost there. But as final forms become apparent and content continues to fill up, we have some new thoughts on the Oculus Rift – and why it's the best VR headset right now.
We used the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR this week. It wasn't our first time with any of the headsets, but it was the first time we used all three at the same event, and within the same week-long time frame.
The first thing to know is that none of them suck. All three give you the basic VR experience of transporting you somewhere else. There are greater and lesser degrees of this, which vary across platform and across individual titles, but it's not as if one of them is 100 percent pure VR and the others are ... something far short of that. If any one of them were the only virtual reality that existed, we'd still be excited about this emerging frontier.
So why do we think the Oculus Rift is the best? To quote a famous ex-Microsoft CEO: "Developers, developers, DEVELOPERS!"
Oculus has shown by far the best and biggest variety of VR content. Part of that is because the company is very open showcasing content for the media, but what we've seen on the other platforms is very thin by comparison. For example, the Vive demo we saw this week was basically the exact same thing we saw last July – it added a showcase of the headset's new camera system, but the game/experience demos themselves were nearly identical.
In our Oculus demos, meanwhile, we could choose from around 20 demos to play – half using the wireless Xbox One gamepad that ships in the box, and half using the Oculus Touch controllers that will ship later this year. Some are better than others, and not all are Rift exclusives, but when we play Oculus games, we see at least five or six that have the potential to be generation-defining experiences (two of them, Lucky's Tale and Eve: Valkyrie, are bundled with the Rift). We just haven't seen that on the other two platforms. At least not yet.
The Oculus Touch controllers are still outstanding – these are going to be must-have accessories for anyone buying the Rift. They give you hands in first-person games and experiences; they're light, comfortable and responsive, and their buttons correspond perfectly to natural gripping gestures. Oculus Touch demos where you have pistols in your hands, like Bullet Train and Dead and Buried, are some of the best experiences you can have right now in VR.
The Vive's controllers are also very good, to the point where Oculus Touch shouldn't be the deciding factor between the two products.
The walking around aspect of the Vive is still awesome, following up on our first demo in 2015 which had us using words like "mesmerizing" and "next-level VR." The room-scale aspect is extremely cool, and one possible destination for the majority of VR content years down the road.
HTC also added an important – and very smart – element to that in its new Pre headset: a front-facing camera that pops up nearby walls, objects, boundaries and other obstacles before you have a chance to smack into them. The Rift doesn't have that.
So why doesn't that give the Vive the edge in our current "best VR headset" conversation? Because – this isn't something Oculus has talked much about – the Rift is going to be able to work on a room-wide scale as well. The company isn't making it an early focus because, well, baby steps and all that. People who haven't been using VR at meetings and events for the last three years need to start with something manageable and progress in logical and easily digestible increments when the time is right. Start with gamepad-based stuff, release Touch a few months after that, and then take it from there. And when it is time for room-scale VR, the same Rift that you can pre-order today will be able to do that as well as the Vive. You'll just need a second positional sensor, which will be bundled with Oculus Touch, to go with the one that's bundled with the Rift.
That leaves Chaperone, HTC's feature that uses the front-facing camera to show you obstacles, as its only clear advantage right now. If you're 100 percent invested in the room-scale aspect from the get-go, then that could make it the better choice for you. For everyone else, though, we'd recommend going where the content is, and so far that's the Rift.
Much stink was made this week of the Oculus Rift's US$599 price, and it is on the higher range of what we were expecting (we predicted something in the $500-600 price range). Hey, we get it, it ain't cheap at all. Especially when you factor in the cost of the PC you'll need to power it, which will set you back roughly another $900 (Oculus' partners will be offering Rift/PC bundles in the $1,500 range).
Just remember to keep things in perspective. Virtual reality may seem established, because we in the tech and gaming press have been blabbering on about it for years now. But this is just the very beginning – and being an early adopter has never been cheap (remember, the first iPhone launched at $499, and that was with a two-year contract!). From where we stand now, the Oculus Rift does exactly what first-generation products need to do: it provides a premium, uncompromised experience that's going to blow people's minds when they try it.
As Oculus founder Palmer Luckey tweeted last month, "VR will become something everyone wants before it becomes something everyone can afford."
The Oculus Rift is available to pre-order now, from the product page below. The very first shipments start going out late March (a ship date you probably missed if you haven't ordered yet).
Product page: Oculus