Oculus Rift with Touch Review: The Vive meets its match

oculus Rift VR

Virtual reality is one of the few forms of gaming that genuinely always still excites me.

From a young age I’ve dreamed of being able to be inside a video game, and that’s exactly what modern high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR have allowed me to do, with varying degrees of success. I’ll never forget the first time I put on an HTC Vive and booted up Google’s Tilt Brush (the game also works with the Oculus Rift).

The ability to draw in 3D and also be able to walk around my creations, remains one of the most compelling interactive experiences I’ve ever had, as well as an ideal example of virtual reality’s potential as a burgeoning medium.

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But now that the sheen of virtual reality has worn off and most major players have released their high-end headsets, the subtle differences between PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive and now Oculus Rift with Touch, become increasingly important.

HTC and Valve’s Vive came as a surprise to me. While its set-up process is frustrating, especially with a small play space, and the actual headset isn’t very comfortable, the Vive’s room-scale functionality remains unparalleled, at least until now. This resulted in ‘room-scale’ being the Oculus Rifts missing link, despite the fact that its the superior headset in terms of build quality and comfort.

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Physically being able to move around within a play space, regardless of how small it is, and with controllers that mimic the functionality of hands, creates a level of immersion never experienced before in a video game or interactive experience. It also helps negate the feeling of motion sickness some people (including myself) suffer from when playing virtual reality from a stationary position.  Without room scale, there’s a disconnect between what appears on the screen and what your actual body is doing, which leads to nausea for some people.

The release of Touch is ostensibly Oculus playing catch-up with the Vive. It’s almost as if Facebook was caught off guard by the Vive’s ability to track players’ movement in the physical world. When the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both launched earlier this year, despite both headset’s hardware specs being nearly identical, the ability to physically track the player via the Vive’s base stations, has given the headset significant advantage over the Rift. Now, after multiple delays and months of waiting, the Oculus is getting room-scale thanks to its new Touch controllers and an additional sensor.

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The Oculus Rift needs motion-sensing controllers to compete with the Vive, whether the company believes room-scale is the future of virtual reality or not.

But does Touch match the Vive and to a lesser extent, Sony’s PlayStation VR, when it comes to room-scale functionality? In some ways it does, but in others Oculus’ solution for room-scale still lags behind the competition.

Oculus Touch is better than Vive’s wands

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First, let’s take a look at Oculus Touch. The two circular gamepads feel overall like higher quality controllers when compared to the Vive’s wands.

Unlike the Vive’s controllers or PlayStaton VR’s aging Move gamepads, most of Touch’s buttons feature capacitive sensors that allow for three distinct levels of interactivity: activated, unactivated and untouched. In most games, like Epic’s Robo Recall demo for example, this leads to an additional level of control over objects you’re holding in your hand that’s not possible with the Vive’s wands.

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There’s is no shortage of buttons on Oculus’ Touch controllers either. There are two triggers, one on the front and one on the side, and each controller features a joystick as well as two circular top buttons placed in locations where thumbs and other fingers naturally fall. There are also two additional flat buttons located on each side of the gamepad.

While this layout sounds complicated, the benefit of these additional buttons is immediately apparent in almost every game I’ve played that supports Touch. If you remove your index finger from the front trigger, your in-game character will point its index finger. This is a mechanic many Oculus Touch titles utilize to allow the player to select something on-screen. Continuing with this control scheme, if you remove your thumb from the base trigger, your character will give a thumbs up.

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This contextual, three-level input, gives the players more control over their character’s fingers and adds a tactile layer to virtual reality that’s missing from the Vive’s wands. Oculus’ Touch controllers don’t recreate the same sensation of actually picking up an object with your hands, but the experience is incredibly close. While the circular touch pad present on each Vive gamepad has the potential to be more versatile, few games use the input for anything beyond navigating menus.

Touch’s more complicated input options, however, mean that the controllers can be cumbersome at first for those new to video games or virtual reality. In almost every way Oculus Touch controllers are above the HTC Vive’s wands and significantly beyond what Sony’s Move gamepads are even capable of. It’s going to be interesting to see how developers take advantage of their unique button layout and functionality over the next few months.

Room-scale comes to the Rift

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In order for the Rift to be capable of room-scale tracking, Oculus has also packed an additional sensor with Touch. Coupled with the camera that already comes with the Rift, these two sensors combine to enable room-scale with the Facebook-owned headset, finally adding the room-scale functionality the Oculus Rift has been missing since launch.

The issue with Oculus’ system, however, is that these sensors need to be front-facing, resulting in a play space that’s not actually 360-degrees like the Vive’s offset base stations. Oculus says that using a third sensor allows for full 360-degree room-scale, but that’s another $80 USD on top of the already $279 CAD Touch controllers.

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I was able to get my hands on a third sensor and can confirm that Touch is capable of 360-degree tracking, with the third sensor being placed at the rear of my play space and slightly to the side. It’s also possible to setup full 360-degree tracking with just two sensors, placed in both corners of your play space, though this setup requires 2.2m x 2.2m of space at a minimum. Few games seem to take advantage of 360-degree tracking and Oculus lists the feature as “experimental.”

Given most developers releasing games that support Touch likely have designed their titles for a front-facing, two sensor set-up, there’s little reason to actually buy a third camera or opt for the two camera 360-degree system.

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While Touch’s two sensor, front-facing setup is disappointing, especially for someone like myself who has spent hours in the Vive’s 360-degree world, there are some benefits to Oculus’ limited vision for room-scale.

If you live in a small apartment like me and don’t have the 2 x 1.5 meters of space to dedicate to the Vive’s impressive but space taxing room-scale without shifting around furniture, Oculus’ setup is more efficient and only requires 1.5 x 1.5 meters of space for its two sensor setup, with most games I’ve tried actually requiring far less room than that. I even find myself rarely using the Rift’s version of the Vive’s virtual wall creating “Chaperone System,” called the ”Guardian System” with Touch, because most titles only require a few feet of space to begin with and it became an unnecessary distraction.

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In games that allow the player to turn around 360-degrees, like Robo Recall, Job Simulator (which is also available on the Vive) and Insomniac Games’ The Unspoken demo, Touch stops tracking as you turn and are no longer directly facing the sensors, leading to a less immersive experience.

The sensors themselves are also difficult depending on how you set them up. Though the Vive includes wall mounts in its box for its base stations, buying a set of affordable speaker stands on Amazon costs about $30 a pair, instantly giving you an easy way to setup and teardown the Vive.

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On the other hand, Oculus’ sensors sit on a small, pedestal like platform and can be tilted up and down. If you’re using a two sensor setup, with each sensor sitting three to six feet apart on your computer desk directly in front of you, it’s unlikely you’ll run into issues. In my case, however, my Rift play space is beside my computer (my office is a tiny 1m x 2m), which means I need to run the sensor’s short cords to the side, and then place them on chairs, making the small play space I have available, even tinier. I also wasn’t able to get any of the USB extenders I already own to work with the Vive, even with a three camera setup where Oculus reccomends one sensor to be plugged in via USB 2.0.

Oculus and the Vive have two very similar but also distinctly different approaches to the concept of motion tracking, with 360-degree functionality only being added to the Rift as an afterthought, at least right now. This has some advantages but ultimately leads to a less immersive experience.

Best designed headset

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While this review is focused on Touch, I also want to take a quick look at the Oculus Rift despite the fact that the headset launched back in April 2016. Facebook has deep pockets and it shows with the Oculus Rift’s overall design. The Rift is very comfortable to wear for long periods of time because the headset is evenly weighted unlike PlayStation VR (which is very ergonomic as well) and the Vive. Its strap is easy to adjust and firmer than the Vive’s, allowing me to actually resize it with the headset still on, something I’ve never able to with the Vive.

The Rift also features built-in headphones unlike its competitors and though its stereo headphones don’t feature excellent sound quality, not needing to plugin cumbersome earbuds or over-the-ear headphones is a welcome change. The Rift’s headphones extend from its head-strap, arcing out over the wearer’s ears in a way that’s very comfortable.

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On paper, the Vive and the Rift are nearly identical when it comes to specs, though I’ve found Oculus to be more graphically taxing on my mid-range PC. For some reason, Oculus’ software also detects my PC as not being powerful enough for the headset, despite it rocking an AMD RX 480, AMD FX-8370 eight-core processor and 24GB of RAM. I’ve read that Oculus’ software doesn’t recognize AMD CPUs, though that issue was reportedly fixed via an update months ago.

Both headset’s OLED panels combine for a total 2,160 x 1,200 pixel resolution, which means each eye has its own 1080 x 1200 pixel resolution. While the resolution is high, you’ll still experience the ‘screen door’ pixelated issue all virtual reality currently has an issue with.

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Overall and even with the fact that the Vive utilizes supposedly proprietary technology to negate the blurry ‘mura’ effect high-end VR often suffers from, I found that games, especially those that are cross-platform like Space Pirate Trainer, look identical on both headsets. So if you’re worried about either headset pushing out better looking visuals, that won’t be an issue.

One issue I did run into that’s worth noting is the fact that it’s very difficult to use the Oculus Rift while wearing glasses. The headset’s straps need to be extended significantly and even then, wearing the Rift with spectacles on isn’t as comfortable as it is with the Vive and PS VR.

It’s all about the games

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I was initially frustrated by the fact that Touch doesn’t allow for true 360-degree tracking and that so few games seem to place emphasis on the concept, but after spending hours playing titles like like VR Sports Challenge (basically Touch’s version of Wii Sports), Medium, Dead and Buried, Quill (Oculus’ answer to Tilt Brush) and the stylish Super Hot (another demo), I slowly began to question how important 360-degree tracking is to virtual reality.

Full room-scale is impressive, but not exactly practical, especially if you live in a small apartment and need to constantly tear down your virtual reality play space. With the Vive costing a total of $1,149 and the Oculus Rift being priced at $849 plus the $279 cost of Touch, price wise, both devices are priced very similar too, making a clear victor even more difficult to call.

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It’s unclear if Oculus’ more practical front-facing vision for body tracking is the future of virtual reality, with the true test being which VR platform ends up with the most compelling software. While Sony’s PlayStation VR has some impressive gaming offerings already, Facebook’s massive coffers have already attracted big name developer to Oculus and Touch, with over 52 games set to launch that utilize the controllers. While we’re still likely years away from seeing a true victor in the high-end virtual reality space, putting your money behind the VR headset owned by the monolith that is Facebook, is probably a sound decision.

I’m not sold on the concept yet, but given that I have a small play space to begin with, front-facing motion-tracking VR with the Oculus Rift and Touch, is much more convenient and feasible than the Vive’s room-scale, though it is admittedly less immersive.

My VR column ‘Reality Bytes’ will be back next week with a more in-depth look at the Oculus Touch’s launch window line-up.

Related: PlayStation VR review: High-end virtual reality goes mainstream

Comments

  • Eluder

    Those controllers look quite ridiculous to be honest. And it’s about time Oculus caught up to Vive, took them a year pretty much to be up to par to Vive. My support is with Vive though, with Valve behind them, I think they’ll get more support in the gaming industry.

    • They may look ridiculous, but they’re way better than the Vive’s wands. Valve isn’t really behind the Vive, just the software powering it. The company intends to eventually also provide that software to other headset manufacturers.

    • Eluder

      The software is what matters though, great hardware with crap software won’t go far. I’ve used both and do prefer the Vive, it feels more immersive, but I guess I need to invest in the Oculus touch and room scale to compare it to the Vive. Isn’t Vive coming out with new controllers as well now?

    • That’s the rumour, we haven’t seen anything solid yet, though they could be saving the reveal for CES.

    • LaRocky

      Yeah, except you can use all the SteamVR software with the Rift, so Vive doesn’t have more/better software. With the Rift, you are getting all the Oculus Software + All the Vive software. And yes you can play Rift games with Revive, but it’s a hack and not all the games work. So if you want to talk about software, Oculus is actually pumping money in to the software to get much more polished games. Valve hasn’t really done anything, they just enjoy the money off of steam

    • True, but the problem with that is the Rift’s Touch controllers don’t always work that great with Vive games. The thing people forget about with Valve is that they really don’t have much of a stake in the Vive. It’s HTC’s device, powered by Valve software. They want other companies to also release headsets powered by their software while they remain a neutral entity.

  • There’s talk in Vive communities about Rift having a slightly smaller maximum tracking range (upper limit on size of room). This article touches on the lower limit, but not the upper limit.

    • I don’t have the space to try out the upper limit and 360-degree tracking is still considered experimental according to Oculus (not every game supports 360-degree tracking as far as I can tell either).

  • MassDeduction

    I almost bought an HTC Vive several times, but I’m not more excited for Windows Holographic VR. The room sensors are in the headset, so the headset itself watches out for walls rather than you having to define a dedicated space. Also there’ll be a variety of price points (with varying optics) from at least four different companies, which helps.

    • I’ve tried the HoloLens and it’s great, but its field of view ruins the experience to a certain extent. It’s also more augmented reality focused.

    • MassDeduction

      Right, but if you re-read what I wrote I was not referring to HoloLens. I was referring to “Windows Holographic VR”. These are the new virtual reality (not augmented reality) headsets that are incorporating technologies that Microsoft pioneered with HoloLens, but applying them to VR. These are the ones that Microsoft announced alongside the Creators Update. The headsets start at $300 USD, and those will probably have simpler optics. There will be higher-end ones that have wider fields of vision, etc.

  • Thanks for the review Pat. While I think Oculus has done a good job on trying to catch up to the Vive, I think the 360 experience is the future of VR. Products like Omni from Virtuix show that while you don’t need a large space to play in (though you can’t duck/crawl with it), having the ability to turn in circles is key. I personally feel that while the Rift may be more aesthetically pleasing, the Vive offers more functionality and a more immersive experience.

    I personally liked the fact that I could choose the headphones for myself as I can use a high quality headphone that sounds great and blocks out all sound (even those of people who are watching and their phones that seem to go off all the time ;).

    The other factor that I like is how Valve is leading the charge now. Oculus (Palmer) may gotten the whole VR idea revived and launched into the sky, but it seems that like Valve is the company is the one who is setting the trends and leading the way. Let’s see, HTC/Valve were:

    First with an open VR platform
    First with hand controllers
    First with 360 tracking
    First with room scale

    Why reward a company like Oculus who only seems to be reacting to competitors? If people drop their money into Oculus, you are going to get a company who doesn’t push the envelope as quick as other companies would. Competition is good for everyone but I feel that until the Rift actually does something new (I don’t think a 3-state controller counts), people’s money should be invested elsewhere. Facebook has deep pockets, great. Let’s se them do something original with it. Though FB is bigger, my money is on Valve as they have a near perfect track record with their stuff. They brought us Steam when everyone else thought it couldn’t be done (I’m sure MS is still kicking themselves to passing on that opportunity).

    That’s my 2 cents and I know that people have dropped a lot of money into their VR system (whether it be PS, OR or Vive) and they feel defensive about their choice being criticized in any way. Understandable. The way I look at it is “who is offering the best experience and who is doing the best for the industry”. It’s the reason why I chose the Vive. If the image quality were vastly different on one of the products or the refresh rate was a standout feature, then I would obviously lean towards the better device but seeing as how they are on par with that, I look at other stuff. Aesthetics are not important to me and it doesn’t matter what logo sits on my product. I know I’m a minority in that view but that’s me. Substance over style every time.

    • The Vive is definitely great, but I think people forgot that it’s really only HTC that’s behind the device. Valve built the software that powers the Vive sure, but they also want to remain an neutral partner with HTC, with ambitions to eventually offer their software to competing headsets (this is part of why HTC launched Vive port). With HTC struggling as a company overall, I’m still concerned for the headset’s longterm future.

      I think it’s completely valid to be concerned about the fact that Oculus is owned by Facebook, but at least so far the company is operated almost completely independently from the social media mothership. Sure, the influence is still there with some of Oculus’ social feature, but the headset is large still focused on being a hardcore gaming.

      With the Rift, it’s about more than just aesthetics for me. It’s just much more comfortable than any VR headset i’ve used so far.

    • Yeah, I realize that HTC is in the background but I’ve read a few articles that talks about how Valve holds most of the cards and was the driving force behind it all. HTC was used for their expertise in design/manufacturing. The viveport thing is interesting and I’ve used it once or twice but I’m pretty solidly entrenched in Steam with my VR stuff. (I did the whole oculus store thing when I had my gear VR). Your comment has me wondering how that whole partnership is setup and I’ll do some more digging/investigation into that I think.

      Also, I agree that the Rift is more comfortable but for me, that point fades away almost immediately once the screen lights up and you are in VR. As for the Facebook thing, I’m not a FB hater by any means, they are simply a typical company that is fueled first and foremost by profits. As a CEO, I’ll take Gabe over Mark though as I believe that more companies should be like Valve. If they were, the world would be a lot less douchy I think. The only way I can vote for that is by the language they understand and that is money.

      I have yet to try the PS VR though I’ve been seeing some good reviews about it online. I’m still being pulled in by games like Audioshield, Rec Room and Raw Data for me to go off and try other systems at this point.

      I’m pretty bummed out about the whole Omni thing so I’m trying to figure out how to deal with that – I was a backer back in 2013 and they just sent all the international backers a huge email stating they are going to refund us our money (with interest) because of the logistical nightmare scenario of shipping/supporting a product with accessories all around the world. The size of the shipping container was/is 48″ x 43″ and shipping cost alone in the US is $200. The device looks awesome and I think would be a better bet for home VR in general.

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