Oculus Rift full review

The Oculus Rift is probably the most famous VR headset on the market, and arguably started the VR wave that we’re all currently riding after a successful Kickstarter campaign way back in 2012.

However, fast forward to today and there are more VR headsets available than you can shake a stick at, from the mobile-powered Google DayDream to the likes of the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive and even standalone headsets like the Oculus Go, so how does the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch compare?

I’ve gone hands (or eyes) on with the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers, and here’s my review.

If you're interested in learning more about the world of virtual reality, take a look at our complete guide to VR

Oculus Rift: Pricing and availability

Following a rocky early-2016 launch, the Oculus Rift is available to buy in the UK from a number of retailers. Those interested can pick up the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers from not only the Oculus website but also GAME and Amazon for a £399, down from the initial £499 price tag.

It's a similar story in the US, with the Rift + Touch bundle available from Amazon and Best Buy for $399. 

Compared to the initial £740 price tag for the Rift & Touch combination and the £499 price tag of the HTC Vive, it’s a virtual (get it?) bargain.

How well designed is the Oculus Rift?

The Oculus Rift could possibly be the best-looking VR headset when compared to other headsets in the current line-up (like the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR), however – just like my mum always told me – looks aren’t everything.

The Oculus Rift broadly resembles a pair of Ski goggles that is mostly wrapped in a special black fabric that hugs the plastic body of the headset beneath it. But why is this fabric so special? According to Oculus, the fabric helps to keep condensation build-up to a minimum because who wants to fog-up while dogfighting in space?

Wearing a VR headset can become pretty hot and sweaty fairly quickly, especially with more active games. I’ve experienced this myself in the past when using other VR headsets and it becomes very uncomfortable, but I must admit that even when using the Rift for an extended period of time, I was still relatively cool and comfortable. There was slight condensation on a handful of occasions, but none as bad as what I’ve experienced with the HTC Vive.

The reason for my lack of sweat might not only be due to the breathable material that covers the majority of the Oculus Rift headset. In fact, the Oculus Rift is extremely lightweight, especially when compared to the HTC Vive.

This is due to the way the Oculus Rift is designed: while the HTC Vive acts as a receiver, picking up signals from the base stations to work out its location within the physical space, the Oculus Rift does it the opposite way.

The Rift comes with a sensor that sits on your desk and tracks the position of the headset, along with a myriad of sensors within the headset. This allows the Rift to be much lighter as it doesn’t need as much built-in tech, resulting in a 470g headset that is comfortable to wear over long periods of time with no issues. It’s also smaller than its competitors, measuring in at roughly 171x216x102mm when including the built-in headphones.

Just like with the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift isn’t wireless and requires a physical connection to your PC at all times. It’s not an issue exclusive to the Rift so it shouldn’t be penalised for it, but it is worth noting that you’re not tether-free in your virtual world.

Find out how it compares to the Vive in more detail in our HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift comparison. 

What technology does the Oculus Rift feature?

Let’s move onto the features and spec of the Oculus Rift, first discussing arguably the most important aspect of the headset – the display.

Display

The Oculus Rift features a 2160x1200 OLED display, the same as what is found in the HTC Vive, but beats the slightly-cheaper PlayStation VR. That display is coupled with a 90Hz refresh rate and a 110-degree field of view which combined provides users with a gorgeously smooth and high-definition VR experience.

The display is bright, crisp and features great colour reproduction, but suffers slightly from the Screen Door Effect. SDE happens because there are tiny gaps between the pixels in the display that provide an effect comparable to what happens when you look through a screen door. Don’t get me wrong; it’s nowhere near as noticeable as when using the HTC Vive or as bad as the old developer kits, but I still noticed it on a handful of occasions.

Headphones

The Oculus Rift also comes with built-in headphones, but not just any kind – it features 3D spatial audio headphones for a more immersive experience. The best part is that these are removable, allowing users to use their own headphones if they so desire.

I like the idea of having built-in headphones as it’s one less thing to worry about (especially when putting on and taking off the headset) and I found the headphones to be comfortable to use, and easily adjustable. I could slightly angle the headphones away from my ear to talk to others in the room when I needed to, then move it back once we are done chatting.

As well as being extremely handy to have, the built-in 3D spatial audio headphones sound incredible. Audio is an important part of the VR experience as, for example, you’ll need to clearly hear the footsteps approaching from behind to take down an enemy in a shooting game or hear the wind blowing by as you climb a mountain in a climbing game.  

Xbox One Controller and Oculus Remote

The Oculus Rift comes with both an Oculus remote and an Xbox One controller in the box. Why? Even though the Oculus Touch controllers are now readily available to buy in the UK (and are even included as standard in most bundles), it wasn’t always the case. In fact, the Touch controllers didn’t land until almost a year after the Rift launched.

So, Oculus decided to bundle in an Xbox One controller and an Oculus Remote for basic interaction in VR. It’s not anywhere as near as immersive as when using the Oculus Touch controllers (which we come to below) or when using the HTC Vive with its wands, but it’s a start.

While the controller works well with sit-down experiences like dogfighting games where you’re sat in the pilot’s seat, there’s a disconnect when playing games where you walk around and interact with the environment.

We’d advise buying the Oculus Touch controllers as the difference in the overall VR experience is night-and-day. There are still some VR games on Oculus Home that are controller-based, but the vast majority take advantage of the handheld Touch controllers.

Oculus Home

The Oculus Rift is, of course, compatible with Oculus Home, the company’s answer to Steam. The software hub provides a place for Rift owners to browse new content and games to play, and cannot be accessed by other headsets like the HTC Vive.

However, while HTC Vive users can’t access Oculus Home content, Oculus Rift owners can access VR content on Steam, the platform used by the Vive. While Vive owners aren’t happy at the prospect, it means that those who buy the Oculus Rift have more content at their fingertips than other headsets.

There are a number of Oculus Rift exclusives too, like the hugely popular Robo Recall and The Climb.

Are the Oculus Touch controllers worth purchasing?

The Oculus Touch controllers were first made available at the end of 2016 and are now a standard part of most Oculus Rift bundles. Compared to the wands provided with the HTC Vive, the Oculus Touch controllers are a huge improvement. Why?

The Oculus Touch controllers are much more compact than the HTC Vive wands, and fit around your hands without being uncomfortable. Once held properly, the controllers feel natural and your fingers fall into the correct positions without much thought. The controllers, like the headset, are tracked in the virtual space, allowing users to reach out and interact with the environment in a way that was previously only possible with the HTC Vive.

The Touch controllers feature two analogue sticks (one on each controller) along with four standard buttons, grips and triggers, making them the most versatile VR controllers available at the moment.

The addition of analogue sticks provides users with something familiar and easy-to-use, especially when it comes to in-game locomotion – for example, the Touch analogue stick can be used to change the direction you’ll be facing when teleporting in Robo Recall, something not possible on the HTC Vive. Locomotion is a huge problem in VR right now, so it’s good that Oculus planned ahead and decided to include analogue sticks.

There are also sensors embedded within each button and trigger that know if your fingers are resting on them, and can replicate this movement in-game.

Say, for example, you need to press a big red button in a VR game. With standard controllers, you’d reach out and press the trigger to interact, but with the Touch controllers, you need only extend your index finger and press. Your finger movements (from bent to straight) will be mirrored in-game. It’s a small touch, but one that helps create a more immersive and intuitive virtual reality experience.

One difference between the Oculus Touch and HTC Vive wands that I’m not a huge fan of? The Touch controllers require AA batteries for use, and they aren’t rechargeable via a cable.

The battery in the controllers should last for months at a time, but I think I’d rather sacrifice the battery life and weight of the controllers for something that I could charge whenever required. The last thing I need is for my controllers to die during a late-night VR session when the local shop is closed!

Is the Oculus Rift easy to set up?

When I first got my hands on the HTC Vive back in 2016, one of the most frustrating features was the initial setup. The first time I set the room-scale system up it took me well over an hour and I had teething problems with tracking, too. With that in mind, I’d hoped that Oculus with its standing-only tracking would be much quicker and easier – and I was right, kind of.

The Oculus Rift setup is generally more user-friendly than the HTC Vive and estimates that setup should take between 30 minutes to 1 hour. It takes you through everything from plugging in the sensors and headset to adjusting the headset straps and the FOV slider found beneath the headset display, providing a comprehensive overview of the headset.

As someone that had spent very limited time with the Oculus Rift or Touch controllers prior to reviewing them, the setup process made me feel confident that I understood all the main functions of the headset and controllers.  

So, no complaints there. It’s informative and not overly complex – until it comes to setting up the sensors for use with Oculus Touch anyway. When setting up the two sensors required for Oculus Touch, you’re told to stand in the centre of your play area and pull the trigger to calibrate the sensors.

While that makes sense, the endless errors we encountered didn’t. First, it claimed the sensors were too close, despite being at least 3.5ft away from each other (the minimum is 3ft) and then once repositioned, I was told that I wasn’t standing central to the sensors and to retry calibration. This carried on for 20 minutes – if it didn’t continually fail, the setup process would’ve taken a little over 15 minutes.

I wouldn’t mind if it was a one-off setup but much like with the HTC Vive, if the Oculus Rift sensors are moved – even slightly – you’ll need to run through the setup again or face potential tracking issues.

So, while the initial setup process is informative for first-time Rift users, it can also be extremely frustrating if it doesn’t go to plan.

What is the Oculus Rift like to use?

So, what’s it actually like to actually use the Oculus Rift once it’s set up?

On the face

The first thing I noticed when donning the Oculus Rift is just how light it is – I’ve already mentioned that it’s a lightweight 470g, but it really does make a difference when resting on your head. It’s comfortable to wear thanks to a soft material around the edge of the headset, and the headband is easily adjusted for the perfect fit thanks to the ski goggle-esque design.

However, while the Rift was extremely comfortable to wear, I noticed an issue with the headset before I even fired up my first game – light leakage. Even with me consciously trying to reposition the headset for an improved fit, there was a fairly large gap around the nose section of the headset which let in light, and was big enough for me to see my feet below.

While I ignored it as best as I could, I have to admit that it did ruin the overall experience a little bit. Of course, noses come in all shapes and sizes so you need to provide enough room, but at the same time the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive aren’t plagued with the same issues. I thought it might be due to my weirdly shaped nose so asked a few colleagues to try the headset and tell me what they thought, but they all reported the same.

Xbox One controller-enabled games

Anyway, once I got over my light leakage issues, I fired up Eve: Valkyrie and I was immediately impressed, despite using the Xbox One controller and not the Touch controllers for input.

I’ve played Elite: Dangerous in VR on the HTC Vive and that was a beautiful experience, and Eve: Valkyrie provides something similar (although not quite as complex!). I found myself sat in the cockpit of my fighter ship, and within seconds I was launched from a bigger ship and was headed into battle above an Earth-like planet.

The tracking on the Oculus Rift is smooth, like butter. I experienced no screen tearing, frame rate drops or loss of headset tracking at all during my time, which helped keep me immersed in the game. I could look around my spaceship, and even behind me without any loss of tracking – although there wasn’t anything exciting happening behind me.

What was exciting was a number of enemy fighter ships weaving in and out of clumps of mass within an asteroid belt trying to shoot me out of the sky (or space, as it were). While in standard dog-fighting games you’ve got one single view – straight ahead – in VR you can watch and follow your enemies, allowing you to stay on their tail and blow them to smithereens. Games like Eve: Valkyrie are great examples of games that work well in virtual reality, especially if used with a joystick and thruster.

Seeing asteroids whizzing past my head as I weave in and out and watching enemy fighter ships blow up in front of me provided a more satisfying feeling than from anything I’ve ever felt when playing a standard PC game. It’s safe to say that Eve: Valkyrie is a great VR game available not only for the Oculus Rift but HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, too.

Oculus Touch-enabled games

When it came to games with Oculus Touch support, there were many to choose from. My favourite of all the VR games I played is Super Hot VR; set in a geometric-style world, it’s up to you to take down enemies coming at you with everything from knives to handguns, uzis and shotguns.

While this might be a daunting thought in real life, it’s a joy in VR. Why? Time only moves when you move, making it easy to plan out your next move before moving your head or hands to speed up time.

For example, I threw a glass bottle at a handgun-wielding enemy to knock them out before catching the handgun in mid-air and taking out the enemies approaching me from the side. While that sounds like fun when playing with a controller, the fact that you physically reach out and grab guns, fire and even punch enemies makes the experience much more immersive and fun. Within 20 minutes of slow-mo bullet dodging you’ll feel like you’re Neo from The Matrix. Which pill will you take?

The Touch controllers work well with small gestures like pointing and waving, too. While there isn’t much point in waving or taunting the NPC enemies in a shooting game, the gestures make social VR experiences much more human. You can wave at a friend, point at somewhere you want to go or even fist-bump using the Oculus Touch and for the most part, it feels natural.

Interested in other Oculus Rift games? Take a look at our Best Oculus Rift games roundup.

Recommended PC specs

As with other PC-based VR headsets on the market, a fairly beefy PC is required to power the Oculus Rift, although the company has worked to bring the minimum spec down so more gamers can access it. The recommended spec can be found below:

  • Graphics card: NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater or NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater
  • CPU: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
  • Memory: 8GB+ RAM
  • Video output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
  • USB ports: 3x USB 3.0, plus 1x USB 2.0 port
  • OS: Windows 7 SP1 64-bit or newer

Verdict

Based on my time with the Oculus Rift, I was fairly impressed with the headset. The design is gorgeous, and the lightweight nature of the headset really makes a difference when wearing it for an extended amount of time, and the lack of condensation build-up on the lens is nice too.

The little extras like the built-in headphones are a great touch and show just how much time and effort Oculus has put in to develop this headset and understand what users want/need. It has a gorgeous high-resolution display with a high refresh rate, providing users with great quality VR and smooth motion with no noticeable SDE.

The Oculus Touch controllers make all the difference to the experience, though; while using the Rift with an Xbox One controller was fun, it was nowhere near as enjoyable as using my hands to interact with the virtual environment. The controllers are well designed and the most advanced on the market with finger-tracking sensors beneath each button, although the requirement of AA batteries is a bit of a disappointment.

Our only real complaint? The light leakage. It’s not something we expect from such a high-end VR headset and when you consider the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR have managed to overcome the issue, it’s a little disappointing.

Specs

Oculus Rift: Specs

  • 2160x1200 OLED display
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • 110-degree FOV
  • Built-in microphone and headphones
  • Xbox One controller included