Oculus Rift VR Headset Review
Prepare to enter another world
What is the Oculus Rift?The Oculus Rift has been synonymous with virtual reality (VR) since the launch of its Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. Despite a great deal of publicity and claims in some quarters that it was the future of entertainment, the Oculus Rift had a number of delays that saw it lose ground to its competitors. A high profile acquisition by Facebook left some commentators questioning the wisdom of the company's $2 billion investment in the nascent technology. Despite the delays, would the Oculus Rift be good enough to justify the cost and beat the competition?
The final consumer version of the Oculus Rift has a price of £499 and for that you get the headset, a sensor, a remote and an Xbox One controller but you'll need to buy the excellent Touch controllers separately, which will set you back an additional £99. By comparison the Sony PSVR is much cheaper and obviously doesn't require an expensive gaming PC to use, whilst the HTC Vive is more expensive but comes with motion controllers and two sensors included. So, does virtual reality gaming live up to the hype and is Facebook's Oculus Rift finally ready for VR primetime?
DesignThe actual headset is relatively stylish or at least as stylish as it can be when you consider you basically have a box hanging in front of your eyes. The finish is in matte black and there's a feeling of a well engineered product, which is a definite improvement on Oculus headsets of the past. There's a foam cushion around the edges of the headset that fits comfortably on your face and effectively blocks out the real world. This is great as long as you don't wear glasses but if you do, you might find it quite difficult to get the headset over them. The headset is pleasingly light, making it comfortable to wear for longer periods of time and is connected to your PC by a single 4m cable that breaks out into two connectors at the end – one for HDMI and one for USB.The headset is supported by three plastic straps, one at the top and one on either side and these can be adjusted using velcro fasteners. So it's a relatively simple case of putting the headset on, adjusting the visor over your eyes and then tightening the three straps to ensure the fit is snug. There's a foam padded rear section and with everything set correctly the weight of the visor on the front of your face doesn't feel unbalanced. It's important that you ensure a tight but comfortable fit because otherwise it can affect the position of the lenses and how your eyes focus on them. On the bottom right of the visor you'll find a small control for adjusting the inter-occular distance between the lenses to match those of your eyes.
On either side of the headset are foam pads that fit flush over your ears and these contain the headphones. You can adjust the position of the ear pads to ensure they are correctly located over your ears and you can flip them up if you want to hear what's happening in the real world. You have the option of removing these ear pads if you'd rather use your own headphones, which you can connect to the 3.5mm jack on your PC or alternatively the 3.5mm jack on the Xbox One controller. However, Oculus recently introduced a third option – Oculus Earphones – which are in-ear earbuds that replace the on-ear pads shipped with the headset and promise a more immersive experience and better noise isolation for a price tag of £49.
The headset is light, comfortable to wear and well made but tricky to get over glasses
What's in the box?The Oculus Rift is beautifully packaged and when you open the box you do get a real feeling of a high-end product, which is always nice. Inside the sleek black box you'll find the headset itself along with an Oculus Sensor. This uses the Constellation system to track IR LEDs in the visor and translate your movements within the virtual reality world. There's also an Oculus Remote which can be used to control videos and adjust the volume on the headphones. The Remote has enter and navigation controls, volume up and down, a back button and the Oculus button to take you back to the main menu when using the headset.Once you've removed the Oculus Sensor from the box there's a lift-up flap and behind this you'll find some additional accessories. There's an Xbox One controller and also an Xbox One adapter that you connect to your PC in order to use the controller with the Oculus Rift. There is a USB extender for use with the Xbox One adapter and a pair of AA batteries for the controller. Once you've unpacked everything in the box, all you need to do is install the Oculus app on your PC and then follow the instructions on screen, the setup process is very simple and should only take about 10 minutes.
In the gorgeous box you'll find a headset, a remote, a sensor and an Xbox One controller
AccessoriesThere are a number of accessories for the Oculus Rift but without a doubt the most important are the Touch controllers. The Oculus Rift comes with an Xbox One controller and whilst it's a perfectly good controller for normal gaming, there is something inherently wrong with using this type of controller in a virtual world because it essentially breaks the illusion. There are some games where you have to use the Xbox One controller, EVE: Valkyrie for example, but you really need controllers that can bring your hands into play and that's where the Touch controllers enhance your experience.
The Touch controllers come with an additional Oculus Sensor which, along with allowing the Constellation system to track both your hands, allows for a degree of room scaling and tracking within your play area. You hold one controller in each hand and thanks to the tracking you can then pick things up, punch people, throw objects and fire guns in the virtual world, resulting in far greater realism and a better VR experience. The Touch controllers are nicely designed and intuitive to use with both having a joystick and trigger, along with X and Y buttons on the left and A and B buttons on the right.
The Touch controllers cost an extra £99 but they're worth it, even if they should really be included with the headset. In terms of other accessories you can buy a third Oculus Sensor for £59 and this can create a better room-scaling experience, although you'll need to set it up at the rear of your play area. The IR sensors need line of sight, so the advantage of a third one is that you can't block the Touch controllers with your body when playing room-scaling games. As already mentioned there are the Oculus Earphones, which cost £49, and you can buy replacements for the Oculus Remote (£29), Oculus On-Ear Headphones (£39), Oculus Headset Cable (£49) and the Oculus Rift Fit (the foam section that fits against your face) for £29.
For the best VR experience you should invest in a pair of Oculus Touch controllers
Specifications & SetupTo use the Oculus Rift you will need a PC with a minimum of either an NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti/AMD Radeon RX 470 or NVIDIA GTX 960/AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card, along with an Intel i3-6100/AMD FX4350 CPU, 8GB+ of RAM, an HDMI 1.3 video output, a USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports and Windows 8.1. However Oculus recommend at least an NVIDIA GTX 1060/AMD Radeon RX 480 or NVIDIA GTX 970/AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card, along with an Intel i5-4590 CPU, 8GB+ of RAM, an HDMI 1.3 video output, a USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports and Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer. The Oculus Rift itself uses two 3.54-inch OLED panels with a resolution of 2160 x 1200 (1080 x 1200 per eye), it has a refresh rate of 90Hz and a 100 degree field of view.
Setting up the Oculus Rift was very easy, all you need to do is download the Oculus app and then launch it and follow the instructions. As you connect the headset, sensors, Xbox One controller and Touch controllers the app detects them and then moves you on to the next stage. Setting up the sensors involves placing them on an appropriate surface, depending on where you intend to stand or sit, and angling the shiny end of the sensor towards you. The sensors will detect the headset and the Touch controllers, if you have them, as well as allow you to define your play area. If you move outside this area it tells you, which can be useful from a safety perspective.
As mentioned earlier you'll need to adjust the headset so that it fits comfortably but also so that your eyes focus on the lenses correctly. As you set up the headset you'll see a target in front of you, which you use to adjust the inter-ocullar distance – that's the actual distance between your eyes. You should make sure you have plenty of room and that your play area is free of obstructions or other hazards – that includes the 4m cable that connects the headset to your PC and the cables for the sensors. The headset senses when it's been picked up and automatically turns on and also senses when it has been taken off and then automatically turns off, which is a nice touch.
Once you've done all this and downloaded some games to play you're good to go. The Oculus Rift has a great selection of games available including EVE Valkyrie, Arizona Sunshine, Elite Dangerous and ADR1FT, along with some free games that come as part of the bundle and some VR orientation experiences.
Oculus Rift Video Review
PerformanceWhen you first start using the Oculus Rift you're presented with the Oculus DreamDeck – which is essentially a series of demos designed to show you the potential of virtual reality. These demos are quite clever because they start simple and gradually up the ante. The first experience is surprisingly low resolution and simple, making it something of a disappointment to anyone familiar with virtual reality. However the next experience involves standing on another world with an alien right in front of you. This time the resolution is much higher and the level of detail is incredible, you really are standing on a different planet, face to face with an alien. After that you find yourself in a highly detailed steampunk city, surrounded by skyscrapers and with various vehicles flying overhead. Then you realise you're standing on the edge of a massive drop and you immediately step back – anyone who suffers from vertigo is really going to freak out at this. Then you're standing in a hallway in a museum and you hear a distant roar, before a full size T-Rex walks around the corner and right up to you. It then roars in your face, saliva spraying, before walking past you with its tail snaking over your head. It's as close as you're ever likely to get to actually being in Jurassic Park and, frankly, at this point the Oculus Prime has already delivered on its £499 price tag.
If you're using the Touch controllers there is also an orientation experience involving a trailer full of retro scientific and AV equipment and a little robot. It's a fun way of getting used to the controllers, although we had the most fun playing SUPERHOT VR, which has been designed with the Touch controllers in mind. In the game you punch people, throw objects and shoot guns whilst also moving around your play area and dodging slow moving bullets. It was during this game that we were warned by the Constellation tracking system that we were at the edge of our safe play area. In fact during an enthusiastic session of fisticuffs we almost punched our TV screen, so it's best to be careful when in the VR world because you quickly forget the real world actually exists.
However the standout game during our testing was EVE: Valkyrie which was developed especially for VR. We also happen to have the same game for our PSVR, so it proved a useful point of comparison. Let's be honest, who hasn't at some point dreamt of flying a spaceship? Well EVE: Valkyrie makes that dream a reality and from the moment you sit in your cockpit and are launched into space Battlestar Galactica style you're utterly immersed in another world. The level of detail is astonishing and although we sometimes wished the resolution was higher, it isn't that much better than the PSVR, we never had any problems with tearing or tracking, resulting in a seamless and utterly immersive VR experience. We can forgive a lack of resolution because the three dimensional world that you're immersed in is so solid and realistic that the brain fills in the rest and just accepts it. The 3D sound also works really well, audio seems to emanate from different directions around you, which also helps to sell the illusion of being somewhere else.
As we flew past giant space ships, looked around our incredibly detailed cockpit or barrel-rolled through dogfights we realised that normal gaming would never be the same again. Watching the monitor as one of our friends played the same game, it just looked flat and boring by comparison. The VR experience does isolate from the outside world and you can lose track of time but that is rather point, so we don't see that as a negative. In fact the real world just seemed so mundane, especially as we removed the headset and remembered we were standing in our lounge. That's the thing about VR, we could go on for thousands of words about what an incredible experience it is, how it completely revolutionises gaming and totally transports you to other worlds. We could talk about how you're so immersed in these other worlds that you completely forget that the real one even exists and how the experience can have a profound effect on you. But ultimately you need to experience it for yourself to really understand what it's actually like.
When we review TVs we always recommend demoing a set before deciding to buy it. The same equally applies to VR, we would strongly recommend demoing the Oculus Rift before taking the plunge for a number of reasons. Firstly, as we mentioned you need to experience VR to truly understand the appeal. Secondly, you should try VR to ensure you have no problems focusing on the lenses or maintaining the illusion without straining your eyes or getting a headache. It shouldn't be an issue but some people may struggle because VR, like 3D, isn't for everyone. Finally there is the issue of nausea which can affect some people more than others. So far we've never had a problem with nausea on any of the VR games we've played but some of our friends have, so it's something to keep in mind. It often depends on the game but the more disorientating the experience, the more likely it is to have a negative affect.
The Oculus Rift delivers a seamless and utterly immersive VR experience
- Great resolution
- Light, robust & comfortable fit
- Easy to set up
- Lovely packaging
- Extensive games, movies & apps
- Requires a gaming PC
- Possible nausea with some games
- No Touch controllers included
Oculus Rift VR Headset Review
Should I buy one?The Oculus Rift has been a long time coming but it was certainly worth the wait. The package includes the headset, a sensor, a remote and an Xbox One controller, all presented in a lovely box. The overall build quality is very good and the headset is well designed and comfortable to wear. We would recommend getting the Oculus Touch controllers for the best experience and the higher the specifications of your PC, the more seamless the world that it creates. Setting up the Oculus Rift is very easy and the features available are often very useful, whilst the selection of games is impressive. Virtual Reality might never end up being the future of entertainment and it won't be for everyone but there's no denying that it can revolutionise your gaming experience. Although don't just take our word for it, try VR for yourself and be prepared to have your mind blown. The Oculus Rift isn't the cheapest VR option but it's certainly one of the best and thus comes highly recommended.
What are my alternatives?There are a number of alternatives, although for PC gamers the main competitor to the Oculus Rift is the HTC Vive. This VR headset is more expensive at £799 but it does come with two controllers and two sensors, resulting in a more seamless interface with the VR environment and better room scaling. However if you own a PS4 games console then Sony's PSVR is the obvious alternative and it's also considerably cheaper than the Oculus Rift. The PSVR's resolution might not be quite as good but it's still a well designed system that cleverly repurposes existing PlayStation accessories to deliver an exciting VR experience from the PS4.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £499.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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