HTC Vive October 11, 2016 by Ben Pateman
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With the Touch controllers available soon, is the Oculus Rift simply the better headset?

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It’s been almost a year of Vive vs Rift debates.  On the one hand you have the much-loved Valve and their PC gaming empire, and on the other Oculus, a relatively new name but one backed by Facebook, the company it’s too cool to hate (but with a product too convenient to reject).

Many aspiring VR gamers, when deciding whether to go with Valve or Oculus, did so on the basis of those reputations alone.  Actual specs or availability of games barely factored into the decision.  A Steam library full of games, a folder filled with GabeN memes, and a load of beef with Zuck was all it took to be an expert on VR headsets, and to feel sure you were making the correct purchase.  Top it off with what was a particularly large echo-chamber, and there was simply no question you were making the right call.

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However, Oculus had made it clear long before the Rift’s release that their business strategy involved funding exclusive games.  This was met with an expected level of understanding when revealed as far back as January 2014, and it wasn’t until long after gamers had knee-jerked their way into an HTC Vive preorder that jimmies started to become rustled.  Were these the ardent war cries from champions of consumer rights?  Or were they merely the asinine outbursts of those who realized, too late, that the toy they had bought did not have all the add-ons they expected?

It was outrage upon outrage as the reality sunk in that these games, funded and developed by Oculus across multiple years, would need an Oculus Rift in order to legitimately play.  This controversial discovery of years-old news would go on to justify just about any anti-Oculus diatribe, whether it was discovering that it’s really hard to measure field of view, publicly shaming a loud memester with minimal bona fide responsibilities at Oculus or fervently reinforcing the belief that Valve operates entirely out of altruism.

In the months following the launch of these two rival headsets, we saw a host of reviews for both: from positive to negative, or just dismissive.  Overwhelmingly, though, the main aspects that pundits agreed the HTC Vive triumphed in was its room-scale and motion controllers.  After all, Oculus had instead chosen to delay these hugely popular facets of the VR experience.

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Fast forward to now, the week following the highly-praised Oculus Connect 3 conference in San Jose, and perhaps things are looking different.  Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have been out for many months, the launch fervor has calmed, and now we’re looking to the future, both near and far, with cool heads and attentive eyes.  With the launch of the Touch controllers less than two months away, we have to ask the question:  How will the HTC Vive stand up to the Oculus Rift when both become capable of the same experiences?

In our opinion, the Rift has better optics, better comfort (especially considering the built-in audio) and a better API.  And yes, a better selection of games.  Ruling out the HTC Vive’s advantage of having motion controllers, what are we left with?  The forward-facing camera ends up being its singular attraction.

For HTC Vive fans, it may get worse.  When comparing the Vive’s motion controllers with the Oculus Touch, some might argue it’s like comparing across different generations.  The HTC Vive’s controllers, for all their brilliance in room-scale VR, are not, of themselves, particularly special.  They are, in fact, fairly standard motion controllers, not hugely different in form to something like PlayStation Move.  The Lighthouse system means they’re exceptionally well tracked, and being first to the race certainly gave them a lot of cred, but when you ask yourself whether they are the future of VR motion controllers, well…  Someone who has played with Touch may have a thing or two to say.

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When the controller is so small and light that you don’t realise you’re holding it, the potential for presense is going to skyrocket.  When, on top of that, the fingers of your hand are tracked to allow for gestures and gesture-based interaction, as well as true hand presense, it’s almost incomparable to stick-based motion control.  Will the Touch be considered superior in almost every way?

It’s now down to HTC and Valve to raise the bar, and unfortunately for them, it’s going to take something rather impressive to keep up with Oculus at this stage.  Because when Christmas rolls around this year, there are going to be two PC VR headset bundles, both priced the same, but one having both the better hardware and the better software.  The HTC Vive may have been first off the mark, but with every passing month that achievement becomes less and less important.

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