HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift 2
9 May 2016
Continuing on with comparing the vive and the rift. I didn't get around to talking about a few things in part 1
The Oculus Rift requires HDMI, two USB3 ports and a USB2 port if you want to use the included xbone controller. These can be extended somewhat. The camera is very sensitive to cable length and needs an active extension cable. I have a 15' active USB3 cable which works fine. I also tried a shorter passive cable which didn't work at all. The headset is much more lenient and I am able to run it on the aforementioned 9' passive USB cable which goes to a USB3 hub. I have a very long passive HDMI extension which does not work at all. The 10' passive HDMI works just fine though. Other than some initial set up issues and cable/adapter issues, there aren't any real problems with the Rift hardware wise.
The HTC Vive requires a USB2 port (though USB3 is better), an HDMI port (or mini displayport) and three AC outlets. One outlet for the headset, and then two for the lighthouse basestations. The basestations also have a fairly long cord to connect them for sync if the bluetooth doesn't work (and bluetooth rarely works properly with anything). If you have a finicky USB3 chipset, it might be best to stick to USB2. The Vive is a bit picky when it comes to being plugged in. If anything gets unplugged, I often need to go plug and unplug different cables and mess with the software (which I'll get to in a bit) until it finally starts working. The basestations can be finicky as well. They have a feature that turns them off when you're done with the Vive but it doesn't always work. They don't turn off entirely, it just turns the motors off. They also take a few minutes before they turn off and and take a while to turn back on when you want to use your Vive again. Trying to get the Vive going from a cold start can usually take a few minutes and possibly some troubleshooting.
I will also mention that each headset has a proximity sensor onboard to detect if you are wearing the device. This works perfectly for the rift. There is a light next to the sensor that tells you the state of the rift. If it is orange, it is not in use but will wake up if you put it on. If the light is white, that means something is using the vive and you can put it on to go straight into a game. I'm not entirely sure if it is working at all for the vive. Unlike the Rift, the Vive doesn't seem to detect being worn so the screens are always on. It does have a standby feature where the screens will turn off if the vive isn't moved for a few minutes but it seems odd to include a proximity sensor but not even use it.
Each headset has its own software dashboard that you go into. They are both in beta stages right now, so they could get better over time. It is a bit lame to throw a "beta" label on a piece of software to work with something that should be a finished product. It's been all the rage for the past several years to just ship unfinished software because it can just be patched down the road.
The Rift has Oculus Home. Oculus Home can be used on the desktop or in the headset itself. You just put on the headset and it turns on going straight into the dashboard. The dashboard is a very large living room type setup. In front of you is the menu which gives you access to the store, your library and a very basic friends list. Oculus Home is pretty barren of features at the moment. You can buy and play games of course, but you can't refund games unless you live in an area that legally requires the ability to do so. Even then, there's no option in the software, you have to email support. The friends list doesn't seem to do much. One nice feature is when you press the oculus button on the remote or the xbox button on the controller. It brings up a mini dashboard in whatever game you're playing. In here you can see notifications from oculus home, exit back to the dashboard, reset your tracking position, change the volume and access the IPD setup guide. One thing that you can not do from inside the rift is fully install games. You can buy them, download them and install them though at some point it will ask you to take off your headset because you need to click a UAC alert to finish installation.
Another great feature is that anything launched from within Home plays its audio through the Rift headphones without messing up the audio settings on your computer. When you're done with your Rift, you simply remove it and the screens turn off. You don't hvae to worry about turning it off. The Rift is also easy to troubleshoot. If it doesn't detect the Rift, you can simply restart the Oculus software and it usually comes right back. If there are any errors, it will tell you what's wrong like it doesn't see the USB or if the HDMI isn't plugged in.
The Vive has SteamVR. I will note that SteamVR is not exclusive to the Vive. SteamVR is an open platform that tries to support as much hardware as possible. If a manufacturer releases a headset, Valve will do their best to make SteamVR support it. This means that SteamVR also works with the Rift. SteamVR is not without its issues. Getting everything started is usually my biggest problem. If you unplug anything with the vive, you will end up having to troublehsoot whenver you plug it back in and try to use it. SteamVR is not as robust as Oculus Home and often requires a lot of restarts for me with vague error messages that don't really explain what is going on. I usually just unplug and replug all the cables, exit out of steam entirely and start it back up. You also have to start SteamVR manually. You can't just put the Vive on and get going, you have to first switch to steam on your computer and then click on the VR button, wait for SteamVR to load up, wait for it to find the headset, wait for the lighthouses to get going, and then turn on the controllers then you can finally put the headset on. It's quite an ordeal compared to the Rift.
Audio is not as easy on the Vive as it is on the Rift. By default, SteamVR does not reroute your audio to the Vive. You have to go into the settings and mess with how it handles audio. You can choose to have it change the default speakers and microphone when SteamVR starts, and when it exits and also have it mirror audio on your PC speakers. Since it changes the default audio device, this means that everything from your computer goes into the Vive. It also means that if SteamVR is running but you aren't using your Vive, you won't get any audio out of your PC speakers. Not the most streamlined solution especially when Rift already does it properly.
Once you're actually in SteamVR, it puts you inside a photosphere. You can make the environment look however you want with backgrounds from the workshop or your own photospheres. You press the system button which opens a menu that pretty much gives you Steam Big Picture but in VR. You can buy games, download games and then play them. Unlike the Rift, you can go through the entire buying process and start playing without ever taking your headset off, which is nice. You can also access your desktop from the SteamVR dashboard. It doesn't work very well for me though. I have two monitors and it displays both so it ends up being too small to properly see. It is somewhat fully featured though. you can use the controllers as a laser pointer to click on things in case you need to change a setting on your desktop or check a message. I haven't been able to get typing to work so I don't know if that is possible.
Setup on the Rift is a breeze. Once everything is plugged in, you put the camera on your desk, go through initial software setup on your PC and then finish up inside the headset. It doesn't mind if you move the camera around. You can place it wherever you want and orientate it and then quickly reset the tracking and you're good to go. The only thing you can't easily reset is your orientation in the dashboard. For some reason it doesn't allow you to reset tracking there. To do that, you have to rerun the setup. Not exactly a big deal if you are just moving the camera around on your desk. If you happen to move the camera to a different part of the room pointing in a drastically different direction, you will run into some issues. It is possible to be up and running with the rift in about half an hour at the most.
It is a bit trickier to set up the Vive. Once you have everything plugged into your PC, you have to set up the basestations. The included hardware suggest you screw the mounting hardware into your wall or a bookshelf. Not everyone wants to drill into walls. Each basestation has two holes that you can screw in a standard camera mount. There's one on the back and one on the bottom. You can simply use any kind of camera tripod or clamp and mount them however you like. It is recommended that you mount them up high but they also work lower down which I have to do. They don't work as well in this way though. The basestations also need a power outlet. The cords aren't super long so they give just about enough length to drape down and reach an outlet nearby.
Once you have the hardware ready to go, you have to run room setup. This involves making sure the hardware can see the basestations, placing controllers on the floor to measure how high the basestations are and then drawing out your room perimeter. This step is a bit tricky if, like me, you have just a tiny bit more than the minimum space (2 meters by 2 meters). I had to go through this process several times before it accepted my play area. I also had to do it a few more times later on when it eventually forgot my play area. This doens't even involve all the software setup you have to do. You still have to go into settings and enable a few things that are disabled by default. Once all that is said and done, it's probably been an hour or two and you are finally able to start using your Vive.
I was going to do a section on games but I don't really see the point. I'd just end up reviewing each game which would make this already long post even longer. Suffice to say, Vive has some cool tech demos masquerading as games and the Rift doesn't really have much. The Vive games are cool but there's no substance. Hopefully this is just because it's still the early days and more substantial games are to come. The Rift's lack of motion controllers means it is mostly just games that have VR tacked on. I will admit that I don't use my rift aside from various simulators. The actual VR games aren't that fun. I really enjoyed the games I played on the Vive as the motion controls add a lot but there's just nothing there. Most are tech demos, experiences or minigames. Once you've gone through them, there's nothing else to do.
Like I said in part 1, the rift is the stronger headset but it's not a complete package. The Vive has everything needed for VR that a first generation device could give, it is also possible to get it sooner than a Rift at the moment. They are both good though and whichever device you get you will be happy with, assuming you have enough software to run on it.