2016 is the year of Virtual Reality. There are a number of companies that are working hard to enter the VR world and create competitive consumer products that are set to hit retailers’ shelves this year. Among these companies are big names such as Samsung, Sony, Valve, HTC, Oculus (owned by Facebook), Microsoft and Google.
But today, we would like to compare the two most heavily discussed VR headsets: the HTC Vive Pre and the Oculus Rift. Both headsets will be officially launched and made available in April and March 2016 and have attracted plenty of attention at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
Oculus launched their original developer’s kit back in 2012 and HTC revealed the second development kit at CES 2016, allowing few users to have had the opportunity to experience VR themselves. However there are plenty of reviews from developers available online.
Oculus launched preorders in early January of this year, at a price point of $599. The first group of preorders will start shipping in late March. There have been so many preorders, that later orders have shipping dates in July. HTC has confirmed that preorders for the Vive Pre will go live on February 29. The HTC Vive Pre is expected to ship in April of 2016 and tobe more expensive than the Rift.
PC system requirements
Both HTC and Oculus have released recommended system specifications required to play virtual reality games. Even before then, it was already clear that VR would require a powerful PC, since games will be running at 90Hz across two 1080×1200 resolution screens.
As recommended by Oculus for the full experience, you will need the following PC configuration:
- Intel i5-4590 equivalent or better
- Nvidia GTX 970/AMD 290 equivalent or better
- 8GB RAM or more
- Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output port
- 2x USB 3.0 ports
- Windows 7 SP1 or newer
That said, you’ll want a PC that is not only capable of running games at a high frame rate, but one that does so even with high graphics quality settings.
According to Oculus, “The recommended spec will stay constant over the lifetime of the Rift. As the equivalent-performance hardware becomes less expensive, more users will have systems capable of the full Rift experience. Developers, in turn, can rely on Rift users having these modern machines, allowing them to optimize their game for a known target, simplifying development.”
Unfortunately, there are no officially confirmed HTC Vive Pre system specifications available at the moment, but then again, you can safely assume similar system requirements.
According to Iestyn Lloyd of Lloyd Digital that has created several VR demos and installations and also wrote a guide to developing in VR for the very popular Unity engine, we quote: “I’m currently developing for Vive on a i7-4790K and a GTX 780 Ti, and it seems to run most demos pretty well. This is – if I recall correctly – roughly equivalent to a GTX 970.”
Headsets hardware specs
The official hardware specifications of the consumer version of the headsets haven’t been announced, but we can assume that they will be similar to (if not exactly) the specifications of the developer versions.
Both Oculus and Vive developer’s kits have two displays each with a resolution of 1080×1200 and a 90Hz refresh rate. This is a crucial issue, as high frame rates and low latency are essential to a smooth VR experience. The Oculus Rift features low-persistence OLED panels for each eye, which allow for quick head movement with no blurring. Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe says, “There’s no motion blur, no judder, no pixels. It feels just like you’ve put on a pair of glasses.”
HTC Vive Pre features laser position sensors, an accelerometer and a gyro-sensor. All these features enable tracking the user’s head very precisely. Laser sensors are tracked by two base stations called Lighthouse Steam VR that emit lasers, which allows the location of user’s physical position in a space up to 15×15 feet.
By partnering with Microsoft, Oculus received native support for Windows 10 and the ability to stream Xbox One games directly to the headset in a virtual living room experience. Along with that, every Oculus Rift will be bundled with one standard Xbox One controller.
There are also prototype Oculus Touch controllers (still under final development but can be pre-ordered) that would give the user the feeling that their hands are actually in the game. These prototypes have two triggers under your fingers and an analog stick under your thumb. The controllers also have built-in pressure sensors, which allows them to know if your fingers are on them even if you’re not pulling the triggers. It gives the user the ability to point and make other hand gestures without having to press anything on the controllers. By pressing the triggers, the user can make a fist or interact with objects. In addition there’s also a ring that goes around each hand, with positional tracking dots on it.
Although designed differently, the HTC Vive controllers are very similar to the Oculus Touch. Originally, they were connected to the PC by cable, but they have been overhauled for the HTC Vive Pre and now are fully wireless with about 4 hours of play time per charge.
Each controller features a dual stage trigger, which allows smoother in-game interactions, especially if combined with haptic feedback. The controllers are ergonomically bent at around a 45-degree angle to follow the curve of a palm and to put all the buttons and inputs within reach.
There is a more generic trigger that acts as a primary selection button. Then there’s a pair of squeeze triggers down the bottom of the controllers, which can be used to grip and pick things up.
The Oculus Rift will come with an integrated audio system, which should give users a sense of space and depth. In order to provide an immersive audio experience, the headset has the headphones mounted on the side. Although, it is rumored that users will be able to use their own headphones, if they aren’t happy with the sound quality.
On the other hand, the HTC Vive allows user to plug their own set of headphones into a jack on the side of the headset, which means you have some freedom when it comes to audio. The headset features 3D audio processing as well, but the final version might come with a built-in sonic solution of its own.
Of course, making a choice at this moment, when neither of the VR headsets have been launched is quite premature. Both headsets have an impressive set of features and hardware characteristics that should bring an immersive VR experience. Each headset has its fair share of features, but it’s not yet clear if one is better than the other.
For example, the Oculus Rift already has a vast selection of games and applications that will allow users to have multiple experiences, versus having to choose between only one or two. The HTC Vive, on the other hand has partnered with the online game store Steam and their parent company, Valve, which develops games. It is also rumored that the HTC Vive will be a much more premium experience than the Oculus Rift, and the price will be indicative of this difference.