I had a chance to try the final versions of Oculus Right and HTC Valve Vive at GDC 2016. Here are my impressions.

1. Display

The displays have the same technical specs on both. Same:

  • Resolution
  • FOV
  • Refresh Rate
  • Low persistence display
  • Dual screens

Both use Fresnel lenses. Fresnel lenses have the shortcoming that the concentric circles on them are visible to the eye.

Oculus has a (very) slight edge here. With the Facebook chequebook behind it, it is able to use a customized version which does not have those concentric circles visible. This Palmer Lucky interview mentions some other advantages too.

On the Vive, you will notice them indeed. That said, it is very minor and you will soon be lost in the experience so much that it will be tough to tell their presence. Vive claims to use 'Mura Correction' to enhance its images and lessen screen door effect, but I didn't really find the display to be superior than Oculus.

I would say the display is the part that is the most identical between the two headsets. Since that is also what drives the system requirements of the accompanying PC, those are the same for both too.

2. Audio

Oculus has high-quality built-in headphones. Vive needs you to connect external headphones.

This makes a huge difference. With Vive now you have an additional cable around your legs and you have a full headphone on your head in addition to the headset. Its all clunky to say the least.

With Oculus, the game developers know the user will have high quality headphones on always and can optimize the experience for that. With Vive, due to the clunkiness of it all, a lot of people may not wear headphones at all, thus hugely diminishing the experience.

Oculus wins big here.

3. Comfort & Build Quality

Oculus is lighter, more comfortable, easier to put on. The inbuilt headphones make this even more so.

Vive isn't too shabby but its heavier than the Oculus. Not to mention putting on additional headphones for the full experience.

Oculus looks and feels likes a higher quality product.

4. Input

Oculus uses a standard gamepad, Vive has its 'Lighthouse' controllers that can track your hands inside VR.

While Oculus has a 'Oculus Touch' controller in the works that provides similar tracking as Vive controllers, those wont be out till end of 2016 or 2017.

This changes the game.

Once you have seen and used your hands in VR, going back to the gamepad feels last gen. Even all the best demos of Oculus everywhere used the Touch controller, which goes to show how big a difference it makes.

4.1 Walking in VR

While demos show you walking with the tracked controller, that is not really possible. Even in the largest of rooms, you can only walk about 3-4 steps before getting close to a wall. While both Oculus Touch and Vive will warn you of your proximity by displaying a grid inside VR, it is very distracting and takes you out of the experience.

There is also the fact that the headset cable will constantly get tangled in your feet.

I feel due to these factors VR will for a long time be a seated/standing only experience, but one where you can use your hands.

All the demos worked around this limitation by having you point to a location and 'teleport' to it instantly. I think better techniques will evolve over time.

4.2 Tracking technology

This deserves a separate blog post of its own. Here is the gist of it.

Valve's 'Lighthouse' system uses a pair of lasers scanning the room is very elegant and leads to very low latency, high precision tracking.

Oculus' 'Constellation' system extends their current camera based system they currently use for headset tracking.

On first impressions both seem 'good enough' for hand tracking. That said, clearly Oculus is having enough issues with Constellation technology that they couldn't get it ready in time for launch. Even John Carmack mentioned they are running into issues with it.

5. Content

This will be similar to Xbox vs Playstation. Most titles are common to both headsets, with each one having a set of exclusives. Oculus has more exclusives since it (Facebook) is the bigger company.

While Oculus may have more exclusives at launch, fact is the kind of experiences possible with a tracked controller are simply not possible with a gamepad.

A good example is the Bullet Train demo by Epic Games, which was demoed at Oculus' booth by the way (using their Touch controllers). It really feels like the Matrix. You can stop time, pick bullets in mid air and throw them, pick up guns and shoot. It was the most amazing VR experience I ever had. Something like this simply isn't possible using the gamepad.

Contrast this with The Climb demo from Crytek. It uses Oculus and the gamepad. You have to climb a mountain and the interface here is a pair of hands. You are required to use the trigger button on the controller to control each hand, but you reaally just want to use your hands. Using a gamepad feels very unnatural and forced here.

If you want the most content, go with Oculus. If you want the best, go Vive.

Conclusion

Valve is a full generation ahead of Oculus at launch.

Fact is that while Oculus popularized VR, it is Valve that invented it. Whether its the Low-Persistence displays, Fresnel lenses, Dual screens, Lighthouse tracking system its always been Valve inventing VR. They have now beaten Oculus at its own game by launching with the Lighthouse tracking system.

Oculus thought it had an ace in the hole, but he stepped away to work on things no one really cares about.