We’ve tried both headsets, back to back, and while we don’t have a straightforward answer we can offer some insight on the question.
Much of the answer boils down to content. For example, Tilt Brush from Google is an intuitive experience with the Vive that can unlock creativity in even non-artists. Rift owners are unlikely to be able to do anything similar until late 2016 when the Oculus Touch controllers ship because the Xbox One gamepad shipping with the Rift limits human expression to button taps. The SteamVR controllers will let people use natural arm and hand movements to create art right out of the box.
The Rift, however, will ship extremely soon to those who pre-order with Lucky’s Tale and EVE: Valkyrie included for free, and those sit-down games will shine with years of polish.
VR software that unlocks human creativity provides a different experience every time. Assuming Vive ships on time in April, there could be six months or more where that kind of VR creativity will be unknown to Rift owners and entirely the domain of people with HTC Vive.
Now for a more important question: do you have a room to dedicate to Vive for room-scale VR? If not, Rift is more likely to be the right choice for you even though Vive will work perfectly well for a seated experience. It’s just more likely that years of VR development with seated experiences for Rift is likely to populate the Oculus store with more quality content tailored specifically for that kind of use.
However, if there’s a chance you might want to take over a room for walk-around VR, Vive is designed to be used from the moment it arrives for that kind of experience. The laser tracking boxes with Vive plug into power outlets at opposite corners of the room and a camera on the headset allows you to see your room while immersed in VR. It’s unlikely Oculus can exactly match this functionality with its first consumer Rift, even six months from now. While Oculus should be able to set up in a room-scale configuration, with Vive, you could easily transition from a walk-around VR experience to a seated one without ever taking the headset off. You could be painting in Tilt Brush one minute and the next walk over to a chair, sit down and begin piloting a spaceship.
With Vive, you need to have faith developers will use the front-facing camera and standardized room-scale functionality for novel and compelling uses that very likely won’t be possible with Oculus until version two of its headset sometime beyond 2016.
With Rift, you have to be excited for sit-down VR and suspect room-scale walk-around experiences will be optional in this first generation of consumer VR. You have to have faith Oculus will have enough good content just for sit down VR to make the purchase price worth it, and with EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale (free with pre-orders) that’s precisely what Oculus is trying to make an easy decision for buyers. In addition, Gear VR is already a largely seated experience powered by Oculus and winning rave reviews, so there is a whole library of apps already waiting to be ported to Rift. Rift will certainly be more costly than a $100 Gear VR, but Oculus is way ahead with content ready for sit-down VR.
Beyond the seated vs. room-scale experience debate, there are some differences between the optics and displays of the two systems. The Oculus Rift has customized hybrid Fresnel lenses that hide one of the major downfalls of that particular lens, visible concentric circles. Those circles are visible on the Vive Pre, something that can become a bit of a distraction once you notice them. There is also the way both headsets handle high contrast scenarios, like white text on a black background. In the Vive Pre, there are visible light artifacts, a reflective bleed if you will, that aren’t nearly as present on the Oculus Rift. To the average person, neither of these is likely a deal breaker, but for someone who is obsessed with image quality these little minor separations make a difference.
Despite a lack of clarification on how the Vive Pre’s “Mura correction” works, it does seem to make the screen appear brighter and crisper than before. In our opinion, the Oculus Rift’s display and optics still narrowly edge out those on the HTC Vive, but it is an extremely tight margin that could close given things “may change” with the Vive Pre between now and launch.
Overall, if you strongly believe room-scale is the VR you want to experience everyday in the immediate future Vive provides an advantage over Rift. If you are excited by sit-down VR, Rift will be here first with a library of content and exclusive titles with a pathway to even more immersive experiences when Oculus Touch arrives. Of course, the big question of which will ultimately cost more will play a big role in determining the better buy.