We review the Oculus Rift - the state-of-the-art tethered VR headset from Facebook which launches in the UK this week. Is this the future of gaming - and is it worth £549?
Oculus Rift Review
Immense potential, not quite yet
The Oculus Rift shows what VR is capable of, but it's still a long way from being mainstream and mass market
The Oculus Rift has come a long way since the bulky, and quite frankly, rather ugly developer release surfaced last year. The final Oculus Rift VR headset has sleek and attractive lines, and is light enough to be worn comfortably hours on end (which we have done many times).
Included in the box are the following items: the Oculus Rift VR headset, a basic remote control, a head tracking infra red sensor and an XBox One controller. Set up is relatively straightforward (assuming your PC meets the seriously hefty minimum system requirements).
Download the system checker and install software, then connect the split lead from the headset to the USB3 port and the graphic card’s HDMI port. Then position the IR sensor on a desk or table in front of you and plug that into another spare USB3 port on your PC.
Because the Rift is a sedentary VR experience – there’s no ‘real’ walking or jumping involved – you can use the VR headset in a relatively small room or study.
Like the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift provides a mini-monitor for each eye at 1920 x 1080 resolution – standard HD. In use, this provides a far clearer and detailed image than you will get out of a non-tethered VR headset that uses a mobile phone as its engine. The clusters of external and internal sensors and monitors – and the sheer processing horsepower of the tethered PC – means that the VR world inside the headset is much more responsive to your every movement.
The headgear is also far better balanced than a mobile VR headset. Build quality is on another lever, the lenses are crystal clear and the whole set-up is far tiring on your eyes and neck muscles. Indeed, using the Oculus Rift for a prolonged period of time means that you truly become immersed in your VR environment because you are not distracted by lens distortions, light leakage or the physical discomfort you get from using smartphone-based solutions.
Of the games we played, our absolute favourite was not a dedicated VR title at all. Instead it was a PC racing simulator called Assetto Corsa, which we played in VR mode. Being seated in an F1 car suits the Rift’s static VR set-up immensely well. And the sheer visceral thrill of speeding through a highly accurate recreation of the Silverstone race track provided white knuckle tension and pure delight in equal measure.
Other notable games from the Oculus line-up includes the widely praised Eve: Valkyrie – a space arcade action game with jaw-dropping 360-degree visuals that make it an ideal title to show off the system to your mates. Keep playing, however, and 2 things become apparent: the gameplay’s relative shallowness becomes apparent, and immersive visuals start become less awesome and more stomach-turning.
The other bundled VR game is the 3D third-person platformer Lucky’s Tale. This colourful ‘n’cute title strives to be the 21st century’s answer to those classic Mario titles – but all the polished, coming-at-ya 3D effects and dizzying camera-work can’t disguise the fact that the VR adds very little to the relatively conventional gameplay. One for younger, or mor casual, gamers perhaps.
Overall, the Oculus Rift is a stunning piece of kit and a worthy showcase of the potential of virtual reality entertainment. But it’s not the finished article yet – certainly for the mass consumer market. For instance the bundled Xbox controller is fine for platform games but is a major obstacle to full immersion in games and apps where you want to track the movement of your hands in the virtual world.
Oculus has previewed Touch controllers and promised a launch in the ‘second half’ of 2016 – but there is no sign of them yet.
Finally the sheer upfront cost of the Oculus Rift – well over £1500 when you factor in the high-end PC, graphics card and VR headset – makes it a package that will appeal to hardcore gamers with a lot of disposable cash.
Yes, the advantage over mobile VR systems such as Google Cardboard headsets and the Samsung Gear VR is immediately apparent, but the price tag is still far too high. Of course, it will come down in time – Oculus owner Facebook has a vested interest in that – and we certainly can’t wait for that to happen. We’ve had a glimpse of the future, and we’re hooked.