Oculus’ latest VR headset is a suitable successor to the original Rift, even if it does feature some maddening design choices
- No external sensors required
- Refreshingly easy to use
- Not ludicrously expensive
- Speakers aren't good enough
- No IPD slider
It’s been a long time since the Oculus Rift broke cover as the first genuinely usable consumer VR headset. In that time, Oculus has produced two offshoot goggles – the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest – both of which are wireless and aimed at the masses in ways that the Rift never could be.
Both are excellent products in their own right, but the compromises required to make these self-contained VR headsets a reality might leave some people feeling a little short-changed. Fortunately, that’s where the new and improved Oculus Rift S comes in.
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Oculus Rift S review: What you need to know
The Oculus Rift S is a successor of sorts to the original Rift, and according to Mark Zuckerberg, it leads the vanguard for a new generation of Oculus product. Incorporating the same technology that allows the Oculus Quest to function without peripheral sensors, the Rift S is a full-blooded gaming VR machine that cuts out the clutter.
With a 2,560 x 1,440 LCD inside, the Rift S connects to your PC via a split DisplayPort/USB cable that stretches 5 metres. It comes with two Oculus Touch controllers, powered by a single double-A battery each; the headset itself is studded with five outward-facing cameras, pushing the weight up to a relatively light 563g.
This is far and away the best thing about the Rift S: the package contains the headset, two Touch controllers and some leaflets. There are no ridiculous external sensors required to use the Rift S; the headset tracks the user’s movements from within.
Oculus Rift S review: Price and competition
This isn’t quite brand-spanking new technology. The entire range of Windows Mixed Reality headsets have been leveraging the same concept since 2017. The Lenovo Explorer, for instance, offers the same 6DoF (degrees of freedom) and sensor-less experience as the Rift S for £400 – if you’re willing to make a handful of sacrifices. Windows Mixed Reality headsets like the Lenovo Explorer simply cannot match the Oculus Rift S for specifications or build quality and, as I’ll discuss later, they don’t work quite so seamlessly with SteamVR.
Oculus also faces competition from rival manufacturer HTC, in the form of the HTC Vive Cosmos. Despite costing £700, the Vive Cosmos offers the same set of basic features as the Rift S, including inside-out tracking and full Steam support. This is actually quite a complex comparison to draw, but fundamentally, the fact that the Rift S can even remotely compare to a product £300 more expensive puts the headset in an excellent position.
Oculus Rift S review: Design and features
The Rift S is an unassuming bit of kit at first glance. The least visually appealing Oculus headset, its oversized forehead and inset tracking cameras will make you look like a gloomy beluga whale. It’s utilitarian, without a doubt, but the matte black finish and imposing headband add a touch of class that the rubberised straps of the Oculus Quest can’t quite match.
That headband is actually a bit of a talking point. Where older Oculus devices make do with an adjustable velcro strap system, the Rift S adopts a dial-adjusted headpiece that’s reminiscent of Sony’s PSVR. Not only does it feel sturdier, but it’s also much easier to adjust on the fly, and spreads the not-insignificant weight of the Rift S across your noggin better than the Quest’s fiddly straps.
Like PSVR, the Rift S has a button that allows you to move the eyepiece closer and further from your face, independent of the headband. This is helpful, particularly for glasses wearers, as there’s no spacer included in the box. It’s also worth noting here that the Rift S is particularly good at keeping outside light from bleeding in, courtesy of a relatively flat nosepiece.
In short, the Rift S should cling to your head like a limpet. As indeed it does, although the cushions are a little spare; prolonged use will cause a little bit of soreness. I can’t help but feel that this could have been avoided simply by making the cushions just ever so slightly thicker.
Annoyingly, some other baffling design choices get in the way of what would otherwise be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The eyepiece lacks an inter-pupillary distance (IPD) slider, so you’ll need to fiddle with the in-app settings to try and find a clear image. The Rift S also ditches the over-ear headphones found on the Rift, opting instead for the Quest-like directional speakers. Only, they’re not quite as good as the pair found on the Quest; audio is a little tinny and severely lacking in bass.
Oculus Rift S review: Display
The display that I was trying so valiantly to enjoy is a single fast-switch LCD panel with a total resolution of 2,560 x 1,440. Although the OLED eyepieces used by both the Rift and Quest might produce richer colours and deeper black tones, the Rift S is designed to do a better job of keeping the screen door effect (where you see visible gaps between pixels) to a minimum, thanks to the high pixel density found in LCDs. The ‘fast-switch’ element limits the effects of image persistence – the LCD equivalent of screen burn, characterised by images that linger after the screen refreshes.
As you’d hope, the difference is quite noticeable. The Quest produces a more vivid breadth of colours, but the Rift S offers a clearer, better-defined image – provided you can find the sweet spot. Playing the startup tutorial on both headsets revealed that the resolution differences between the two actually meant very little. Subjectively at least, the Rift S seems to do a better job at reducing the degree at which you can spot individual pixels.
The new display refreshes at 80Hz, which is better than the Oculus Quest (72Hz) but worse than the original Rift (90Hz). In practice, the untrained eye won’t notice much difference between 80Hz and 90Hz, although I did feel a slight improvement when switching rapidly from the Quest to Rift S.
Oculus Rift S review: Performance
Given that the Rift S is entirely dependent on a beefed-up gaming PC, you’d expect it to offer the very best VR experience from Oculus to date. Fortunately, you won’t be disappointed – not only are you able to access the broad selection of games that are available on Oculus’ own storefront, but the Rift S also supports SteamVR out of the box and displays the full Windows 10 desktop.
Provided your PC is up to the task, breakout hits such as Beat Saber, Arizona Sunshine and Superhot perform flawlessly. It’s worth noting that Oculus recommends at least an Intel Core i5-4590 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 970/1060 graphics card for unhindered VR performance.
Despite backing HTC’s VR goggles, SteamVR also ran without a hitch, even going as far as to recognise the Oculus Touch controllers and render them in apps and games. There’s certainly nothing stopping you from playing beefy titles like Fallout 4 or Skyrim VR using the Rift S, assuming once more that you have the right PC for the job. Windows Mixed Reality headsets also manage to run SteamVR, but the controllers aren’t fully supported, and the results can be a little hit-and-miss.
Pushing the Oculus Rift S to its limits, I found that the Touch controllers occasionally failed to register movement (particularly when I held a controller at arm’s length). It’s one of the few downsides of ‘inside-out’ tracking, although Oculus states that the placement of the cameras on the Rift S improves the range of motion tracking in comparison to the Quest. This has been further solidified by post-launch software updates that have drastically improved motion tracking, although the lack of external sensors does still prove to be a slight hindrance.
One of the benefits of ditching the external sensors, however, is that those cameras can be hijacked to display the user’s surroundings in real(ish) time. Oculus calls this feature Passthrough Plus, and it can be activated at any time from the Oculus Home menu bar. It’s incredibly useful for preventing potential disasters caused by overzealous VR usage, and also serves a key function in getting your play area set up without any hassle.
The setup process, incidentally, is wonderfully simple. The Passthrough Plus feature allows you to complete the fiddly bits – identifying the ground level and creating a safe play area – while wearing the headset. All you need to get started is an Oculus account and the Oculus desktop application. It’s a far cry from the needlessly complicated setup procedures of old, and it means that even a true technophobe could get the Rift S up and running with minimal stress.
Oculus Rift S review: Verdict
All in all, this is a pleasingly solid entry from Oculus. The best features have been copied from the excellent Oculus Quest, and the worst features are no more than a little inconvenient. It’s certainly an easy sell for a PC gamer with an interest in VR – even with the arrival of the HTC Vive Cosmos – or even for a newcomer to the world of VR on PC. The only headset I’d recommend more strongly is the Oculus Quest, given that it redefines the phrase “ease of use” in the context of virtual reality.
The Rift S isn’t without its own issues, but for the frankly outstanding price, there is currently nothing better on the VR market.
|Oculus Rift S specifications|
|Display||2,560 x ,1440 fast-switch LCD|
|Field of view||N/A|
|Supported software||Oculus Home desktop app, SteamVR|