Steven Tweedie / Business Insider
I tried two of the most popular VR headsets last week at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, including the final production model of the Oculus Rift and the latest developer model of the HTC Vive.
On paper, both VR headsets are similar. They both immerse you in amazing virtual reality content and you use controllers to mimic hand movements and interact with the virtual world around you.
The VR experience we've achieved today is so realistic and immersive that I tried leaning on a virtual table and nearly fell over because, well, the table wasn't there in real life.
But the HTC Vive has a couple tricks that bring the realism and immersion to another level.
It's tough to choose just one because they're both incredible, but if I had to for one now, I'd go for the HTC Vive.
It opens up a new genre of gaming
Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift let you play games and other VR "experiences" while standing or sitting still.
But the Vive differentiates itself by letting you physically move around a room. When you take a step forward in the real world, you take a step forward in the virtual world.
This ability to move around a room will open up an entirely new category of games and experiences that will only be available for the Vive — at least until Oculus develops a similar way to let you move around a room.
The Oculus Rift does come with sensors that let you move a little bit, but not at the same level the Vive will let you move.
Peeking into the real world
The latest developer model of the HTC Vive has a new camera built into the front of the headset, which you can turn on to see the real world on top of the virtual world you're in without having to remove the headset, like when you want to take a sip of a drink.
It's not a direct camera view of the real world. Instead, I saw blue outlines of objects around me, which was helpful for avoiding objects and furniture in the room I was in. It's a minor detail that goes a long way, especially since few of us have totally empty rooms to dedicate to VR.
With the Oculus Rift, you'll need to remove the headset to do something outside of virtual reality.
The Vive's potential caveats
I found myself worrying about the cables connected to the Vive while moving around the virtual world, which took away from the full immersion VR offers. It's an obstacle that Oculus Rift users won't need to worry about because it's a more stationary experience where you're either sitting or standing still.
Still, that's an obstacle you can overcome by, say, hooking the cables up to a ceiling. It sounds annoying, but it's worth it for the ability to move in a virtual stage.
However, you might be less willing to deal with the Vive's cost. HTC and Valve announced that the Vive will be available for pre-order starting February 29, and while we don't know the pricing yet, we're predicting that it'll be more expensive than the Oculus Rift's $600 price tag (not counting the price of a computer powerful enough to run it).
The Oculus Rift is still amazing
While the Vive offers a little "more," the Oculus is still an amazing VR headset.
In fact, the Rift's optics were a little better than the Vive's, at least from what I could tell during my experiences at CES.
For example, I had to aim with a virtual revolver (using the Oculus Touch Controllers that will be available later in the year) at a target far away. Intuitively, I raised the virtual revolver and lined it up to my virtual sight to use the gun's sights. I could see through the back sight of the gun and line it up with the sight at the front of the gun to make an accurate shot.
The optics have to be pretty good to see and use that amount of fine detail, like the back and front sights of a revolver. Still, it wasn't quite as sharp as a 1080p TV.
It also comes with small headphones attached to the headset itself, and they sounded surprisingly good. You'd be able to use your own headphones if you want, but having a decent pair on the headset itself makes the Rift a "complete virtual reality package," where all the essentials for a VR experience are included.
The HTC Vive I tried didn't have any built-in headphones, and it's still unclear if the final production model will also come without headphones. W e're still hopeful because developer models of the Oculus Rift also came without headphones.
Should you get the Vive instead of the Rift?
The wisest piece of advice when it comes to buying a VR headset is to wait a few years until the technology gets better and more games and experiences are released. Both headsets are very much first-gen products, and new and improved models will surely be coming out in the years to come.
But if you're a fearless early adopter and you need to scratch your VR itch, wait and see how much the Vive will cost. It's the best VR experience I've tried — but if it costs way too much, you won't be disappointed with the Oculus Rift.