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After decades of fumbles and false starts waiting for the technology to catch up to our wildest imaginations, we no longer have to wait to immerse ourselves in a true, authentic virtual reality experience. With the first consumer headsets -- the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive -- now on the market, the next generation of VR has arrived. If you're wondering which VR headset is right for you, here's a breakdown of both devices and what they deliver.
When it comes to offering a high-end VR experience, both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are the real deal. These headsets comfortably strap onto your face and transport you deeper into whatever media you're keen to experience. From watching movies and interacting with virtual workspaces to playing games, it's a whole new world in VR.
Design-wise, these devices and the technologies that power them are similar, though their subtle differences can be helpful in choosing which is a better fit for your space and setup. The Rift sports a slightly lighter weight design and is currently geared towards sitting down and playing games with a controller in-hand. Later this year, Oculus will be releasing a pair of touch controllers that track your hand movements in the game in real-time, offering more depth to its control interactions.
While some games on the Vive let you sit and play in a stationary way, many support "room-scale VR" that lets you stand and physically move around to play while using small tracking controllers in each hand. Room-scale VR requires a minimum 6.5 by 5 feet of free space, and you'll have to place two base station sensors at the edges of the room. Setup for the Vive is more involved, but it has the potential to offer a broader range of gameplay experiences at the moment. This gap between headsets should narrow in the near future, however, when Oculus releases its own touch and tracking controllers.
The Vive's headset is also slightly heavier, because it sports external cameras that let you toggle a special safety mode to see what's happening around you in the real world. This "Chaperone" safety function turns on a sci-fi looking glow outlining objects in the room --- helpful if you need to find your keyboard or avoid tripping over furniture.
Both headsets need to be tethered to a high-powered Windows machine, and you'll need a beefy rig to ensure everything runs smoothly. The minimum specs needed to use the Rift and Vive fall more towards the gaming enthusiast end of the spectrum, though many PC manufacturers are offering starting to offer VR-read machines out of the box.
At present, the biggest push for VR innovation is in the gaming realm, though software developers are also finding inter
esting and exciting uses for practical VR apps, too. On the games front, Vive and Rift each have some fascinating and fun launch exclusives to explore as well as a growing range of compatible games.
The Rift comes bundled with the adorable adventure platformer Lucky's Tale, though it also has interesting exclusives like the hilarious party game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, the intense space flight shooter Eve: Valkyrie, and the gritty fantasy RPG Chronos for players to dig into, among other options. Oculus intends to have more than 20 exclusive games out for its headset in 2016.
In contrast, the Vive is bundled with the hilariously goofy Job Simulator, inventive puzzler Fantastic Contraption, and Valve's own The Lab. Other popular exclusives include hypnotic art tool Tilt Brush, aerobic racer Audioshield, oddball sports game #SelfieTennis.
Leading up to the launch of both headsets, many game developers began designing their projects with future VR compatibility in mind, so you can also find lots of other interesting offerings that aren't exclusive to either headset. Expect the volume and variety of VR games to grow substantially in 2016 and beyond.
Despite their differences in tech, functionality, and game offerings, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift both deliver the authentic style of VR gaming and tech enthusiasts have been yearning for. At a price point of $600 vs the Vive's $800 price tag, the Rift is currently the more affordable option, but when Oculus releases its touch controllers later this year, both headsets will be in a similar price range. What it really comes down in the long run are the games, the size of your room space, and what you're looking for in terms of experience. Expect to be blown away in either case.