We’ve come a long way since the shaky ground upon which virtual reality once stood. The technology has significantly evolved and is getting increasingly cheaper and more available to a wider audience. Mind you, we are a long way from every gamer having one device, but we are slowly and surely getting there.
Besides the price, being in a market for a VR device means having to consider a couple of things. First and foremost, do you want it to be standalone or tethered and how powerful does your PC need to be if you opt for the second option? Oculus is one of the juggernaut VR manufacturers that can set you straight whichever one you choose. Their newest lineup of products includes the wireless, standalone Oculus Quest which comes with a drawback of being a bit less powerful spec-wise and the Oculus Rift S which is tethered but has the potential to give you the best performing VR experience -- depending on your PC, of course.
As gamers, we naturally wanted to experience the cutting edge of consumer VR and extensively tested the Rift S. Whether you are a casual VR user or a gamer, we answer if this is the right time to get into virtual reality and is the Rift S just the device to do that with.
The Oculus Rift S is a definite improvement over the first generation Rift in both the specs and the design. Whereas the first Oculus had a plain, angular design, the Rift S has some design features that visually make it a bit more appealing. For one, it’s a bit sleeker with rounded edges and the halo-style head strap that immediately looks way more striking than the design found on the original Oculus. While it does make it resemble the PSVR a bit, that’s really where all the similarities stop.
The big thing to notice this time around are the built-in tracking-cameras which tell you that this is a next-generation VR device that goes away with all those pesky, external sensors. With five cameras in total, two on the front, two on the sides, and one on top -- the Rift S provides excellent coverage for your hand motions. Built-in cameras also make the device far easier to use, with you only having to manage the main USB/Display port cable that you plug into your PC.
This simplicity makes the Rift S truly a simple plug-and-play device that is only surpassed by the wireless Oculus Quest. As far as other visor features go, you also have a 3,5mm headphone jack as well as a button that lets you adjust the distance of the visor from your eyes so you can even fit certain types of eyeglasses in there.
As far as the already mentioned halo-strap goes, the backside has a convenient ring that you can use to tighten the thing around your head, and on the top, you have the adjustable velcro strap. Additionally, the entire inside of the ring is stuffed with a good amount of cushioning and foam.
This makes the Rift S highly adjustable and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, despite its weight of 563 grams. Unfortunately, the cushioning is not removable, which could cause problems, especially in the eye area where the foam is of lower quality when compared to the rest of the cushioning.
A new addition to the Rift S and its halo-ring is that it now features built-in directional speakers which sound surprisingly good. They give you a good sense of space and generally do a good job of immersing you in every VR experience. As an added bonus, you’ll also be able to talk to people around you while playing which was great for hosting those Beat Saber parties.
The Rift S comes packaged with two, slightly redesigned Touch controllers. These were already near perfect on the original Rift so there wasn’t much room for improvement. The biggest visual change is that the tracking strip is now situated on the upper side of the controllers so that the head-mounted cameras have an easier time tracking them. Each one still has the 5 button layout with three main face buttons, two triggers -- one on the side, and one on the back as well as an analog stick. The underside of the controllers features a bit grippier rubber surface and the thing feels entirely natural to grip and hold.
|Resolution||2560×1440 (1280×1440 per eye)|
|Screen type/Refresh rate||LCD/80Hz|
|Sound||3,5mm heaphone jack/integrated speakers|
|Dimensions||275mm x 94mm x 133mm|
All in all, when it comes to the design and the comfort level, both the headset and the controllers look and feel excellent. They are built in such a way that even the first time VR users should intuitively know how to use them with no issues after only a couple of minutes spent in the virtual environment.
Whether you are a previous VR owner who is upgrading to a newer device or a first time user -- the Rift S is sure to impress. Keep in mind that this is still a tethered headset and your experience may vary depending on how powerful your PC specs are. You should be fine, however, as long as you follow the minimum and recommended system specs directly from Oculus.
|Component||Recommended Specs||Minimum Specs|
|Processor||Intel i5-4590 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater||Intel i3-6100 / AMD Ryzen 3 1200, FX4350 or greater|
|Graphics Card||NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater||NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti / AMD Radeon RX 470 or greater|
|Alternative Graphics Card||NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater||NVIDIA GTX 960 4GB / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater|
|Memory||8GB+ RAM||8GB+ RAM|
|Operating System||Windows 10||Windows 10|
|USB Ports||1x USB 3.0 ports||1x USB 3.0 port|
|Video Output||Compatible DisplayPort video output||Compatible miniDisplayPort video output (miniDisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter included with Rift S)|
The headset itself features a single fast-switch LCD with a total resolution of 2560x1440, which translates to a 1280x1440 resolution per eye. The fact that you have a single screen LCD means you can’t mechanically adjust the lenses for different pupillary distances but the Oculus software mitigates this to a such a degree that multiple people that tested our device had no issues with it whatsoever.
While the screen isn’t OLED and the refresh rate was slightly reduced to 80 Hz compared to the original Rift’ 90 Hz -- you won’t really be able to tell the difference. Motion sickness can still occur, but this will depend on the game you are playing more so than the screen itself. Wildlands 2, for example -- a game where you zip around an open-world like Spider-Man was one such experience where an extended play would make me a bit nauseous.
It’s one experience where I feel like even a screen with insane refresh rate wouldn’t exactly help because of the fast character movement. Otherwise, all other games where the movement featured walking or teleporting didn’t cause such issues. Other than that, the screen provides a very clear and detailed image overall, but again, much of your experience may depend on the games themselves where the graphical fidelity is up to the game developers.
As mentioned, one of the great things about the Rift S is that the headset is insanely easy to set up. You just plug it in and go through a short setup with the Oculus software on your PC. The only issue that you might have is the 5-meter long cable which, depending on your PC placement might cause issues for room-scale VR. People with limited space in around their PC area would be better off considering the wireless Oculus Quest with which they sacrifice performance for freedom of movement.
Once the Rift S is on your head, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the built-in cameras will give you a passthrough, monochrome view of your surroundings, so you won’t be stumbling about trying to find your way. Next thing to do is to set up your play area called “the guardian” by setting a forward direction, floor level and literally using the controllers to draw the play area on the floor around where you plan to use the headset.
This will project a virtual wall which will light up in red as soon as you approach the border with either the controllers or the headset. While you can experience many things the Rift S has to offer even when confined to smaller space, the room-scale VR where you can freely move about will require you to have at least 2x2 meters of free space.
Besides giving you an extremely user-friendly experience, Oculus gives you some things to mess around with in virtual space -- even before you purchase additional games or apps. If you are a first time VR user, even the handy Oculus First Steps and Oculus First Contact tutorials are sure to impress you. The first one gives you the rundown on how to press, grip or make a fist with the touch controllers. The second one lets you mess around with that knowledge in virtual space where a small Wall-E-like robot gives you some basic self-explanatory tasks.
GAMES AND EXPERIENCES
After that, the (virtual) world is your oyster. You can use the headset to watch movies, play games, either through the Oculus application or Steam, and even control your PC using the virtual desktop. When it comes to games, the Rift S uses a nifty feature where it automatically adjusts the graphics depending on the specs of your PC. With that being said, even if you have the bare minimum required PC specs, you should be able to smoothly run all but the most graphically intense games in which you’ll get various amounts of pixelization or the occasional stutter.
When you have the power to back it all up -- the Rift S experience with the touch controllers is absolutely incredible. Not only is the movement completely natural, intuitive and smooth but the built-in tracking is mostly flawless. It’s a total showcase of a device that can easily become the centerpiece of a party when you get a few friends over who’ll probably be excited even at how precisely device portrays their hands in virtual space.
When it comes to games and experiences, there are a fair amount of less movement intense ones where all you have to do is sit and take in the virtual scenery. You can test your stomach by going on a physically impossible roller coaster, draw in a 3D space, partake in a horror experience that will have you at the edge of your seat or socialize using games like the REC Room or VR chat.
On the other hand -- there’s a whole ton of more “serious” gaming experiences that will have you making full use of the room-scale VR and this is where the Rift S shines brightest. If you want a good workout, for example, the Beat Saber will give you two light-sabers and have you rhythmically cut increasingly convoluted sets of colored blocks. Fans of the high-speed action can play Robo Recall which will make you a super-powered agent ridding the city of a robot menace using all sorts of weaponry. Fans of the fantasy genre and RPG’s can try out Journey of the Gods or Wizards which will make you feel like a true mage.
There’s something for everyone on offer and most games come with their own unique spin on VR that will make you want to continue experiencing different ones all the time. One can awe you with the sheer graphical fidelity while the other can have imaginative gesture controls or a wide variety of activities. Take into account that we are just beginning to scratch the surface of VR gaming and some of the upcoming games like Insomniac’s Stormland or even No Man’s Sky VR are sure to take it into greater heights.
While we feel like the future of VR is wireless, there’s still a long way to go until such devices catch up to PC powered, tethered headsets like the Rift S where you’ll still find the absolute best virtual reality experience. While it lags behind HTC Vive Pro or Valve Index in terms of graphical fidelity, it more than makes up for it by being more than half the price. As such, it marks the literal VR sweet spot between performance, price, and ease of use.