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Lifewire / Zach Sweat
Improved resolution over original Rift
Comfortable and compatible with glasses
Enhanced motion controllers and built-in tracking
Not a significant upgrade over Rift
Issues with hand tracking near headset
Some issues with crashing in software
The Oculus Rift S is a solid and affordable option for those just getting into VR, but it’s a hard sell for those already with current-gen headsets or the older Rift.
The original Rift from Oculus was one of the first big VR headsets when it debuted back in 2016. Though VR technology has steadily progressed over the years since then, the Oculus Rift continues to be a commonly used device. With its aging lifespan, the Rift was definitely in need of an update, and the Rift S is Oculus’ answer. While not a massive upgrade over its predecessor, the new S does have some enhancements that bring the headset into the modern era of VR tech. So is this the right VR setup for you? Read our review and determine for yourself if it’s the optimal choice.
Unboxing the Rift S, you can easily tell that Oculus has made some efforts to simplify the device and make it a bit more user-friendly. Though not quite as simple as something like the Quest, the Rift S now only has two cables you need to plug in, one DisplayPort and one USB 3.0. Since the Rift S also no longer requires external sensors for tracking, you can avoid that headache altogether. Aside from the headset and cables, you’ll also have a set of the newly updated motion controllers in the box.
Unlike the Rift headset that was designed and built by Oculus, the S was constructed by Lenovo. While they have a good history of making this sort of tech, the headset is boring in terms of design (much akin to Lenovo’s Mirage Solo). It’s not anything that impacts performance, but it’s definitely not a sleek and attractive tech device that you’d expect from a company like Oculus.
Despite being a bit bland, the new headset uses Lenovo’s halo-style headband that’s comfy, even during long sessions. If you’ve ever used a PSVR headset, this is close in terms of ergonomics. Adjusting the headset is also a breeze, with a quick-turn dial that tightens or loosens the band, and a top velcro strap to change the position. Overall, it feels about the same as the original Rift when it comes to comfort, with maybe a slight edge to the S. This is even truer now that you can slide the headset backwards and forwards from your face with the release button on the headset (much like the PSVR).
While not a massive upgrade over its predecessor, the new S does have some enhancements that bring the headset into the modern era of VR tech.
Another change that seems like a bit of a step backwards is the loss of over-ear headphones in exchange for built-in speakers inside the halo band. These new speakers seem to lack any real bass and the sound quality is lackluster for anything deep. They also have quite a lot of sound leak that will render them unusable if you’re trying to be discreet or not annoy anyone in the room with you. They do however provide solid directional sound to give you a sense of position while gaming, and since they don’t obscure your ears, you can still hear the real world around you. This can be handy when you don’t want to be too isolated from the outside world—say if you’re playing with others locally. All that being said, the built-in audio is not the only option, since you can plug in your own headphones via the 3.5mm jack.
The other major difference in terms of design on this new headset (and perhaps the first thing you’ll notice) are the motion tracking cameras. Since there are no lighthouses, these outward-facing cameras are used to track your position and the movement of the Touch controllers while in use. These new controllers are very similar to the previous Touch controllers (and just as great), but slightly smaller with a few improvements.
On the face, there are two buttons and thumbsticks with tracking for your finger positions. At the base, there’s one button on the grip for grabbing things and a trigger near the top for your index finger. While the finger-sensing tech isn’t as revolutionary as something like the Valve Knuckles, they definitely work well and add to the immersion. The tracking ring is also flipped up on the top now, vs. the old style at the bottom. Aside from the outside, the controllers are powered by a single AA battery each, meaning no rechargeable option.
Perhaps the best area of improvement for the S over the Rift is the setup process. Because you no longer need to mess with external trackers thanks to the new baked-in camera system, it’s as simple as plugging in the headset and setting up the software.
So, first things first, plug in the USB to a 3.0 compatible port, then the DisplayPort (or use the included mini-DisplayPort adapter) and then install the Oculus software. Next, ensure your controllers have batteries in them and then put on your headset. The cameras on your headset will project a black-and-white image of the world around you so you can see your play space. Oculus’ Guardian system will then run you through some basic steps to set up your space. The software works well for this and is easy to follow. Simply set the floor height, trace the boundaries with your controller and you’re ready to play.
Because you no longer need to mess with external trackers thanks to the new baked-in camera system, it’s as simple as plugging in the headset and setting up the software.
With the Guardian system properly set up, users will see a neon grid displayed around them while inside the VR world. When you get a little too close to the boundary, the Guardian will show you the grid to hopefully keep your TVs, monitors, and loved ones safe from being smacked by a flailing controller. It’s a nice touch and helps to avoid accidents. Also, thanks to the cameras, you can quickly use passthrough to see your outside world without ever having to remove the headset.
While the Oculus software and library is the most intuitive to use and set up, you can also use Steam VR with the Rift S and the set up is simple thanks to the Steam walkthrough.
Now that your new Oculus headset is properly set up and your play space is mapped, how does it perform? We used a PC that surpassed the recommended minimum specs according to the Oculus site, so we should have no issues in that department. Putting the Rift S through its paces, we tested a wide range of titles both in the Oculus software and in Steam VR.
First up, we ran a range of smaller VR experiences provided by Oculus, including First Contact, Lost and Dreamdeck. Each of these worked flawlessly with no real stutters or hiccups. Thanks to the upgraded single LCD that ups the resolution to 2,560 x 1,440 on the new Rift S, the visuals were noticeably better than the previous model with a reduced screen door effect (a visual artifact in VR that makes lines appear between pixels). Although the resolution feels improved, the reduced refresh rate (down to 80Hz from 90Hz) was a bit worse, but didn’t cause any drastic changes to our overall experience with the headset. Some users have reported issues with the new refresh rate causing motion sickness, but we did not have this issue.
There were a few times where the headset failed to load the screen upon waking up from sleep. In theory, it should go dormant while removed, and then instantly turn back on when replaced on your head. This was solved by unplugging the headset and restarting the software.
Moving into other more in-depth games, we tried out some things like Rec Room, Face Your Fears, Minecraft, and VR Chat. The performance in each of these games was solid as well, but we did experience a few issues with the controller tracking in certain situations. What seems to be a semi-major issue with the Rift S is that the controller tracking can get a little wonky when your hands get too close to the headset. In most games, this is never a noticeable issue, but things like pulling a bowstring in some titles cause the controllers to lose tracking. Aside from that, the finger tracking works very well and mimics your real hand positions in-game for some titles. This new tech is a welcome immersion improvement and definitely enhances the experience.
Now we decided to really run the Rift S through some more demanding titles. During this stage, we tested out titles like Pavlov VR, Blade & Sorcery, and Gorn. For these, we had to use Steam VR instead of the Oculus software. While this process isn’t as streamlined as sticking to the stock service, it was fairly stress-free. That said, there were some times where running Oculus Home and Steam VR simultaneously (which is required) caused the headset to crash, controllers to be lost, and black screens that could only be resolved by unplugging all the cables and restarting software.
While annoying, it’s pretty simple to fix, so no real complaints. Compared to the earlier Rift, the S has noticeably sharper resolution and better colors while playing these titles, though the blacks may not be quite as dark thanks to the LCD vs. OLED screens. Being tethered to your computer remains annoying when compared to the standalone Quest headset, but the much beefier graphics are well worth it.
It’s worth noting that not every game supports the Oculus headsets in Steam VR, so you’ll also want to ensure titles you buy work with your Rift S. Aside from some crashes, the same hand tracking issue did arise in titles like Blade & Sorcery when using a bow or trying to place items on your back. These were frustrating for brief moments, but didn’t ruin the experience overall.
The Oculus Home software that controls your in-headset actions is one of the best around. It’s simple to set up your space thanks to the Guardian system, and selecting apps and games is a breeze. The menu navigation is quick and responsive with easy-to-read text thanks to the new display resolution. Browsing for new games and apps in the store is a great experience overall, and we did not have any problems navigating in the Oculus software.
In addition, it’s a nice touch by Oculus to make the Rift S completely backwards compatible. This means it will work with all the original Rift games you may already have in your catalog. The library of games is also top-notch, with almost every major title available through Oculus. The company has also invested about $250 million with its developers to bring even more titles to the store, with another $250 million promised in the future. With that, there have been over 50 titles from Oculus Studios, and most of these are superb in terms of performance and experience.
The library of games is also top-notch, with almost every major title available through Oculus.
While the lineup is constantly improving, there is a lot of crap to sift through in the Oculus store, but luckily the return policy is forgiving if you run into a bad purchase. Also worth noting is that you can choose to use outside software like Steam VR to further increase your library. While not as compatible with the Rift S as something like the HTC Vive, we did not have any real issues finding titles that worked with Oculus in Steam, so it’s nice to have that option.
For the price, the Rift S is quite competitive in the VR market. You can pick one up for around $400 on most websites or stores. For that price, you get the headset and controllers, as well as the software you need to set it up. Ditching the need for external trackers is one area Oculus shaved off some cost, which is welcome, but reducing the refresh rate to 80Hz is one corner we would have preferred they didn’t cut.
Though the competition in this market is definitely heating up, the prices for VR headsets can vary wildly from $100 to over $1,000. Because of this, we’re going to compare the Rift S against the HTC Vive. While the Vive is getting older and newer versions have been released, it’s still the biggest competitor to the Rift S due to similar specs and pricing.
For a price point comparison, the Rift S will save you about $100 on average against the Vive’s $500 cost. Though the Vive does have OLED rather than LCD, and a slightly higher refresh rate (90Hz vs. 80Hz), perhaps the biggest thing to consider is whether you want to mess with external tracking. The Rift S has done a solid job with their internal tracking, and not having to set that up each time you want to play is a big advantage. This also means that the Rift S is more friendly for those with extremely limited space.
The displays here each have their own pros and cons, with the Rift having higher resolution, but the Vive having deeper blacks (thanks to OLED) and a higher refresh rate. We’d also argue that the controllers on the Vive are a bit worse than the Oculus Touch controllers.
One major point of concern for some users is that the Vive does have manual IPD (Interpupillary Distance) adjustment—the Rift S does not. You can adjust IPD with the Rift via software, and we didn’t have any issues with this, but some users have reported some problems in this area. Lastly, you should also consider that the Vive has been around for a long time and has more support and accessories, such as an official wireless adapter.
Not the best, but a solid first VR experience.
The Oculus Rift S is best suited for newcomers just getting into VR. If you’ve already got an original Rift or something like a Vive or other VR headset, the small enhancements on the S probably aren’t worth it unless you’ve got money to blow.
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