The Oculus Rift S Review: Is It Worth the Investment?

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When Oculus first started out as a company, three years before debuting the Oculus Rift S, founder Palmer Lucky had a vision that virtual reality (VR) was headed for integrated mainstream fame. To that end, he Kickstarted the Oculus Rift, one of the first head-mounted displays for VR. His production company Oculus would later make head-mounted displays (HMDs) for Samsung (the Samsung Gear), but the Oculus Rift was smartphone agnostic, which meant that it could run without a smartphone slotted into the headgear.

The Oculus Rift S is next in line for the VR headset crown, coming along the heels of two other stellar Oculus products, the Oculus Go and the Oculus Quest. Both the Go and the Quest debuted to great critical acclaim, but many were waiting for the Oculus Rift S to surpass these as the next great achievement in VR.

They may have to wait a bit longer. The Oculus Rift S is a major improvement on some levels, but still has some disappointing limitations that keep it from sitting on the throne too long.

Looking at the positives, the Rift S is still one of the most affordable headsets for VR right now. Compared to the almost triple-in-price HTC Vive lineup, the Rift S offers a great experience for the price. The lineup of games is slightly better than for the Quest, with Minecraft (a crowd favorite for years) available on the Rift S but not the Quest or Go. Since the system relies on the hardware to which it’s attached, you get a better graphical experience, and the headset makes small improvements in the fit. It’s still a head-strap system, but with an adjustable dial that tightens the HMD to your skull in a snugger fit than the hook-and-loop straps of the Go and Quest. The Touch controllers are the same as the Quest’s, which makes them outstanding, and with the same room sensor technology embedded in the headset, there’s no need for extra sensors placed around the room. The Rift S also has the benefit of an extra camera over the Oculus Quest—five in total—one forward, one in back, one each on the left and right sides, and an extra camera in the top portion of the headset. Does this extra camera add anything besides weight to the headset? If there was a difference in having the extra camera, we didn’t see it.

Like Oculus Quest (read our review here), positional audio is still handled expertly, with speakers innocuously embedded in the outlying crest of the headset. But with Rift S you also have the option of using separate headphones, something you may want to consider since there is considerable audio bleed from the headset. The visuals are an improvement over the original Rift, with 1280 x 1440 pixels per eye, as opposed to the 1200 x 1080 of the original Rift (but still not as good as the 1440 x 1600 of the Oculus Quest). It also uses an LCD screen as opposed to the OLED screen of the Quest. Hmmm.

While we’re on aesthetics, it’s a good time to discuss how this headset sits on your head. Unlike the basic head strap system of the Oculus Go (for more information, check out our review of the Go here) and the improved but still strap-based Oculus Quest, the Oculus Rift S has a fairly impressive head strap that requires you to adjust the final calibration for comfort via a dial on the back of the headset. This garners you a fairly comfortable yet snug fit. It’s perfect when transferring the headset from person to person, as you don’t have to do a lot of fiddling with hook-and-loop straps that can easily get caught in someone’s hair. At 1.1 pounds, the headset is roughly the same weight as the original Rift, but it’s still an HMD, so it’s kind of hard to hide it when you’re wearing it. 

Where the Rift S shines is in the scope of games it offers and the library of games you can play. Oculus has a pretty robust library, but with the Rift S, you can play games from the Steam library as well. Fan favorites like Beat Saber and SuperHot are here, and games like Minecraft VR—which is not available for the Quest and Go—are also available. Another distinct advantage over the other two headsets is that some games can be customized via your PC, so adding a level editor or tracks of music for Beat Saber can be done via modification, something the wireless versions of Oculus cannot do at this time.

Which brings us to one of this headset’s biggest caveats: You need a stand-alone PC or laptop to enjoy the VR experience. The Rift S helmet does not contain all of its games and hardware; it is simply a conduit for the power of the PC running the games. This means two things to VR gamers: The headset can play whatever the host PC can handle, and the headset doesn’t really shine as a technological marvel for displaying games.

Let’s look at these one by one. The host PC has to be VR ready. The minimum specs for VR are an Intel Core i3-6100, AMD Ryzen 3 1200, FX4350, or greater processor, a graphics card that equals or surpasses an NVIDIA GTX 960  or AMD R9 290, at least 8GB of RAM and a DisplayPort 1.2/Mini DisplayPort (with included adapter). We tested our Oculus Rift S using the awesome Lenovo Legion Y540, which far surpasses what we needed for VR, but when we dropped the host down to a laptop with less than optimal specs, we got sluggish gameplay and even some freezing. A stronger computer equals a better experience.

On the other hand, having a badass PC doesn’t mean the headset displays all that graphic power. As we mentioned, its resolution is 1280 x 1440, which means that’s the maximum resolution you’ll see—regardless of whether your graphic card can display 4K at 1440p. When considering other headsets that can perform cornea-ripping graphics at almost triple the price—as most HTC Vive and upcoming Valve Index will—you have to ask yourself if less is better and whether you’re willing to sacrifice graphics for mobility.

For most casual gamers (and as some serious acolytes of VR gaming will attest) the VR experience isn’t really about stunning graphics—it’s about engaging gameplay. Even with the bump down in graphics, most will not notice the downward tick in graphics when they’re ripping through levels of Vader Immortal or Journey of the Gods.

But the one deal breaker for some may be the one thing that sets this apart from the other Oculus headsets. It requires a lengthy tether to the host that restricts the unit’s portability and slightly affects its appeal. The single cord allows a DisplayPort 1.2/Mini DisplayPort (with included adapter) connection to your host and transmits data through a USB 3.0 port—but even with 16.4 feet to play with, you are still not as mobile as you are with the Oculus Quest. This tether will be contentious for those looking for an immersive gameplay experience without limits. The umbilical nature of this cord can be grating to some; others may not notice it at all. Since the playfield with the Oculus Quest is limited to 25 x 25 feet, the tethering on the Rift S may not seem so insurmountable. But it’s there, like a young sibling that won’t leave you alone while you’re gaming. You may not notice it at first, but you’re going to have to deal with it sooner or later.

That one glitch just adds to a list of downsides to the Oculus Rift S that make it slightly less appealing than the Oculus Quest. You need a fairly robust computer, so expensive upgrades may be necessary. You have to be mindful of the tethered cord, so your experience may vary. And you have to sacrifice graphical superiority for the headset’s all-in-one design. I think VR gamers, myself included, were expecting a more significant leap from the Oculus Rift to the Oculus Rift S. Unfortunately, they get more with the Oculus Quest.

Again, the Oculus Rift S has appeal to game modders and hardcore players who want to embellish their experience beyond the boundaries of official Oculus offerings, but for casual gamers and VR enthusiasts, you’re going to either spend a lot more for superior graphical output, or you’ll gravitate toward the easier-to-handle Oculus Quest.

What do you think? Is the trade-off something you’re willing to make? Have you tried this or other headsets? Let us know your VR experiences in the comments below, and as always, check out our dedicated VR pages here. You can also get the full rundown on the entire Oculus catalogue, including news, reviews, and more, at our dedicated Oculus Experience page.  

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2 Comments

I have owned both the Rift and the Rift S going on 4 years, and I have never found the cord to be that much of a detriment.  But then again I am a bit older and am not playing a lot of action games.  I find the system enjoyable to use and a good value for the money, although some of the games on their online store can be a bit pricey.

Hello Lance,

Thanks for the input!

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