With virtual reality making real inroads into mainstream gaming in 2019, it’s easier than ever to get into VR. The Oculus Quest alone has made giant strides towards attracting a new market, but the Oculus Rift S is an overlooked gem.
Originally denounced for not making a significant improvement over the original Rift to warrant purchasing, early critics have missed what makes this headset special: it’s the perfect entry point to VR (provided you have the existing kit to power it.)
Starting off with the sexy specs, the Rift S now has a single LCD with an increased resolution of 2560×1440. Now, it’s worth noting that this is only a modest bump from the original, going from 1200×1080 pixels per eye up to 1280×1440, and the Quest boasts an even higher resolution of 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye.
The refresh rate has also been reduced from what was almost an industry standard of 90Hz down to 80Hz. However, it’s worth noting that these numbers don’t tell the full story.
A reduced refresh rate has been linked to an increased likelihood of nausea, but I didn’t notice any problems; in fact, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with the Oculus Quest, too – which has an even lower 72Hz refresh rate – and neither headset has given me any VR sickness (but, of course, your mileage may vary.)
As for resolution, the Rift S produces an image with better quality than my WMR headset, which has a higher resolution and refresh rate, likely due to the amount of screen that’s actually in focus at any one time (or “sweet spot”, as it’s often known.)
As anyone that’s used VR will know, comfort is pivotal to a good experience, and having a greater degree of focus made using the Rift S vastly more pleasant.
Speaking of comfort, the Rift S uses a padded “halo ring” design to attach the headset to your face, nearly identical to the ones found in the PSVR and previous Lenovo headsets. I’ve found it’s more comfortable than the Oculus Quest and even my previous Lenovo WMR, though, not only when it’s sitting on your face but also when removing it and putting it back on.
The Rift S controllers are also extremely comfortable in your hands, with the same ergonomic design as the Quest. They’re incredibly efficient, too, with a single AAA battery lasting for around 20 hours of use. You don’t even have to worry about turning them off, the controllers wake up and power down with the headset.
The biggest downside regarding comfort, however, is the lack of a manual IPD slider on the headset. Unlike the Quest, the Rift S only allows for software IPD adjustment, which mimics the effect of moving the displays closer together or further apart. A manual slider is not only superior if you have an IPD outside of the statistical average range, but it’s also ideal for sharing the headset with friends and family.
Other reviews have lambasted the sound quality of the Rift S’ built-in audio, and though it definitely lacks some bass fidelity when playing something like Beat Saber, it was generally far more serviceable than I expected. There is still an audio jack if you want higher quality sound, though, or are worried that the audio leakage will disturb people around you.
As for the software, there’s a thorough introduction alongside some great tutorials, minigames, and creative apps that install with the Oculus PC app. Though the menus aren’t quite as intuitive as the Quest’s proprietary UI, the Rift S features the same excellent guardian boundary system, which can be set and reset with ease.
Poking your head outside of the boundary lets you view your surroundings using the front-facing cameras, perfect for having a drink or rearranging the furniture without removing the Rift S entirely.
It isn’t without its faults, however. Windows often doesn’t understand when to change the audio to or from Rift S speakers – an issue that I’ve never had with WMR headsets. It also had a tendency to show nothing but a black screen on the headset, which was usually resolved by unplugging the display port or reloading the game.
This was most present when launching games from Steam, and I’ve yet to experience a headset that hasn’t had a few hiccups when launching titles from different platforms.
On the subject of other headsets, the closest competitors to the Rift S in terms of price and usability are the HTC Vive and WMR headsets. While it certainly has downsides compared to each of these options, the positives shine through. It’s cheaper and easier to set up than the Vive, while also having user-friendly software and ergonomic controllers that put its competitor’s offerings to shame.
WMR headsets are certainly attractive from a financial aspect, coming in well below the £399 asking price of the Rift S while also featuring inside-out tracking, but the increase in comfort, usability, and experience are absolutely worth the money. To put it succinctly; WMR piqued my interest in VR, the Rift S got me hooked on it.
Its greatest downside for existing Oculus users is that it doesn’t significantly improve on the original Rift SDK, but it doesn’t feel like this is aimed at that audience.
Despite not making enormous strides in the performance department – even taking steps backward, in a few places – Oculus hasn’t increased their recommended or minimum specifications, which is underappreciated.
Oculus Rift S Verdict – 4/5
This all compounds the theory that this is the ideal headset to tempt PC users into the world of VR.
In a number of ways, its “middle of the road” nature makes it the perfect beginner headset for anyone with a PC powerful enough for VR. If you have the space and money for the Valve Index and its external sensors, you can certainly get more powerful headsets.
But what the Rift S lacks in technical specifications, it makes up for with ease of setup, ergonomic design, and a reasonable price point.
- Inside-out tracking means no cumbersome sensors and it’s easy to set up
- Comfortable headset and ergonomic controllers
- Reasonably priced for the performance
- Native support for Oculus’ exclusive titles
- Cheaper headsets exist with similar specs, and more powerful headsets exist if price isn’t an issue
- Still has some software blips and bugs