After spending a little more time than I probably should have playing with… er… reviewing Virtual Reality offerings from Microsoft (in the form of the Acer headset) and Oculus, it is time to lay out the pros and cons of these deeply unfashionable items of headwear and consider where best to spend nearly £400.
This should be an easy win for the Acer. A 1440 x 1440-pixel LCD over each eye equates to a 2880 x 1440 display while the Rift can only offer a 1080 x 1200-pixel OLED display, equating to a 2160 x 1200 resolution. Both screens suffer from a ‘screen-door’ effect, where the pixel matrix is visible and can be distracting, but the higher resolution of the Acer’s LCD is offset by the brightness of the Rift’s OLED. The Acer only offers a 100-degree field of view while the Oculus clocks in at 110 degrees, which can make a difference depending on activity (the narrower the view, the more it can feel as though you are staring through a porthole).
Verdict: After a lot of time using both, I would have to say the Rift just edges out the Acer here thanks to the larger field of view and brighter display. Neither would disappoint a user, although both suffer from the screen-door effect.
Again, this should be an easy win for Acer. The Rift is noticeably heavier and so prolonged periods of use might result in discomfort, while the Acer is light enough to not even require a band over the user’s head (also good for anyone with Big Hair). The Acer also has the neat ability to flip the visor up so the user does not have to remove the entire headset to rub a tired eye. However, the Rift features some nifty built-in headphones and a mic, while the Acer expects the user to provide their own. The Acer also feels somewhat ‘brittle’, perhaps being made of lower quality plastics than the sturdier Rift, and the hinge for the visor feels as though it may snap after a few months of use. Ideally, I would like to have the Acer’s lightness and comfort with the Rift’s quality and headphones, but if forced to choose, I would select the Rift.
Verdict: It’s another close-run thing, but I think the Rift wins here by virtue of feeling like a higher quality item that is likely to last a bit longer. But I really would like to see it copying the adjustability and comfort of the Acer.
The controllers follow a similar vein (with the Acer’s looking like larger versions of the Rift’s). Both feel similar, although the Acer does show off a ring of vaguely bling lights while the Rift is a little more discrete, but the feeling of quality is most marked. The Rift’s are simply better.
However, the party trick of the Acer is the fact that it does not need the sensors required by the Rift. Two sensors are included in the Oculus box and you really need a third for full 360-degree movement. The joy of Windows Mixed Reality headsets, such as the Acer, is that the sensors are built into the headset, so no additional hardware is required. I did find this a little hit and miss in practice, with the Rift seeming to be better overall at accurately tracking movement. However, for sheer ease of getting the hardware working and avoiding the cabling nightmare of a potential three Oculus sensors, I prefer the Microsoft solution.
Verdict: The controllers are nearly identical, but not having to set up sensors means I would gamble on the Acer’s tracking improving rather than trying not to trip over excessive USB cable runs. The Acer wins.
Microsoft are really good at writing set-up programs, and the Acer benefits from this. Since much of the required software is already built into Windows, set-up is rapid. The subsequent tutorial is quick to follow and doubles as an introduction to the much-hyped Cliff House. The Oculus Rift, on the other hand, requires a download of over 1gb before it even gets running, which would be a disaster on Christmas morning, and a real pain for anyone on a slow internet connection. The tutorial is then workman-like, although ends on a high with a session with a cute robot in a motorhome that was probably inspired by the movie Short Circuit.ouHouse In terms of showing VR capabilities, I preferred this to the more sterile Cliff House.
Verdict: Not having to sit through an epic download, and a well-designed tutorial makes the Acer the device I’d rather set up despite the fun time I spent in the Oculus Rift motorhome flinging rockets around and poking at butterflies.
For all intents and purposes, the requirements of the Acer and the Rift are identical. If you want to play games at 90Hz, you need a relatively powerful gaming rig. The actual formal specs may differ slightly, but I wouldn’t want to run either on less than a recent Intel Core i5 with 8gb RAM and a NVIDIA GTX 1050ti (with a 1060 being a better bet overall). Microsoft regard that as the ‘Ultra’ specification and, unlike the Rift, the Acer will run on a ‘Minimum’ specification that includes Intel HD620 Integrated Graphics, but the experience could well be a poor one once the user tries to move out of the Cliff House to where the games can be found – in the Steam VR Store.
Verdict: The Acer wins again simply because it can run on some lower end hardware. However, a user is likely to want to move to a more powerful rig relatively quickly to get access to some of the more immersive experiences, at which point this would to be a draw.
Up until recently, the elephant squatting in the corner of Microsoft’s Cliff House was a distinct lack of content compared to other platforms. The range available in the Windows Store was woeful compared to the selection in Oculus’s own software storefront. The addition of support for Steam VR has gone some way to address this, but there is no escaping the fact that the Rift simply has a wider range of quality titles available, of which some of the best are exclusives. In addition, the Rift comes with several really good free games, while the Acer headset features a short Ghostbusters experience.
Microsoft have put a lot of effort into the Cliff House, which is a considerably richer environment than the Rift’s central hub (which is little more than a dashboard). Users can pin Windows applications to the wall and interact with them while in the virtual world (such as using the Edge browser), but as of now this feels a little gimmicky and I’m not sure that many users would do more than use it as a launcher for games. Certainly, even with the higher resolution of the Acer, a user is likely to flip the visor and use a traditional keyboard and monitor rather than write a document in virtual space. The Cliff House is more a pointer to a possible future than a productivity tool for now.
Verdict: As clever as the Cliff House is, the wider range of titles on the Oculus platform means that the Rift wins this one.
Which company is more likely to support your new toy? Facebook-backed Oculus or Microsoft? Aside from Xbox, Microsoft has a rich history of abandoning promising hardware (Band, Phone, Media Center and so on) while Facebook has had a few unsuccessful mobile partnerships (do you have a Facebook button on your phone?) Had the Windows Mixed Reality headsets arrived at a lower price point than the Rift, then I might have perhaps taken a gamble. However, having been bitten once too often by Microsoft, I would need to see at least another generation of Mixed Reality headsets and accompanying software support before I would consider parting with my cash.
Verdict: Oculus Rift.
This was closer than I was expecting. The thoughtfully designed Acer hardware is impressive, and with better LCD panels and some nicer plastics it would outshine the Rift. The Acer headset is certainly more comfortable. However, the Rift simply feels like a more polished product and has a far superior range of software. And with the Rift (at time of writing) retailing at £349 compared to the Acer’s £389, the Rift is the headset I would recommend now unless you really, really want to spend some time in the Cliff House.
Note: I did not include the HTC Vive in this comparison due to the very large cost difference at the time of writing.