Form and function
I can’t praise the strap design of the Oculus Rift headset enough. The semi-rigid rubber strap wraps around the back of my head and cradles my skull closely enough to balance the weight of the headset, giving it a vital leg up on gravity. The Rift weighs 470 grams, but a good chunk of that number is in the rigid plastic arms and the built-in earphones. That weight actually helps support the front part of the headset and also makes it surprisingly easy to put on and take off.
Leading up to this final hardware, I was worried that putting on and focusing a VR headset would be a fiddly process every single time. Thanks to a ton of smart engineering invested in the Oculus Rift, I’m glad to be proven wrong. The front ends of the rubber strap slide into the arms at the front of the Rift, and are easily adjustable back and forth to conform to the size of your head. They help keep the headset tight against my face, and also make it fairly easy to adjust the headset for someone else’s head, often without even needing to reset the velcro straps that determine how far back the strap can slide.
The top strap is another easy velcro adjustment—while the Vive’s cable is laid on top of its velcro strap, making it difficult to adjust, the Rift’s cable snakes out its left side and stays neatly out of the way. And the earpiece arms are far better than I ever expected. Unless your ears are in a very strange place, the earphones should fit at the perfect location and angle to cover your ears.
After wearing the Rift for a week, I’ve become more impressed with how easy it is to wear and focus, and that convenience is vital for VR. The barrier to entry should ideally be as close as possible to turning on a monitor. I became familiar with the small rotations I needed to make to the angle of the headset to focus. A simple software tool built into Oculus Home shows you how to adjust the headset’s angle and its small interpupillary distance slider to fit your eyes. It’s a 10 second confirmation that the screen is in sharp focus. Unfortunately, even in sharp focus the screen has its issues with clarity—more on that in a bit.
The one disappointing flaw in the Rift’s design is the padded face rest, which is designed to be one-size-fits-all and made from surprisingly firm material. The Vive’s foam is softer and more comfortable, though I can’t say how it will hold up over time. The Rift’s firmer foam may hold its shape for a year of hard use, while the Vive’s compresses after just a few months. Maybe not. Right now, the Vive’s face rest is like one of those deep, fluffy sofas you sink into on the showroom floor. Yeah, you could get one of the firmer leather models, but this one just feels so good.
The Rift’s face rest isn’t uncomfortable, but it does leave an unsightly ring around your face after a few minutes of wear. Rounded edges or a softer foam in general would’ve really helped here. Oculus did such a fabulous job with the general weight and fit of the headset, it’s a little perplexing that it doesn’t feel a bit better on my face.
Unlike the DK2, the Rift ships with only one face rest. For me, this means a substantial amount of light leakage around the nosepiece, because it’s designed to accommodate noses and faces of various shapes and sizes. When I’m dogfighting in EVE, the light shining in vanishes from my mind. And when I’m trying to check a text message on my phone or figure out where I put the Xbox One controller, it’s nice to be able to see a sliver of the world underneath the headset. Other times I find it distracting, and I miss the rubber gasket around the Vive’s nosepiece that almost completely seals in the light.
More critically, there’s no mechanism to adjust the (depth) positioning of the Rift’s lenses, which can be a problem for glasses wearers. This doesn’t affect me personally, but two members of our staff who wear glasses expressed difficulty or discomfort wearing them with the Rift. The Vive is the bigger, heavier headset, but this kind of flexibility (and its included second face rest for narrower faces) will make a big difference for some people. Contact lenses in the Rift it is, I guess.