The fierce competition between the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets has been heating up ever more in 2018, with rampant price drops and the arrival of the much-improved HTC Vive Pro.
These virtual reality platforms all run on headsets connected to a PC. The software has plenty of overlap, the hardware is of similar heft, and the overarching concepts all involve playing around in room-scale, virtual worlds. But each VR solution has its own share of technical and philosophical differences, diverging from competitors in several key ways.
Here is our attempt at explaining all those similarities and differences between the HTC Vive (and Vive Pro), Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets in the least confusing way possible. Facebook’s standalone Oculus Quest isn’t tied to PCs, and it won’t launch until spring 2019, so we won’t be covering it in detail here yet. We do touch on its augmented reality ambitions towards the end, however.
Editor’s note: This article was last updated to mention the Oculus Quest.
Vive vs. Oculus vs. Windows Mixed Reality: What’s in the box
Although the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive originally had some significant hardware differences, lately they’ve become more similar as prices for both headsets have fallen, and as Oculus has added more sensors and touch controllers to the mix.
The Oculus Rift + Touch bundle includes the headset, a pair of hand-tracking controllers, and a pair of desktop IR LED-tracking sensors for $399 after a recent price cut. This creates a tracking area of five feet wide by five feet deep. For an extra $59, Oculus sells a third sensor that expands the tracking area to eight feet by eight feet when placed at the rear of a room. The Rift also includes integrated headphones, which is a nice touch.
For $499, the HTC Vive includes a headset, a pair of hand-tracking controllers, and a pair of wireless base stations. But instead of sitting on a desk like the Rift’s sensors, the base stations should reside in opposite corners of the room, creating a large play area of up to 15 feet by 15 feet. Unfortunately, the Vive doesn’t have integrated headphones, but you can add them for $100 with the Deluxe Audio Strap if you’re feeling extra spendy (or simply don’t want to buy a separate gaming headset).
The higher-resolution HTC Vive Pro stands as the current pinnacle of mainstream virtual reality headsets. It wraps in the Deluxe Audio Strap’s many quality-of-life improvements, like integrated headphones and a rigid headstrap design with a counterweight on the rear of the headband. But it’s pricey; the $799 headset is all you get in the box, with none of the needed Lighthouse base stations or Vive controllers. A complete Vive Pro VR system with two of each as well as the headset costs a staggering $1399 on Amazon.
With Windows Mixed Reality, pricing varies by vendor, just like with Windows PCs. While you can sometimes buy the standalone headsets for a lower initial cost, you’ll really want to pick up a bundle that includes a pair of motion controllers. Here are the Windows Mixed Reality headsets available, though they’re frequently found on sale for less.
- Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset with motion controllers – $399 on Amazon or Microsoft
- Lenovo Explorer with motion controllers – $399 on Microsoft
- HP Windows Mixed Reality headset with motion controllers – $449 on HP
- Dell Visor with motion controllers – $449 on Dell
- Samsung Odyssey with motion controllers – $499 on Microsoft
- Asus Windows Mixed Reality headset with motion controllers – $399 on B&H
Unlike the Vive and Rift, none of these Windows Mixed Reality headsets include tracking stations. Instead, Microsoft’s system uses a camera on the headset to keep track of where the controllers are. This may help keep costs down and make setup less burdensome, and in theory it allows for more spacious simulations, but it brings a major trade-off. Grabbing objects without looking directly at them becomes difficult, as you can read about in our Windows Mixed Reality review.
Also, no Windows Mixed Reality systems have integrated headphones with the exception of the luxurious Samsung Odyssey, so you’ll need to buy a headset or bring your own earbuds with most models.