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The designer's eye: Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive

By Manuel Léveillé, Louis Fortin, March 8th, 2018

In recent months, the ALTO Design team team has acquired two virtual reality headsets: Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Both headsets were tested in our offices, in a product design and experimental context and in recreational use as well. In this issue of The Designer’s Eye, designer Manuel Léveillé and design technician Louis Fortin share their impressions of these headsets, based on design factors and their own user experience.


PACKAGING

Even before you start using the two products, you can clearly see how much attention has been paid to the Oculus Rift package design, which instantly conveys a look of superior quality. Not only does this first impression of the Oculus Rift box inspire confidence, but the quality of its manufacturing makes opening it a truly memorable experience. Unlike ordinary packaging, it will serve as a long-term storage and transport solution for the product. In other words, what we’re seeing is a carrying case, not just a box.

PACKAGING

The HTC Vive package, on the other hand, is perfectly conventional and unpretentious – but of no real use once the product is unpacked.


RIFT HEADSET

In formal terms, Oculus Rift presents clean, polished aesthetics and very simple, round-edge geometry. Use of fabric also lends the object a certain warmth. Choices of this sort are highly desirable when presenting a new technology that may be intimidating to the uninitiated. The opposite approach – an excessively cold, rectilinear design language – would tend to heighten a user’s sense of the unknown and their reluctance to accept such a technologically advanced object. We also find this strategy employed in the Amazon Echo and Google Home systems, whose design is friendly and inviting to all types of users. Conclusion: The quality of the Oculus Rift’s finish is quite simply flawless.

RIFT HEADSET


VIVE HEADSET

HTC likewise employs a soft, organic language. The surface depressions created by sensors on the headset produce a result close to the biomorphic language often associated with the future or high technology. This aesthetic choice adds credibility to the product, but also renders it less accessible to the general public. Poor finish, however, undoubtedly impacts the headset’s perceived quality. This includes several rough joints, lines that make little sense, and low-quality plastic. A neater finish on the seal line at the front of the headset and better-controlled assembly would have made all the difference.

The strap systems and adjustments on both headsets meet expectations, though there are no surprises or innovations. They include adjustable Velcro straps on either side of the head, and one on top. This is the standard configuration for the vast majority of VR headsets already on the market. Alternatively, adjustments could have been controlled by a wheel, a system already in use for hockey or construction safety helmets. HTC recently announced that they would be moving in this direction.

Although fastened over the top of the headset, the HTC Vive cables interfere with adjustment when the user is wearing the device. The alternative offered by Oculus Rift is hardly more effective. Cables running along the sides rather than over the head continually rub against the user’s shoulder, which impairs the immersive process. On both headsets, the cables are a nuisance, and may soon disappear. Once adjusted, Oculus Rift’s weight is well distributed over the head – unlike HTC Vive, which seems poorly balanced due to the way its straps are distributed and its additional 100 g in weight. On the other hand, visualization inside HTC Vive is more airtight than on Oculus Rift, which sometimes admits light rays, making the experience less immersive.

VIVE HEADSET

Oculus Rift includes built-in audio phones fitted efficiently to the headset and controlled by the Oculus Remote, though these can be removed by the user. HTC Vive, on the other hand, has no built-in audio, but instead has an auxiliary input plug allowing any pair of headphones to be used. For products that supposedly feature advanced technology, it’s surprising that we can’t connect to audio via Bluetooth, which would help reduce the number of cables in the braid for improved ergonomics.


THE CONTROLLERS

When we first acquired Oculus, over a year go, it came with an Xbox One controller as well as the Oculus Remote. Although the Remote is only a small, simple controller, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the way its made or its quality once you start using it. The buttons on the Remote are shaped to express their functions, making use easy and effective when eyesight is obstructed by the VR headset. The Xbox controller, on the other hand, is an old friend, and its presence may encourage a mixed response: either a feeling that Oculus lacks an identity of its own and isn’t self-sufficient – or on the contrary, that combining the two systems may lead to more partnerships in the future.

THE CONTROLLERS

The new Rift package now includes Oculus Touch controllers – delivering great performance and a compelling experience, with a quite reasonable learning curve as well. These new controllers feature raised buttons, unrivalled touch sensitivity, and a magnetic battery compartment, all specific details that make Touch our favourite controller to date. The Touch controller lives up to its name, as each button features a tactile surface on top. This is the level where Oculus really stands out, because, unlike their competitors, its makers succeeded in creating a truly humanized device. Wearing the headset, when the controllers aren’t visible, we see artificial hands that follow the precise movement of our fingers using the touch-sensitive surface on each button. Oculus Touch controllers are also much more compact than those on the HTC. In fact, the Vive controller is meant to be used in multiple ways – like a the handle on a racquet or paddle, or rifle butt – while Touch is a graphic representation of our own hand.

In short, adding this new controller to the Oculus headset definitely enhances the user experience.

THE CONTROLLERS
THE CONTROLLERS

HTC, on the other hand, provides a pair of simple controllers, each with five buttons and a touchpad. These touch controllers are efficient in quality and precision, but by no means perfect, as their somewhat random shape seems dictated more by aesthetics than ergonomics. Also, the form of the buttons doesn’t indicate their functions. The controllers are used blind, so visual references on the buttons are of no use. Their icons should have been cast in relief on the surface for easier understanding. That said, after a few hours you get used to the positions of the buttons, and it all becomes second nature. We greatly appreciated the round, flat surface, which replaces the traditional joystick. It’s intuitive and easy to use – reminiscent of the reflex introduced by Apple on its very first iPod Classic in 2001.


THE SENSORS

The Oculus Sensor has all the makings of a product in its own right. It’s very nicely executed – form authentically follows function. Besides having a perceived quality as great as the headset itself, its weight gives the impression of a high-end item. Like HTC Vive, the Sensor shows a warning light that promptly indicates its “on” or “off” status. The only small drawback is that the lenses can be easily damaged during setup or transport. A simple cover would help protect this fragile surface.

THE SENSORS


The HTC Vive sensors, on the other hand, depart from the general HTC aesthetics. They have a discreet, minimalist look, which tends to go against the more deliberately designed, high-tech look of the headset and controllers. Although overall product consistency is affected, this is a smart choice. It lets the sensors be permanently installed in a room without aesthetic interference.


USER EXPERIENCE

Once the Touch controllers are hooked up, the Oculus Rift experience reaches an entirely new level. The plug-and-play approach is made easier by a clear, amusing, and versatile tutorial that shows you how to handle the controllers. (See: First Contact - '80s sci-fi Oculus Touch Demo)

L'EXPÉRIENCE D'UTILISATION

Visually, however, the Rift experience, is less effective than Vive. The image is less clear and fluid. It is possible to follow movements better by installing a third camera behind the user, with the first two placed on either side of the computer screen. As we mentioned earlier HTC provides a pair of sensors that scan the space in three dimensions, allowing better tracking. Last but not least, HTC Vive provides a tighter, cleaner visual seal, and a more effective and convincing immersion experience.


LOGOTYPE

LE LOGOTYPE

As we know, the Oculus brand’s graphic identity was developed with the ambition of its being a direct extension of the product. We see the same simplicity, and the icon evokes the silhouette of the product. Consistency like this emphasizes the brand-product association, and this is highly beneficial in such a fiercely competitive environment. By contrast, it would seem that the HTC Vive graphic identity was processed in parallel during product development, but not jointly, working out a formal physical language. Although this might be considered a mistake at first glance, it may, however, be a smart choice, since it lets the product evolve visually, without being constrained by the brand.


CONCLUSION

From the point of view of the product’s physical aspects, Oculus Rift is the winner, hands down. It’s a cleanly designed, versatile item, and a shining example of quality and consistency in design. The new Touch controllers significantly enhance the Oculus experience, making immersion more human and engaging. The design and thought behind these controllers deserve special recognition. It would be no surprise if they set a new industry standard.

However, we must admit that HTC Vive delivers a much more convincing and involving VR experience compared to Oculus Rift. Once you put the HTC Vive headset on, you feel as if you’re really projected into a precise, airtight, virtual space instead of the rather rigid, constrained virtual station in Oculus Rift. It’s also easier to stay inside the HTC Vive world for longer periods of time. Its designers have managed to minimize the woozy effect often associated with VR – a major advantage in working contexts, though also in recreational settings.

As designers, what we would like most would obviously be a formally consistent, well-executed product that delivers the most convincing VR experience possible. Neither Rift nor Vive is a perfect example of this.

We will be watching for future iterations of both platforms, but at present HTC Vive is the one we’ll be relying on for our day-to-day design, exploration, and validation needs.

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