Oculus Rift review:

Fantastic controllers for VR, but the Rift has a few drawbacks

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CNET Editors' Rating

1 user review

The Good The Oculus Touch controllers add impressive finger and hand movement, plus physical buttons for traditional games. The Rift headset is well designed and compact. A strong collection of software offers many apps to explore.

The Bad The motion tracking lacks the HTC Vive's full-room scale. It takes a while to adjust to the controls. Total cost of headset plus controllers is expensive -- and that doesn't include the pricey gaming PC you need, too.

The Bottom Line The Oculus Rift now offers a great combination of controls and apps for next-level VR and some room tracking, but it offers a less expansive experience than the Vive.

8.0 Overall
  • Immersion 8.0
  • Interaction 9.0
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Ecosystem 7.0
  • Setup 6.0

Hey -- it's my hands.

I can see them as I look down. I lift my finger. That floating, glowing hand moves its finger. I grip my fingers into a fist. I point.

I pick up a slingshot on the table in front of me. It takes a little practice. Now I'm holding it. I pull the elastic band back. I aim, and shoot paint pellets across the room.

Am I really holding my virtual slingshot? Yes and no. In my hands are controllers that I'm resting my fingers on, with buttons and triggers. I lift my fingers and control those hands. But when I let go completely -- oops, my controller falls to the floor.

Virtual prosthetics take time to understand.

The Oculus Rift arrived way back in March, but all that came with it was a headset and an Xbox controller. It didn't have real VR hand controls, like the HTC Vive or PlayStation VR. You could sit down and play games, but you couldn't move anywhere. There was the promise of exciting things, but the reality was less than what we expected.

This is what we thought of the Rift then: potential. Now, it's time for reality.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Oculus Touch is the necessary other part of the equation: wireless controllers that also act as tools for your hands in virtual spaces. They're fantastic. They're $200 (which converts to £160 or AU$270). They're required hardware if you already own an Oculus Rift.

But if you don't? You'll need to pay $800 (roughly £630 or AU$1,075) for the Rift and Touch controllers combined, plus have a VR-ready gaming PC. That's an expensive bundle. In fact, it's the same as what the Vive costs. Oculus is now a complete package, and a compelling journey into VR worlds with lots of games and apps to try.

Oculus' collection of unique games and apps gives it a more polished edge over the Vive, but Vive's more open Steam platform feels like it has an edge on larger-scale VR experiences that Oculus is still trying to catch up to.

An updated review of the Oculus Rift -- including how the Touch controllers change the equation -- follows.

If I were rating the Touch controllers on their own, I'd give them an A. Anyone who already has a Rift should definitely get them. But that doesn't make the Rift a slam dunk for buyers coming into VR from scratch. With an expensive VR headset that has limited room tracking, the Oculus Rift as a whole is still a work in progress.

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Touch combines buttons, motion controls and even finger-tracking.

Sarah Tew/CNET

VR for your hands

What's particularly brilliant about the Touch controllers is that, while they can be used as motion-sensing tools, they also have regular buttons and analog sticks. They're almost like a split-apart gamepad held in two hands.

The HTC Vive and PlayStation VR also have handheld controllers, but theirs look more like wands and lack some standard controller-button functions. With the Touch, you can play a regular game as well as a VR motion-enabled one.

The Touch is also unique because it senses finger position, whether your fingers are pressing the triggers or not, and it even senses when your fingers are resting on particular buttons. Raising a thumb off the controller can make your virtual hand do a thumbs-up. Extending your forefinger will make your virtual hand point.

It's not full analog finger-sensing, but moving your forefinger, thumb and middle finger can create hand gestures that feel like real grasping. The controllers vibrate with feedback, and when you pick something up, it generates a hand feel. After a while, it started to feel like my hands were really somewhere else.

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This could be you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What do you with these crazy controllers?

The dipping-your-hands-into-VR feel of Touch gives it an edge over the PlayStation's Move VR controllers, or the wand-controllers of the Vive. But they all allow pretty similar things. That being said, the Touch aims to simulate actual hand movements, like grasping objects. Sometimes this works really well, and other times it feels like trying to grab chopsticks with gloves on.

There will be dozens of touch-enabled games on Oculus, and I've played over a dozen that are already available. But the biggest problem with the Oculus Rift and Touch isn't the controllers themselves, it's the limited range of motion tracking which means more standing in place, instead of moving around. And that's because of the limitations of Oculus' two-sensor motion-tracking system.

The Touch controllers are brilliantly designed, though, and are everything I'd want in a VR controller right now. Plus, they use AA batteries -- one per controller -- which are easily popped in via a magnetic sliding cover. In two weeks or so of mixed use, I haven't had to replace them.

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Those camera sensors need a table or shelf to sit on, and they need to be wired to your PC.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Setup and room tracking: A slight headache

The Oculus Rift Touch controllers need two camera sensors to track movement: one that comes with the controllers, and the other that comes with the Rift headset. Both need to be placed on a flat surface like a computer desk or a shelf and set several feet apart -- not too far, not too close, and angled for maximum coverage of the playing space (3-7 feet, roughly). Oculus has some setup guides in its PC software, but it's not as easy as the one-camera setup of PlayStation VR. This requires some finesse.

It also needs two separate USB 3.0 ports on your PC, one for each sensor. (That's in addition to the one the Rift helmet is using, and possibly a fourth one if you have the wireless dongle for the Xbox controller.) The cables are fairly long, but not long enough for a PC to be across the room. Good luck, because it's not easy to get right.

Much like HTC's Vive VR, you then have to draw a boundary around your play area, which shows up like a glowing blue cage in virtual reality. Oculus calls it the "Guardian." Get too close to your play area limits, and the cage reappears to warn you. But that doesn't help with accidental tripping over furniture, cords, pets, kids, sandwiches or roller skates -- so clear your room before playing.

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