Oculus Rift S is intended as a replacement of the original Oculus Rift and the pinnacle of the Oculus VR line up. While the Oculus Quest fills the middle ground between the content-focused Oculus Go and the more capable Rift, this new S headset goes a few steps further.
We were invited to a special event to get some hands-on time with the new Oculus Rift S VR headset. Here's our initial impressions.
Design changes and enhancements
- Five inside-out tracking sensors
- Updated Halo headband design
- Integrated backwards-firing speakers
- Updated controller design to support inside-out tracking
A better fit
At first glance, the new Oculus Rift S bears remarkable similarities to the original device. Yet there are a number of small changes that make it quite different: both on the headset itself and with the controllers.
The design of the Oculus Rift S has been heavily influenced by Lenovo. Obvious not only because of the Lenovo logo emblazoned on the side, but also by the design of new "Halo" headstrap - which looks remarkably similar to that on the Lenovo Mirage Solo headset that we've seen before.
Lenovo has also had a hand in a number of other design facets of this new Rift headset. There are a number of small changes and enhancements to the entire design, but comfort and accessibility are perhaps the most appealing ones.
The S headset is easier to put on than the original Rift for a start. You can easily pop it on and tighten it up to a good fit using the wheel at the rear.
This better fit also ensures the headset lets less light in when you're playing, meaning you'll see more of the game and less of the real world, thus the experience is more immersive and more enjoyable.
However, we still found we were getting hot when gaming with the Rift S, which is a staple of all VR play it seems.
No more tracking stations
The new and improved S also makes use of an 'insight tracking system'. This uses the five sensors present on the headset to provide the inside-out tracking and remove the need for IR (infrared) sensors or tracking base stations.
This tracking means the headset can track not only your movement - with six degrees of freedom - but also the movement of the controllers too. The accompanying Oculus Touch controllers see some slight design changes themselves too: the classic loop is now on top and this makes it easier for the headset's sensors to detect and track the controllers as you're moving.
We have to say, we're impressed with just how well this insight tracking system works. Our hand and body movements were accurately tracked during our play session and we didn't have any issues with disconnects and bothersome tracking hiccups either.
Of course, more thorough testing will be needed to see how it handles in the home, but during half an hour or so of gaming it certainly stood up to scrutiny.
Improved visuals and gaming comfort
- 2560 x 1440 display resolution via a single fast-switch LCD screen
- 80Hz refresh rate with Asynchronous Spacewarp technology for comfort
- 5-metre cable
- Passthrough+ boundary system and
- Six degrees of freedom hand and head tracking with Oculus Insight technology
Higher res, lower refresh
Spec wise, there has been a slight bump in visuals. There's a higher resolution, with the new headset supporting 1280 x 1440 per eye (2560 x 1440 total) compared to 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye in the original Rift.
But there's also a reduced refresh rate. The original Rift had a refresh rate of 90Hz, while the updated Rift S supports 80Hz. This is down to ASW - a system that's designed to improve the comfort of the gameplay experience by smoothing the frame rates and optimising the experience.
This technology ensures everyone gets the best possible VR experience, no matter what system they're running, but also allows Oculus to up the visuals while keeping things smooth - think less tearing and fewer problems with motion sickness.
It seems odd to make this reduction in refresh rate while enhancing the rest of the design. But the company made a point of reminding us that falling hardware costs make the headset much more accessible to the masses. It's been a while since the original Oculus Rift released and the PC hardware required to run a VR headset has come down a lot in price since then. Many more people have access to kit powerful enough to run the new Rift S without as much outlay.
PC spec requirements
The recommended specs for the new headset are:
- PC/laptop running Windows 10 or greater
- Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater
- CPU: Intel i5-4590 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater
- Memory: 8GB of RAM
- Video Output: DisplayPort 1.2 source, Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort Adapter (with mDP to DP adapter that is included in box)
- USB Port: 1x USB 3.0 Port
There's a minor bump in requirements here, but only slight, and these specs are pretty standard in most modern gaming laptops and desktop machines now.
The keen-eyed will also spot that you now need a DisplayPort (or Mini DisplayPort) connection on your machine and only a single spare USB slot. This is, in our mind, one of the best changes with the new S headset, especially in terms of accessibility.
One gripe we had with the original Oculus Rift was the need for three spare USB ports on your machine as well as the HDMI connection. If you're gaming off a laptop or even a desktop, it's often difficult to find enough spare ports for that without unplugging all your other peripherals. Now with built-in tracking sensors, there's not as much need for a multitude of USB connections, which is a massive plus and makes the Rift S far more usable.
The accessibility and usability of the system carryies on into other parts of the design too. The Oculus Rift S is designed with a new Passthrough+ system. This is similar to the system that already exists on the HTC Vive and gives you a virtual view of the room via the cameras without having to take the headset off.
Oculus showed this system working with a user "painting" the guardian borders of the room rather than having to map it out within Windows or Oculus software. There's no more moving the headset and controllers around the room while trying to awkwardly map it out, craning your neck to see the PC screen.
This new system also means its a lot easier to setup the Rift S anywhere and, in theory, move it to a new location with ease too. You can also see the room when you need to, so you can interact with loved ones or just avoid tripping over the cat without taking the headset off.
As there are no tracking stations, there are also fewer cables and less hassle. You don't need to worry about whether the headset is out of sync because someone has knocked the trackers. There's far less faff with setting up and it should be easier to jump straight into the game every time you turn your machine on.
Like the original Rift, the Rift S is intended to give you plenty of freedom during play. There's a five-metre cable connection which allows for standing or sitting and play in a relatively large room if you have the space to move around.
We wish the Rift S had been designed to be wireless, but Oculus says the technology for that is just too expensive at this point and the trade-off versus improved visuals and a smooth experience isn't worth it. Considering the HTC Vive wireless adapter costs over £300 as an extra accessory, that point is clearly illustrated.
Bring your own headset
One weird design choice, in our mind, is the changes to audio setup. Oculus has opted to give the Oculus Rift S the same built-in rear-firing speakers as the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. This means no more built-in headphones, which has its ups and downs.
Sure, the speakers deliver decent sound and offer some spatial sound capabilities, but they aren't especially loud and the room you're in needs to be fairly quiet as a result. We were testing in a room with some music blasting in the background and we struggled to hear the gaming audio as a result.
The alternative is a bring-your-own-headset offering. That does, of course, mean adding more wires to the mix and it takes away from the comfort in that way - but it will offer a more private and immersive VR experience.
However, Oculus has chosen to only include a 3.5mm jack for audio output. We asked Sean Liu, Director of Product Management at Oculus, about it and he told us that the company had decided that the current norm was 3.5mm, despite some discussion about whether to make it USB-C.
This is fairly limiting in our mind - especially when the majority of gaming headsets are USB and more and more headphones are making the move to USB-C or wireless. Bluetooth isn't an option either as the lag between sound and visuals would break the quality of the experience.
A focus on content and accessibility
The Rift S runs with all the current-gen Rift games and Oculus says the company will continue to support the original Rift and make content available for it. Anything developed for Rift will work with both systems.
Content is an interesting highlight here as Oculus is making games cross-play compatible. Users with a Rift S will be able to play multiplayer games against and with Oculus Quest players. Oculus also promises that you won't be able to tell who is using what device as the experience is just that seamless/high-quality.
It's also the company's intention to make it so games purchased for either headset will work on the other. For the most part, if a game works on Rift S then it will also work on Oculus Quest. But also, if you own games on Quest then decide to upgrade to a fully-fledged Rift S then you can take your game library with you.
Current Oculus Rift owners, can, of course, play any games they already own on the new headset too.
The amount of games available has increased a lot since the original headset released with more and more being released all the time. There's certainly no doubt about the quality and volume of games available on the system.
On the face of it, the Oculus Rift S has only had some minor design changes and visual enhancements. Perhaps these might not be enough to convince most Oculus Rift owners to make the switch, but for people who have been holding out for a newer, more accessible headset with fewer USB connections necessary and no separate tracking stations, this is a great solution.
We're not sure such changes are big enough to call it the Oculus Rift 2 - maybe when there's true wireless connectivity built-in - but the S is certainly a lot more user-friendly, comfortable and appealing than ever before. Built-in tracking also means you can basically play with it anywhere you can find space with far less setup hassle.
We also like that Oculus is keeping its flagship VR headset at an affordable price point. While the HTC Vive Pro is perhaps the very best headset money can buy, it's also incredibly expensive. The Oculus Rift S is much more affordable and far easier for anyone to use, which will be key to its success.
The Oculus Rift S will launch Spring 2019 and will be available for $399 USD/£399 GBP/€449 EUR.