best mid tier vr headsets - Oculus Rift S

Oculus Rift S review – How it Holds After 1 Year of Usage

Let's cut the fluff.

best mid tier vr headsets - Oculus Rift S
Reader Rating16 Votes
8.7
8.5
Manages to keep up with the big dogs.
Buy Oculus Rift S Now:

A year has passed since they released it. Much has changed.

Now it is time to do an Oculus Rift S Review. It will be thorough, with lots of comparisons to other VR headsets.

I will not be kind to it. I will be honest. I am gonna huff, and I am gonna puff. There are lots of HMD’s out there now, and we can finally see if it is worth its money or not. I mean, Samsung Odyssey+ is pushing its head out, and newer ones ain’t giving up either.

I have followed VR for over 7 years. Do you want my true opinion? It’s a disgrace how media treated Rift S. The reviews out there aren’t really comparing VR headsets by its true price – and the price is what makes this gem shine.

I am going to explain it in full detail down below. For a quick summary, scroll down to the end.

If you wish to leave a rating for Rift S yourself, you can do so in a review visitor rating tab above!

Let’s start with ergonomics, shall we? Many don’t know how critical of a factor it actually is. After all, there aren’t many devices that go on your head. Headphones are pretty straight-forward, you put them on and you forget about them.

With Head-Mounted Displays, pressure points are much more impactful. If the weight distribution is wrong, or the straps are uncomfortable, even the best VR display in the world isn’t gonna save the user experience. There are many headsets that you can only wear for an hour at most because of the improper face pressure.

How is it with Oculus Rift S after using it for one year?



How Hard is it to Setup Oculus Rift S?

You know, back in the good ol’ days we had to go through sweat and tears to make our VR rig work properly. That was so stupid. With original Vive, for example, I felt like I had to do certain rituals each morning to make it all work – the sensors didn’t track properly due to my incorrect positioning, and controllers only turned on when they felt like it – “Oh boy, here I go tracking again”.

But in 2018, the trend has changed. For the most part, VR headset makers starting using inside-out tracking that makes the setup not only much easier, but convenient for most users. Oculus Rift S makes the use of such technology, and it is awesome.

The setup score for Oculus Rift S is = 9.1.

For me, the Oculus Rift S setup was a lot easier compared to previous older VR headsets. That, I feel, is the right step towards making VR mainstream. The difficulties of setting up VR was sounded in a lot of forums, and it was painful to read. Now, to have the correct tracking, you basically only need to mark out your room area with built-in cameras in Rift S and you are Gucci.

It would be awesome if the wireless option would also be available, but I am not really upset about it. It’s an awesome tech, but there are some trade-offs to that. Rift S works well without that also.

All in all, I am quite pleased with Oculus Rift S in a matter of setting it up. Some had troubles with getting a black screen or with being stuck at installations, but as far as I’ve seen, those people were in the minority, and Oculus has even reached out to them on Reddit to fix the issue as fast as possible.

That I can respect.

You can see a good Youtube video from Oculus themselves on how to set it up correctly:

I love how the editors of the video paused the installation at 69% for split second and made the actor smirk a bit. It seems they are well-versed in internet culture.



How Does Oculus Rift S Comfort Feel After 1 Year?

After trying out Rift S, I am ready to place it in the TOP 3 category in terms of headset comfort rankings (see the rankings for other VR headsets below). All in all, it has a solid 8.5 out of 10-star rating.

Why 8.5 out of 10?

Let’s start with:

Wearing Comfort

Keep in mind that we have different heads. What I find comfortable, you may find absolutely horrible. That isn’t helped by the fact that my head looks like it can pierce a watermelon easily it was to fall on top of me.

But seeing the overall consensus on the internet, it seems I am not alone in my opinion. After all these months, Rift S never pressured my face or my head. Since Rift S has a significant ergonomic upgrade from its predecessor Rift CV1 in terms of build design, I could easily relax and not worry about the discomfort that was felt with original Vive, for example.

Oculus Rift S Review - wearing comfort

Oculus has taken notes from Playstation VR design, which features similar halo-strap. Seeing the general approval from users, they shamelessly re-designed their next VR Headset Rift S – and thank goodness they did that.

For me, Rift S halo design fixed the awkward horizontal “O” on my face. Many times when I took original Rift off, my close ones asked if my mom kissed my eyes with her big mouth. I said their humor is weak as their knees in VR horror games.

But, this halo pad isn’t for everyone. For example, if you prefer to be a seated gamer, like a VR sim racer or flight sim fan, the knob behind your head on Rift S will start to bug you after a while. When I sat on my gaming chair (that obviously improves my gaming aim by 250%), I couldn’t properly rest my head. That is where the original Rift design is preferred. I would go out and say that if your only goal is to play VR simulators that are seated, then buy HP Reverb for that. I had a great experience with Reverb in that niche.

Visual Comfort

I determine it through a factor like IPD adjustment for finding that sweet spot, and whether glasses fit well inside the VR mask. Has Rift S nailed in these areas?

It has not, at least in terms of IPD. The reason is simple: No manual IPD adjustment, no universal comfort. IPD, or in other words, the distance between your pupils, ranges anywhere between 55-75 mm for almost all people. Rift S says it supports comfortable usage for users up to 58-72 mm.

The actual reality is 60-68mm.

Oculus Rift S review - visual comfort IPD issue

That basically eliminates 30% of the users. Palmer Luckey, a former CEO of Oculus, said that he cannot use Rift S for that reason alone. Read more about it on his blog site. If you are not in the common IPD range, you will have difficulties finding that sweet spot. That results in blurred vision, and in some cases, fatigue and eye strain.

I believe Oculus could have done this part a bit better. If you cannot do a manual IPD adjustment, a different solution would have sufficed. Within this year, they could have introduced a custom VR headset that is built for people with different IPD. I don’t mean a custom VR headset for each millimeter, but 3 different headsets would have done the job. Each Rift S headset would have been a perfect fit for people with either low, common, or high IPD. Other VR headsets don’t have that problem, and that’s because most of them have two displays, each for one eye. Rift S shares only one LCD display.

I do believe that could have been addressed by Oculus after one year, but I guess it was not worth it for them in terms of cost. Maybe the successor to Rift S will have more options.

One could only hope. Either way, even though the visual comfort is good enough for 70% of the people, I have to take some points off because of that.

Where the points are gained, however, is with the build design to fit glasses. Some VR headsets are actually quite tight in that area, including the previous Rift. I am glad to see they made some changes to not needing contact lenses specifically for VR sessions.



How Does Oculus Rift S Display Feel Compared to Other VR Headsets?

There are so many factors to take into consideration when we talk about the display. The reviewing gets really interesting because of that.

After reviewing the Rift S display, the overall score is 8.2.

That score is a combined number from factors like screen clarity, the field of view, color balance, screen door effect, and the quality of lenses.

We need to talk about Rift S resolution…

You know, when the Rift S came out, and people saw on paper what kind of resolution increase it had over the original Rift, pitchforks were out on the street.

Now, fast-forward one year, I can actually say that size doesn’t matter. The resolution size isn’t really that important considering that Rift S is competitive with the best and most expensive displays out there.

oculus rift S review - display resolution comparison
That is just one example of VR clarity.

So as you can see, the display resolution isn’t really that important. Important is to combine all the factors like pixel density, the field of view, the type of lens, and distortion level to accurately understand how clear the screen is.

Oculus Rift S does it right.

I won’t bother you with difficult explanation in this review, but this LCD display, coupled with 3 subpixels per pixel, works so well that it manages to match even Valve Index, a VR headset that is 2.5x the price of Rift S. In my testing, Valve Index was only marginally better. Of course, the Field of View is also higher on Index which kinda requires more pixels anyway.

But that’s not really a point. In terms of text readability, Rift S is good enough to play with the big dogs.

However…

Because of the LCD display, Rift S makes sacrifices in certain areas. Which brings me to the next point:

Why I am not happy with Rift S

The colors. That is what happens when you switch from OLED to LCD. Yes, we win at the clarity and at lowering SDE (screen door effect), but the colors are a personal “ouch” moment for me. I am the type of person that prefers more vivid colors and deeper blacks; I like to watch movies and experience a true range of brightness in my games and films. That is why I enjoy Elite: Dangerous and all sorts of horror games.

Here is a color example of Oculus Rift S vs Oculus Quest and Go.

oculus rift S revie - display color comparison washed out
Image credit to Tyriel Wood.
Oculus Quest in this case has an OLED screen, which is superior to LCD in terms of color depth.

If the colors are washed out, as it is with Rift S (and even with the most popular VR headset Valve Index), there is a constant reminder that it’s a screen. Many don’t mind it, but personally, it breaks my immersion. If you think it will bother you too, you might want to look into Vive Pro, Oculus Quest, or Odyssey+. I found myself using them far more often for horror movies and content viewing. There are actually a lot more to that, but I will talk about it in another post.

Those headsets that I mentioned have their own shortcomings, but it’s up to you to decide where you want to make sacrifices. To help with the decision, here is my list of VR headsets for each budget.

Also, what is up with the refresh rate?

At 80Hz that Oculus Rift S has, trust me, you will notice the difference when compared to 144Hz that Valve Index has. In this area, I feel like they could have approached it a lot differently.

I presume the reason for locking it at 80Hz is so that people with computers made specifically for virtual reality, don’t have to buy new parts again. That is understandable – they are basically looking for good constant performance across all users.

What I disagree with is them basically punishing people with better computer rigs just so that everyone could have the same visual fidelity. In my opinion, what they should have done was to give people the option for 80Hz, as well as 120Hz, for example. Valve Index lets you do that with 3 different display refresh rates (90, 120, 144) and it works splendidly.

Does refresh rate truly play that big of a role in VR?

oculus rift S review - display refresh rate
With a lower refresh rate, fast movement skips image frames.

Although, in my opinion, not as much as with regular monitors, it does play a role in certain situations. If you just move your head left and right, refresh rate difference isn’t that noticeable. It is, however, noticeable in situations where you need to pay attention to the movement of the 3D model, like in the picture above. Let’s take ping-pong, for instance. People with higher refresh rate VR headsets will actually have a competitive advantage over you since frame skipping starts to play a role in seeing the ping-pong ball.

Motion sickness is also important and should not be forgotten. If you are prone to getting sick in VR, you should consider looking into Valve Index for now.

What About the Field of View?

This is a can of worms that I just hate opening. Each person that reads this may have its own experience with this, but when I used Rift S, its low FOV wasn’t as big of an issue as I thought it would be. Yes, I am not getting the Pimax level of viewing angles. Neither can I look up and down as far as I can with Valve Index. But the good news is, I kinda got used to being a horse.

Many say that Valve Index, a VR headset that costs 2.5x as much, opens up the world by a lot, but as far as I felt, the Pimax VR headset is the only one that truly does the job.

That is why I call VR screens just one big can of worms. It truly depends on what is your IPD, where the sweet spot for your eyes is – the closer your eyes are to each other, the higher the field of view will be.

That is why I haven’t really minded the FOV this past year as much as I thought I would. On paper, it’s not that great, but at the same time, Rift S won’t lose as many points as it would have if I reviewed it last year. Guess my priorities for what matters in VR have changed over time.

Oculus Rift S review - comparison to Oculus Rift cv1
How it was on Oculus Rift CV1.

I am Happy to See They Improved…

One of the reasons I disliked getting into VR, was the apparent and constant showcase of god rays.

It’s that blurry glare (not to be confused with a peripheral glare at the edges of the screen) that comes from light sources whenever there is a big enough contrast. It’s especially noticeable in the dark.

I am glad to see Rift S has tackled the issue by making appropriate changes to the lenses themselves. I am not really sure if there was anything done in the software area, but the “bloom” like artifact was greatly reduced. It is still apparent, but nowhere near as bad as with original Rift and Vive.

All in all, I could say that compared to VR headsets on the market, Rift S does a pretty decent job with the display side of things. I only wish they improved color depth, as for me, it is very important to get complete darkness for proper immersion. You might be in the same boat.



Oculus Rift S Controllers – An Upgrade or Downgrade?

Believe it or not, Oculus Rift S Touch controllers have improved by quite a lot over the years. All those improvements were made through software updates to improve tracking.

But, there are still some issues, so the overall controller score is 8.8.

Last year, when I used Rift S controllers for the first time, I was amazed by the accuracy of inside-out tracking figuring out where my hands were. Now it is improved to the point where Rift S understands my movements around my butt. That is the place where cameras don’t exist (and won’t be allowed). With some dark sorcery, when I drew a circle behind my back, Rift S had no problems with catching it and drawing one in the VR painting app.

This is the kind of technology that original Oculus Rift CV1 did, and it used external tacking devices for that. The fact that they are needed to be set up again is an extreme plus for me.

With the 1.39 update that was around 7 months ago, I had almost no problems with losing tracking or with “hand swimming away” syndrome. That all was fixed for me. There were some slight jumps over the months that I played, but they didn’t detract from my VR experience as much as before.

What About Ergonomics?

One of the most important factors in how controllers feel is the feel itself, obviously, and the weight. When you are gaming for hours upon hours, each gram plays an important role. That is why VR headset manufacturers focus so hard on making headsets as light as possible.

VR controllers are no exception. Luckily, new Rift S controllers felt great to me!

The tracker ring is positioned up.

As much as I love physical training, I prefer to separate entertainment from workouts. Lifting original Touch controllers that weigh 170 grams compared to new Rift S controllers that weigh 130 grams for 6 hours straight, I’d say you would prefer the separation as well.

With that comes another change. New Rift S controllers felt like a second-hand product. You see, weight usually adds luxury, prestige, the feeling of superior design. I am going to be honest, in a way I wanted my original Touch controllers back so that I could feel I am truly holding a product that is separately worth 140 bucks.

However, I do understand the decisions behind that.

I also understand why the rings had to be swapped to the upper side of the controllers, as opposed to below fingers like it was before. After all, inside-out tracking is a lot better when those 5 Rift S cameras have as little of occlusion as possible. Those rings work best when nothing is between them and the headset. That did bring me a bit of discomfort in certain situations. For example, in some VR gun games, I felt like reloading was a bit uncomfortable. Rings kept getting in the way. It did depend on the game though as Pavlov had no such problems.

Them going with the cheaper route also brought some unfortunate moments when the battery cover just slipped open due to friction between the controllers and my hand.

I admit, my hands get super sweaty after having some intense VR sessions. I don’t know if many have that problem but for me, it did become noticeable after around the 7th month of Rift S usage. I guess the constant opening and closing of the battery cover made it a bit more fragile. I am sure you have had that problem with TV remotes as well. I used to slide it with my fingers out of habit, and now the cover doesn’t even hold it when TV remote is in a vertical position.

It is not really a big deal, but something that you might keep in mind. I’ve had no problems like this with other VR headset controllers.



Here is What I think About Oculus Rift S Audio

Sigh… I always wonder why decisions are made the way they are. It seems that saving money was the reason for Oculus in the sound department. That leaves it at a score of 7.2.

Now, things aren’t as bleak as they seem.

Oculus Rift S has decided to exclude integrated headphones and go with the speaker route. That means you will hear the sound coming from the Halo band itself. For some, it is preferred due to the need to hear what goes outside of VR. For example, a father might want to hear where the baby crawls so he doesn’t injure anyone. But for most, I presume, the preferred method is full immersion.

But, let’s leave the immersion part. What about sound quality? Since it doesn’t literally come from a dedicated audio source, I must say that compared to CV1, I am left disappointed. I hoped that maybe they would release a software update of sorts (which they did) that would fix the low and phony sound, but I guess software changes can only do so much.

But, as I said there is a solution to it. Over the months that people used, the general trend has been moving towards buying these Koss Porta Pro Headphones that eliminate the audio completely. They are dirt cheap, sound abnormally well for their price, and the rumor is that these were used for the original CV1 design by Oculus. Koss Porta Pro headphones are also one of the only ones that don’t interfere with the halo band. If you were to use your own big headphones, you might run into some comfort issues.

So, if you truly want the best audio, consider spending an extra 30 bucks on the headphones that I’ve suggested. It would truly improve your VR gaming, especially with games like Beat Saber. So just plug it into the 3.5mm jack and you’re done.

I wish the next Rift version would have the audio side of things covered a lot better, so users don’t resort to their own DYI versions.



Funny Thing About the Oculus Rift S Games…

Oculus can be considered as the only company that releases exclusives from time to time. That means, you can only play certain games like Lone Echo, Beat Saber, Edge of Nowhere, and dozens more only on Oculus devices. As much as I don’t like exclusivity, I can’t deny it of the score of = 9.8.

That may work for consoles, but VR is a whole unique animal. When the news came that Oculus plans for exclusives, people were pissed. I don’t actually believe that Oculus is responsible for that decision as much as Facebook, but it did leave the stain.

What is funny, however, is that the exclusive design doesn’t actually stop people from playing Rift S games on Vive, Index, or on WMR headsets. The praise should go to a program called ReVive.

LibreVR is responsible for ReVive, and it is great. Developers get some extra cash for limiting their game titles, and the players on other VR platforms still buy the game to play it on their VR headsets through a 3rd party mod.

It’s basically a win-win situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is enough basis to support the idea that big companies themselves made that plugin.

But, exclusives are exclusives, and that means, for the highest compatibility, Rift S will work the best on such premium games. You have many games to choose from and they all play and perform superbly due to Rift S being a top priority for developers in terms of optimization.

I was happy with what I got to play, and since other VR makers don’t really make exclusives, I ha a huge library of games in front of me with little to no in-game issues.



Conclusion

After using it for over a year, I am surprised to find myself drawn back to it so many times. It had improved in areas like tracking through correct firmware updates, it has an easy to use feel to it, and the killer feature is obviously the price.

The price is what makes this whole thing awesome. To get such a low cost, they had to sacrifice in some areas, and it seems that the audio side had to suffer a bit, the controller build felt a bit cheap, and the field of view with refresh rate was modest, to say at least.

But, all of those downsides didn’t truly subtract from my VR experience. They held their quality where it matters and downscaled only the parts that didn’t. Yeah, it would be awesome to have Index level features, but those are definitely not worth the 2.5x the price increase.

In my opinion, Oculus Rift S can be considered as the best VR headset in terms of price/performance ratio. Almost any other VR headset in the same price category doesn’t really catch up to Rift S. Most of them, for that exact reason, target another niche. For example, Oculus Quest is good for traveling, convenience, ease-of-use. Slightly more expensive HP Reverb is meant for seated experience, like simulation racing. But for straight VR gaming with good performance, Oculus Rift S is hard to beat.

It is a worthy device if you are looking for a headset to get your VR feet wet.

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best mid tier vr headsets - Oculus Rift S
Oculus Rift S Summary
This is the score:
Setup Ease
9.2
Wearing Comfort
9.6
Visual Comfort
7.4
Resolution
9
Color Depth
7
Refresh Rate
8
Field of View
7.8
Display Artifacts
9.4
Controller Tracking
9.4
Controller Ergonomics
8.2
Audio Level
7.2
Games
9.8
Reader Rating16 Votes
8.7
Pros
Clear Display.
Comfortable to wear.
Tracking is fast and accurate.
Huge list of games.
Easy to set up.
Cons
Default audio needs work.
Background light hurts color depth.
IPD is limited.
8.5
Manages to keep up with the big dogs.
Buy Oculus Rift S Now:
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