BabelTechReviews purchased an Oculus Rift HMD (Head Mounted Display) and Touch controllers in mid-December, and since then we have been playing VR games using a variety of video cards. We have also been exploring potential ways to accurately benchmark VR games and applications, but we soon realized that we were in completely uncharted waters. We have had to forge our own path since current methods such as using Fraps do not accurately convey the performance that the user experiences in the HMD. Worst of all, there are no logging tools available for the Oculus Rift as they are for the HTC Vive. However, there is another way.
In part 1 of our evaluation, we will give an overview of Virtual Reality (VR) and look at the complexities of Oculus Rift VR benching. We will also use the few synthetic benchmarking tools currently available to compare video card performance using the TITAN XP, the GTX 1080/1070/1060/980 Ti and GTX 970 as well as the Fury X, the RX 480 and the 290X.
In part 2, we will go into more depth as we actually attempt to perform accurate video benchmarking using these same cards with a number of VR titles available for the Oculus Rift. We believe that we will be able to convey to BTR’s readers an accurate sense of what is actually happening in the HMD while VR benchmarks are being run.
Why BTR Chose the Oculus Rift to Benchmark VR
We realized that a few other tech sites including HardOCP were already doing a good job of benchmarking the HTC Vive but we wanted the challenge of being one of the first tech sites to provide a good way to benchmark the Oculus Rift. The Vive SDK includes a performance logging tool which allows somewhat repeatable VR benchmark runs to be logged and graphed.
Although some tech sites have used Fraps, PCPerspective has shown that there is no universally acknowledged way to accurately benchmark the Oculus Rift as there are no SDK logging tools available. To compound the difficulties of benchmarking the Rift, there are additional complexities because of the way both the Vive and the Rift use frame reprojection to keep framerates steady at either 90 FPS or at 45 FPS. Both NVIDIA and AMD agree that Fraps benchmarking only provides a slight correlation between what the user actually experiences and what is displayed by the Windows desktop. Fraps only measures the framerate of the desktop window, not what appears in the HMD so the performance that a user sees in the desktop window is not a valid proxy for the experience in the HMD.
The main reason that we chose the Rift over the Vive is that the Rift is mostly a “seated” experience while the Vive is at its best in a “room sized” experience. In other words, one can easily enjoy the Rift experience either seated stationary in your chair, or in a 5’x7′ area (or even smaller) with the optional Touch controllers, while the Vive experience is best enjoyed in a large room of 10’x10′ to 15’x15′.
If you get too close to the boundaries that you have set, the Rift’s Guardian System displays a blue grid that is visible in the HMD to warn the player that they are getting too close to its edges and may bump into walls or objects outside their predetermined playing space.
All of the games for the Rift are designed to be either experienced seated or in a front-to-back and/or side-to-side stage with the player mostly in the center of the action. And since this editor is unable to stand or walk without a cane, the Rift VR experience made the most sense.
Since both the Rift and the Vive each cost about $800 for a similar premium VR experience, it is important for prospective buyers to do research before buying a VR setup. And of course, it is important to make sure to have a PC that is capable of a premium or a “VR ready” experience. This will require a fast quad core CPU, and at the least, a GTX 1060 or a RX 480 – a PC that costs around $800 to $1000 or more.
But is VR worth it? In our opinion, absolutely, yes! We have purchased our own Oculus Rift and Touch controllers along with VR games and we feel that the many hundreds of dollars that we have invested into it is well worth the experience of playing in VR – even at this early stage soon after the launch of premium VR HMDs in 2016.
What is VR?
Virtual reality (VR) as defined in our evaluation of the Oculus Rift refers to computer technologies that use software to generate realistic images and sounds in an attempt to replicate a real (or to create an imaginary) environment and to simulate the user’s physical presence inside that environment.
A person using virtual reality equipment is typically able to act as though they are “inside” the artificial world, move about in it, and even interact with features or items that are displayed in the HMD. In the case of both the Oculus Rift and the Vive, the HMDs are head-mounted goggles with a screen in front of the eyes. Headphones are used to provide audio clues and the Oculus Rift has a high quality stereo headset built into its HMD that gives 3D positional audio.
Virtual Reality (VR) is far superior to 3D solutions although VR and 3D both usually require the viewer to use an external viewing solution, either as 3D glasses or as a Head Mounted Display (HMD) for VR. 3D is an experience that can be described as a window into a 3D world with an occasional “pop-out” whereas VR is a much more immersive experience as it transports the user “inside” of the 3D world.
A proper VR experience puts you inside of the game. In a virtual world you can look up, and if a spaceship is hovering above you and it’s supposed to be 1,000 feet long, it really looks to be 1000′ long. If you are standing upon a bridge and you look down, you can see far down to the river below and everything remains in perspective, so much so, that you may experience vertigo from the “height”.
In the game, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a player can move among the trees of a realistic forest and see them from any perspective that they want to – the headset works with a tracker that is installed on your desk and it tracks your head movements accurately. The game “knows” where you are in relation to the objects of the game. You can even “stoop down” to stand or to look under objects to closely examine them from their underside.
For VR to work properly, the game needs to know where you are at in relation to the game’s objects. That is why the Oculus Rift uses a sensor to accurately track your head movements precisely. When you add the Rift’s Touch controllers, they require a second sensor (and can even use an optional third sensor in a large area) to track the position of your hands – so if you are shooting a gun or guns, it will track your hands’ position accurately.
VR is high tech and for real immersion, you need a game built from the ground up specifically for VR. A major problem is that the Unreal Engine 4 has a check-box feature for VR, and unfortunately it appears that many devs use this feature without testing VR or implementing it correctly. This has resulted in a lot of “junk” VR games and applications that are evidently looking to cash in on the VR experience. Fortunately, VR games are being professionally reviewed as well as being reviewed by VR players on social media, and one can steer one away from the bad games and to really great games by carefully reading the reviews.
In one of the most well-made Oculus Rift demos, a “life-sized” T-Rex walks up to you and sniffs you, blowing his nasal discharge all over. He then steps over you and runs off into the distance behind you. You can see him as he moves towering above you, and if your turn your head/body 180 degrees, you can watch him disappearing in the distance. This is VR so well done as to be amazing.
How to Experience “Real” VR, and the Oculus Rift vs. the HTC Vive
This editor recommends that our readers who are interested in VR should go and experience a demo, perhaps at Best Buy or at GameStop. Insist on demoing the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive if at all possible. The headsets that are used with smartphones simply aren’t the same experience, and even the PlayStation 4 falls short of a premium VR experience when its controllers and relatively weak hardware are taken into account. This editor got to experience many VR demos at tradeshow events, and was even privileged to compare the Oculus Rift with the HTC Vive at NVIDIA’s Austin launch of the GTX 1080. At Austin, we got to play with the then pre-release Rift’s Touch controllers and found using them felt superior to using the Vive’s controllers.
There is one major caveat with considering the Rift, however. We found that although wearing the Rift’s HMD was more comfortable than wearing the Vive’s, the Vive HMD has more room for eyeglass wearers. In fact, since we purchased our Rift, we use our contact lenses to play all of our games comfortably, and next week we are going to buy new eyeglass frames that we will make sure will fit inside the Rift HMD when we are fitted for them. Since we don’t have a very large area for playing in VR, nor do we have the ability to stand without a cane, the Rift was the more logical choice for us.
The specifications for the Rift and the Vive are very similar. The Rift costs $600 for the base experience and the Touch controllers are an additional $200. The Vive comes with its own controllers but costs $800, so the price is similar. Both of these setups have been on sale and we were able to buy the Rift with the Touch controllers from Best Buy for $700; the Vive has also been on sale for $700. The Rift and the Vive both use one OLED panel for each eye, each having a resolution of 1080×1200 (2160×1200 combined) at 90Hz or 45Hz. This means that the resolution is generally better than 3D glasses, and although not pixelated, there is sometimes a “screendoor” effect visible in certain high contrast and bright circumstances with both HMDs.
The field of view for both the Rift and the Vive HMDs are 110 degrees each although the Vive’s view appears to be slightly taller. The Rift uses infrared light in its tracking camera for head tracking while the Vive uses sensors coupled with a laser tracking system. Both HMDs also utilize magnetometers and gyroscopes to accurately report the user’s head position.
The Oculus Rift will accept a less powerful PC than the Vive since it will allow 45 FPS as the minimum framerate because of frame reprojection or AWS (Asynchronous Space Warp), although both require similar specifications for a premium above 90 FPS experience.
The Vive has a front facing camera that the Rift lacks. A user can switch back and forth from VR to the real world with the touch of a button. Both HMDs have systems to alert the players when they are going outside their predetermined boundaries so there are no accidents with running into furniture or walls. The Vive is compatible with gamepads while the Rift ships with a wireless XBox One controller included with the HMD. The Vive requires the player to supply their own headphones or speakers while the Rift has excellent built in headphones which are removable should you want a different headset.
The Rift requires two USB 3.0 ports (and an additional one for the two Touch controllers) and a HDMI port on your graphics card. The Vive only requires one USB 3.0 port and a HDMI port but is said to be more complex to set up. We were ready to play with our Oculus Rift in less than an hour after opening the box – and that included the 1.5GB download of the Rift software, the complete setup with the touch controllers, and also several games that we downloaded also.