I have invested in both the Oculus Quest 2 and the Oculus Rift S. Why you ask? For one I wanted to compare a native PC VR experience with a hybrid model. The other also allows me to keep playing VR should I find myself waiting for the Quest 2 to be charged. I’m also trying to convince my wife to play more full VR experiences via the Quest 2 and if that proves successful I can still play some VR while the other headset is in use.
I play a lot of PC experiences in VR (particularly racing and flying) via controller or on the couch and for the sake of science I purchased a Rift S to see how it stacks up to the more modern Quest 2 via Oculus Link or Virtual Desktop. Which is better overall? Well the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think and it does depend on a number of factors.
Let’s start with the Quest 2. This is a pretty damn good headset, particularly if you invest in a bit more cash to get one of the Elite Straps (the cloth band one it ships with is ok but still puts a fair bit of weight to the front of your face). For about $550 AUD you can buy a 64gb Quest 2 with the Oculus Elite Strap and you are good to go for VR. You can buy games for the Quest 2 via the headset Oculus Store. Some of these are also cross buy, which means when you buy the game you can from the Oculus Store you’ll get the Rift version as well (if available).
With the Quest 2 if you want to play PC VR games you’ll also have to buy a $129 AUD fibre optic Oculus Link USB C cable (or picking up a USB 3.0 cable cheaper online) to play the Oculus Rift games via PC. Personally I find usb c ports moderately flimsy, so my preferred cable is a USB A to C (Quest 2 connection). I do have the official cable but I prefer the 3rd party USB 3 A to C cable (around $30 AUD) to the fiber optic one. Using Oculus Tray Tool (OTT) you can tweak the Oculus Link settings and it really does look quite good.
By comparison the Oculus Rift S currently sells for $500 AUD but definitely keep an eye out for deals as it is the older headset by about 16 months. Depending on what you want to play in VR it means both sets are pretty comparable, with the Quest 2 costing a bit more if you want official support for PC VR.
It is important to note the different architecture here. Oculus Link uses USB 3.0 for data and video to stream the image onto the Quest 2 (native resolution 1832×1920 per eye). In order to do this it has to encode and render the image at the PC end, and then decode and render the image on the Quest 2 VR headset. Without going into very technical detail in order to stream the image across usb 3.0 (roughly at 150mbps by default) it compresses it to a degree.
Another alternative to using Oculus Link is Virtual Desktop. This amazing application (my favourite Quest 2 app) allows you to stream many (there is a compatibility list via the Discord server) Oculus and Steam VR PC games wireless across your local network. It also supports cloud gaming networks as well with the right setup. The developer is passionate about VR and making it as accessible as possible and is always improving Virtual Desktop. Being able to play high end great looking VR titles without any cabling is just incredible. I’ve fallen foul of getting twisted up in cabling while trying to survive several zombies attacking me in The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners to know how important a tether-less experience is.
Note – If you want to use ASW (Asynchronous TimeSpaceWarp) you’ll need to stick with Oculus Link.
The Oculus Rift S is tethered 100% of the time. It requires a VR ready PC and plugs into your PC using Display Port (for video) and USB 3.0 (for power). Because of this there is no compression involved – it just streams the native video signal at the resolution supported by the Rift S (1440 x 1280 per eye).
You can see above that the Quest 2’s native resolution for the lenses is quite a bit higher. In desktop resolution terms it compares pretty close to 1440p (Rift S) to almost 4k (Quest 2). When you load menus up it is apparent too. There is a screen door effect (this means it looks a bit like looking through a thin fly screen on a door) on the Rift S, whereas it looks much crisper on the Quest 2 and the screen door effect is almost completely absent.
My comparisons below are based on switching between the Quest 2 and the Rift S over a period of a month and playing different types of experiences. Combined I’ve put quite a few hours into VR so at a good guess 200-300 hours. Around 70% of that time was spent using an Xbox Controller, whilst the remainder was playing with the proper touch controllers.
Quest 2: What works
- I know this is obvious but important to mention; the Quest 2 is a standalone VR headset and you don’t require a PC. This also means all of the Quest 2 native VR games will work at the desired framerate (72fps is the default) without any tweaking required because they are optimised VR experiences. Depending on the type of use you’ll get 2-3 hours out of the internal battery before recharging is required.
Note – in order to play on the Quest 2 you will require a Facebook account to sign in. As of this blog post being published Facebook are working on allow multiple accounts to sign in on one device but that isn’t available yet.
- Oculus Link (tethered) or Virtual Desktop (untethered) is available to play PC VR games. Both will require a VR ready PC (much the same as the Rift S) and with Virtual Desktop you’ll need a good 5ghz AC or AX network wireless network. Keep in mind because the Quest 2 runs on battery so you’ll want to have an extra battery or charging from the Link cable when playing.
- Three IPD (the distance your eyes are apart from each other) settings available plus you can unofficially move them slightly off the three hardware settings to fine tune.
- The headband and eye cover are detachable, and can be changed to more comfortable ones available via 3rd parties.
- The controllers have longer last battery life than the Rift S controllers and are a bit larger.
- With the latest software support Rift supported games via Oculus Link support 72, 80 and 90hz framerate options (Virtual Desktop supports 60hz as well). Both Oculus Link and Virtual Desktop also support increasing the super sampling render resolution way higher than what is available for the Rift S. You’ll need a very powerful PC to take advantage of these options though.
- There are more ASW (Asynchronous Space Timewarp) options available on the Quest 2 via Oculus Link and using the Oculus Debug Tool or OTT.
Quest 2: What doesn’t work
- This may sound like a minor thing but you have to click in Settings and enable Oculus Link every time you put the Quest 2 headset on. This is so it leaves the native Quest 2 dash and starts in the Oculus Rift dash. This means picking up a touch controller before you settle down to play on a standard controller or wheel (as in my case with VR racing games). If you plan on playing a lot of the full Oculus Touch supported Rift experiences this won’t be an issue. For those looking at playing sims in VR (flight sims / racing etc) and you get interrupted frequently due to real life, it can get annoying after a while. The Rift S stays in standby mode and once you put the headset on the Rift menu comes up straight away and you can get into your VR games quicker.
- This is very subjective and quite hard to explain but even tweaking the Oculus Link, or just leaving at defaults I find the image for Rift experiences on Oculus Link to be slightly blurred, particularly in the background or peripheral. It honestly isn’t that bad but is probably due to the encoding, compression and decoding that occurs in order to send the signal across USB for video. This can be minimised by setting the default curvature to “low” in OTT but it is still slightly noticeable. I should add here that the slightly blurred look isn’t as bad on Virtual Desktop, but you have a lot more colour and brightness options available to you than Oculus Link.
Note: Further to the point above. I hope the next release of the Quest supports a native video format, such as HDMI or Display Port for the image. Despite the improvements to Oculus Link having a native resolution being displayed across a proper video format would make the Quest series of headsets so much better.
Rift S: What works:
- The image and colour quality is excellent, despite the lower resolution. This is hard to put into words but even if there is a screen door effect the VR image is crisp and there is no muddiness on the screen. Here is the other interesting thing I’ve noted about the image quality: because it is running natively at a lower resolution bumping up the super sampling has pretty good benefits and is not as taxing on your PC as opposed to the Quest 2. This requires further testing but I think the CPU / GPU overheads are less because it is running native via Display Port and doesn’t require encoding / streaming / decoding on top of rendering.
- Once you throw the headset on – you are straight into the Rift VR menu. Small advantage I know, but just a bit less fiddly than Oculus Link. If you are using Virtual Desktop you can select the Game from the in application menu very quickly, which negates this point.
- It is lighter at the front of the headset. I wouldn’t say it is much lighter but it definitely feels better weighted. The headset design is closer to the PSVR in terms of comfort, but I’ve heard fellow gamers not like the Rift S for comfort at all.
- No charging of the headset required. Because it is tethered to the PC you can play any time without waiting. To be fair having a battery via the Quest 2 isn’t a big deal breaker because you can get additional batteries to make your playtime last longer.
- This is also my humble opinion but games that have optional VR support run better on the Rift S when running at a native (ie – non ASW implemented) frame rate. I spend quite a lot of time in VR racing games that can be played on the TV, and find these experiences that aren’t purely designed for VR just look a bit better than they do on Oculus Link. With a lot of tweaking you can get games like Microsoft Flight Simulator to look amazing via the Quest 2, but if you want trouble free VR experiences for sim like games the Rift S may be a better choice.
- The Rift S is better suited to more modest VR ready PCs. There is slightly more CPU and GPU overhead using Oculus Link and Virtual Desktop than a Rift S.
- The Rift S has 5 cameras (an extra one on top of the headset) versus the 4 in the Quest 2. I have found if you are using a full VR experience it picks up actions from high above your head better.
Rift S: What isn’t so great:
- Tethered only a requires a PC.
- The native lens resolution is quite a bit lower than the Quest 2 so the screen door effect is more noticeable.
- The touch controllers are the previous gen ones (smaller and shorter battery life).
- The headset strap is not interchangeable and there are no real 3rd party options as a result. If you don’t find it comfortable you’re out of luck.
- The IPD (distance between eyes) is not hardware adjustable. It can only be adjusted via software. I was pretty fortunate with this one and also did my research. My IPD is about 64, which is what the Rift S is set to via hardware. I’ve adjusted it via software and haven’t noticed much difference. The Quest 2 hardware increments are much better (58, 63 and 68).
- The native Oculus software doesn’t have as many options for tweaking. To be fair it doesn’t need many and they can be done via the Oculus Debug Tool or the OTT. I still would have like to have seen more super sampling options available at the Oculus native app level instead of the old system of “Performance” vs “Quality” (which isn’t that big a difference in terms of resolution upscaling).
- Runs at 80hz only.
- You may run into a strange USB issue. In my testing I’ve noted that despite a lot of troubleshooting whenever I turn the PC off, and then power on the Rift S USB doesn’t power on. You have to unplug the USB cable and re-plug for the headset to detect. The main solution (which I’ve yet to test) is buying a powered USB 3.0 hub and attaching the usb cable of the Rift S to that. Looking at the forums and various websites this is a pretty common problem too.
Which should I get if I am new to VR?
One of the reasons I went with both the Quest 2 and the Rift S is the decent price point. Premium VR headsets can cost up to six times as much, depending on your local market. In terms of which one you should buy does comes down to what you’ll be predominately playing.
I like the Rift S because I play a lot of games that have optional VR support, and I play them using a normal controller (non touch). For sitting down, picking up and playing, the Rift S is a good headset. Despite the slightly worse screen door effect the image quality is decent. However, I still get the desire to play standalone experiences using full motion tracking controllers too. In this case there is a lot to be said in being able to play untethered. Not feeling a cable on your back (I don’t have a pulley system on the roof for any of my cables) just gives you complete freedom of movement to turn around quickly and not get caught up.
It you want to play proper VR experiences, designed specifically for full movement in mind then the Quest 2 is the way to go. If you’d like to have the freedom to dabble in both PC and Quest 2 native experiences, the image quality is still fine considering you are going through Oculus Link or Virtual Desktop. Yes, there is a bit more involved to get started for PC experiences but you have choice. Virtual Desktop is great for all of these full VR experiences and the image quality is amazing due to the app and the fact the game is designed for VR.
If you are all about PC sim games, have a modest VR PC (1080 GTX or lower) and use another form of controller mainly to play then the Rift S is a good choice. I’ll be frank in saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if the new Quest (presumably Quest 3) doesn’t start supporting native video signals better, so if you are not in a hurry I would wait or buy a Rift S when on sale.
Note – Even Oculus and Facebook have all but said that the Quest series of headsets is the future, and the Rift is being superseded. This brings me to an important point – resale value. You are more likely to get a better price on your Quest 2 when it comes to selling it than the Rift S. Oculus and Facebook are invested in the Quest 2 and will continue to improve the experience.
In summary the Quest 2 is by far the best overall headset, particularly if you have a high end PC. The Rift S is starting to show its age but is well suited to a modest to medium PC VR rig, as long as you don’t mind being tethered via a 5 metre cable. With every new generation of headset we’ll continue to be blown away with just how immersive this medium is.
If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments.
Happy VR gaming!