The Internet has taken to brutalizing the Rift S, but is the criticism well-deserved?

If you’ve been paying attention to news surrounding Oculus lately, you might think that their bullishness towards mobile VR has taken precedence over the rest of their ecosystem—and, namely, their core userbase of Rift owners. That said, it also wouldn’t be unfair to feel concerned that Oculus possibly intends to dump the PC platform entirely at a later date with total focus going towards the Quest (or equivalent).

At the forefront of this thought bubble lies the subdued announcement of the Oculus Rift S last week; a device which, on paper, only offers few improvements. Marked by a reduced refresh rate (80hz vs. the original 90hz of the Rift), forced inside-out controller tracking and a Lenovo logo smacked onto the side of the headset, Oculus has left many of its core fans scratching their heads and asking “Why?”.

While there is no definitive answer to what Oculus is planning to do after this product cycle—and there are definitely more than a few speculators who’d like to tackle that ballpark directly—donning an Oculus Rift S is not nearly as terrible, in practice, as some Internet forum-goers might want to suggest.

How do I know that it’s a slicker, more comfortable experience than the original? Easy: I spent 38 minutes of my life inside of the thing. But before I get into that, let’s go over all of the major technical specs.

Specs

  • 1280 x 1440 per-eye resolution (same as the Oculus Go; higher than the 1080 x 1200 per-eye resolution of the original Oculus Rift)
  • 80hz refresh rate
  • Touch controllers (similar to what will be bundled with the Oculus Quest)
  • Five room-tracking sensor cameras (four in front, one on top)
  • Digital IPD for lens adjustment
  • Connects to PC via DisplayPort and USB 3.0
  • Halo-ring headset frame with adjustment knob on the back (delivered via the Oculus/Lenovo partnership)
  • No built-in headphones; audio straps returning from the Oculus Go, with AUX headphone jack seated on the side of the headset
  • $399.99 MSRP at launch

General Impressions

First of all, there’s a common misconception about the halo-ring design being inherently uncomfortable or unbalanced. I have to say that the original Rift can often feel uncomfortable and/or unbalanced at times, and I didn’t experience any discomfort with the Rift S on my head. It’s actually the fact that I could slip the headset on and not have to consciously think about my comfort level that marked this as a pretty significant improvement over the original design.

The improved resolution shined through in Asgard’s Wrath and Dead & Buried 2 (explained more in-depth further down the page), and I didn’t even notice the lower refresh rate at all. Everything felt noticeably smoother than usual, and I suspect that the locked 80hz refresh rate will provide more stability and enhanced visuals for the vast majority of PC owners out there.

As far as the inside-out tracking goes, I came in with the concern that the loss of room scale via external sensors would make behind-the-back tracking nearly impossible to reproduce. I was quite pleased to discover that the Oculus Rift S handles behind-the-back actions just fine, though I’m not entirely sure what tricks it needs to pull to keep the Touch controllers tracking seamlessly. I’d wager that the top sensor has something to do with it, however.

Is the Oculus Rift S worth dropping $399.99 into? As an original Rift owner, that money is better suited to my future Oculus Quest purchase. However, a first-time Rift S owner will enjoy the new features and completely bypass much of what made VR unpleasant for many—and utterly unusable to an unfortunate few.

Playing Dead & Buried 2 with the Rift S

Image credited to Oculus Studios

Much like the original Dead & Buried, entry number two is a multiplayer shoot-em-up set in the Old West. Bolstering a load of guns to play with and a sort of hands-off approach to realism, Dead & Buried 2 is dramatically faster-paced—daresay, to the point of being comparable to Quake or Unreal Tournament.

Over an eight-minute demo, I played an entire deathmatch round with four other players who, as I was told, were all playing against me via Oculus Quest systems. For the first time in a Dead & Buried game, we were able to use analog sticks to run around the map, as opposed to being sequestered in one spot at a time.

Our demo match was set inside of a barn that looked similar to ‘Granary’ from Team Fortress 2. It was intimate, yet spacious enough to give all five of us some breathing room between kills. The lighting within the map popped out very nicely on the Rift S display, a pleasant surprise coming from a classic Rift owner.

While running around the map, I came across shotguns and grenade launchers to pick up. Weapons operate much like the original game, with a flick-to-reload function built into every weapon.

Owners of both the Rift S and the Quest will only need to purchase Dead & Buried 2 once to enjoy it on both systems.

Playing Asgard’s Wrath with the Rift S

Image credited to Sanzaru

Slated by developer Sanzaru to be a deep game with over 30-40 hours of content, Asgard’s Wrath does a perfectly competent job of bringing natural-feeling swords and sorcery to the Oculus platform.

While my demo only included a combat arena and one hero with one ability, I enjoyed myself a lot. Oculus gave me a full 30 minutes to become comfortable with the special weapon of the particular hero character I tried out during the demo; a throwing axe that came back whenever I gestured my arm outward. While I was glad to have such an overpowered toy, I was disappointed to find that my special weapon did the vast majority of damage I was dealing to opponents, with other weapons not doing nearly as much damage as my throwing axe.

As far as the itemization goes, I had both weapons and shields break apart on me countless times in battle, but I could often then find another one laying around to pick up. I was also able to sheath weapons behind my back, and then reach back and grab them to use again, similar to the system in Blade & Sorcery. Note that the Rift S did behind-the-back actions perfectly, even without accurate (let alone any) behind-the-back tracking, leading me to believe that some sort of mathematical approximation allows meaningful gameplay interactions to continue happening when the controllers aren’t directly in a camera’s line of sight.

I also recorded my workout results during my Asgard’s Wrath demo; 179 calories burnt in 26 minutes of cardio tracking.


The Oculus Rift S does not yet have a release date, but it seems likely that we’ll see a springtime release coming within the next three months. As with the launch of the Oculus Go, it’d be a safe bet that Facebook is keeping mum about final launch details regarding the Rift S and Quest until the Facebook F8 event takes place on April 30th and May 1st.

Still have any concerns about the Oculus Rift S? Let us know in the comments!


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