First of all, apologies for the long break in posting, I’ve been going through some tough times at home and the website had to take a break. I’m in the process of splitting with my wife now and there is suddenly more time available!
As some of you may have seen I have been using VR with flight sims since the release of the Oculus Rift CV1 back in 2016. I first tried the Rift DK2 at the Flight Sim show at RAF Cosford in 2015 and I was amazed at the ability of the headset to transport you into a cockpit and give such a great ability to deliver depth perception and immersion to the experience. Previously I could not enter a flight sim without Track IR. Since then I’ve given my Track IR away and I can’t bring myself to fly using a monitor.
As a result, I was very excited to hear of the new generation of headsets coming out this year. I have watched with great interest all of the reviews and opinion pieces coming out on YouTube and other websites; trying to gather as much information as I could to work out whether an upgrade would be worthwhile for me, and which headset to go for.
There were a few to weigh up:
- Oculus Rift S
- HP Reverb
- Valve Index
- Pimax 5/8K
When it came down to the cost though I was forced to rule out the Valve Index. While it looks like it will be an exceptional headset, and the new controllers look particularly impressive, I just could not justify the high cost. The reviews on the Pimax were mixed but seemed positive overall, I just wasn’t convinced by the recommendations given some of the doubts that were raised as well.
This left me with the HP Reverb and the Oculus Rift S as a choice. I had a relatively specific set of guidelines to work to:
- Higher Resolution
- Improved comfort
- Ability to use separate headphones or sound output
- Excellent tracking ability
- Ability to play the existing VR games that I own
- No need to upgrade hardware to be able to meet the demands of the headset. (I only just built a new PC in January 2019)
I also wanted to be able to use the sound from the headset purely for comms purposes; TS3 and SRS. I have my Logitech 5.1 speakers set up for playing the sound from sims and they deliver a far better experience than the headsets are able to. Part of the reason for this is to be able to hear the baby monitor which was always next to me while flying as I only got to go on when everyone else was asleep.
As a result of this specification, I spent a lot of time finding out whatever I could about the Rift S and Reverb. The Reverb has the highest resolution of any of the new VR headsets, this is the main selling point of the set, as is still uses the Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem. The Rift S has an improved resolution, compared to the Rift CV1, and a change to the screen type, away from OLED to LCD, there was also a rearrangement of the pixels which has helped to improve the screen door effect issues that were a problem for all of the first generation headsets. It was also designed to not require the absolute latest top-end GPU and would operate very well on a GTX 1080Ti. The Reverb can run with a 1080, but that is the minimum spec, the Ti will make a difference but the recommendation is a 2080Ti; I don’t have $600 to spend on a headset and then a further $1,200 on a GPU.
As you can gather from the title I ended up going for the Rift S. I saw the glowing review from Matt Wagner and how much clarity was added as a result of the resolution bump and the reduced screen door effect as a result of the resolution and the change in the pixel layout. There were questions raised about the switch away from OLED and the reduction in the refresh rate from 90Hz to 80Hz, as well as this it was criticised for the lack of an analogue IPD adjustment. However, the Rift S is cheaper than the Reverb, it is compatible with my existing game library, the inside out tracking was noted to be superb, and the reviews from people like Matt Wagner convinced me that it was well worth checking out.
The setup process for the Rift S was a lot quicker, and more straight forward than with the original CV1. As the tracking is all contained within the headset itself there is no need to arrange tracking sensors or get their position very precise; which became an issue when using two sensors. The new touch controllers will be very familiar to anyone using the original iteration. The main difference is that the tracking ring now goes over the top of the controller rather than underneath. I did wonder whether the original design was meant to help protect your hands when you, inevitably, hit something while playing Robo-Recall or another VR game! Due to the change in the tracking systems, the ring now houses the IR tracking over your hand to help prevent occlusion. Otherwise, the layout of the buttons is the same. However, I’ve had no cause to use them in simulators. While they are modelled in DCS using had based controllers like these do not feel like the future to me; I’m going to hold out for some proper VR compatible gloves that provide haptic feedback. Pointing a laser pointer at controls and clicking completely detracts from the immersive experience. It’s also really awkward to use them and then switch back to a HOTAS system.
One other change which got mixed reviews when it was first announced is the drop in the screen refresh rate. The Rift CV1 has a refresh rate of 90Hz and Oculus stated that this was the lowest acceptable refresh rate when it was launched. The Rift-S has dropped to 80Hz. So the minimum standard is no longer the minimum! This is reflected further in the Oculus Quest, the Mobile powered VR headset, which goes down further to 72Hz. I have to say that for the most part, in DCS, I don’t notice it. However, when I am down at low level and high speed and I look around I can see the image ghosting as a result. This is a minor issue but it does detract from what is an otherwise excellent improvement in the DCS experience. I will say that in other games, such as Vader Immortal, this has not been an issue. I have not been able to tell a difference.
The Rift S departs from the CV1 design and goes for a ‘halo’ style headband. Overall I think I prefer the CV1 support system, however, I don’t mind the Rift S design. The Rift S supports its own weight well but I have found it a little more fiddly to get lined up properly. This is not something I ever encountered with the CV1. The speakers are now located within the headband and direct the sound towards your ears. The bass is poor to non-existent and it’s not very good in games. However, as I pointed out before this is fine for me as I only use it for TeamSpeak and Simple Radio, where it is absolutely fine. One thing the Rift S has that the CV1 does not is a headphone port, so you can add your own headphones with a 3.5mm jack. I have not yet done this as I no longer have any…since Apple shifted to the lightning adapter on the iPhone and I have some AirPods!
This is where the Rift S shines, it is so much crisper and clearer than the CV1. The Screen Door Effect is substantially reduced with far better anti-aliasing meaning that aircraft in close formation look a whole lot better. The terrain looks far better and the colours are improved too. I know the blacks aren’t meant to be as black, but I’ve not noticed anything that different. Given that night flights in DCS still involve lights I don’t see this being an issue for me. It certainly hasn’t detracted from my experience and I just can’t say I have really noticed.
The Rift CV1 had the nose gap. This was useful when you needed to see something, hit a key binding or just to find something. This is now gone. There is no light leakage into the Rift S. This is good…and bad. I could no longer find things when I am in DCS and knowing whether I am lined up with what I am looking for – such as my MFDs – is a pain. However, I have found it’s not too hard to adjust and I’ve managed fine. I don’t know whether the pass-through facility will come to DCS, but in other games and in the Oculus Home app it works really well. In all honesty, I am not sure that I would want to use the pass-through feature in DCS though.
I’ve not noticed any deterioration in performance since switching to the Rift S. I’m very similar settings to how I had DCS 2.5 on the CV1 and I’ve seen a big improvement in the graphics, visibility and spotting. I think, if anything, there has been a slight improvement in performance. I know I am running a well-specced machine:
- GPU = GTX1080Ti
- CPU = Intel i7 9700K
- RAM = 32GB DDR4
- SSD = Western Digital Black NAND
- Intel Optane
It’s certainly no slouch when it comes to performance and there were no issues running either DCS or IL2 BoX with the CV1.
When I first opened DCS I flew some quick missions and I could see an instant improvement. The resolution increase makes all screens and dials readable and far more usable. The ‘jaggies’ are ironed out and the shadows are improved. However, I have found one issue with the Rift S lack of analogue IPD adjustment. I have a slight astigmatism in my left eye, this can make using some 3D displays awkward. I have found that I had no issue with the Rift CV1, but I have noticed a difference with the Rift S. I have found that I’ve not found the ‘sweet spot’ in the Rift S digital adjustment to cater for my left eye. I’ll keep tweaking and playing with the settings, but I have definitely found an improvement through the adjustment of the digital IPD, but it’s still not ideal. What I am seeing is blurring around the left side of the view in my left eye. I did not get this in the CV1 at all. While this is an issue it’s not a deal-breaker and it is perfectly workable for me.
I have to say that IL-2 BoX has impressed me more and more in VR as it has developed. I saw a big improvement with the Rift-S, I am better able to tell whether the aircraft is flying towards or away from me, which could be an issue in the CV1. The picture is sharp, the dials are all readable; though they were in the CV1 they are now a lot clearer and sharper. Spotting aircraft and ground targets is improved and I find it to be a very enjoyable and immersive experience.
I have to say that I am very impressed with the Rift-S, I can see that some compromises have been made to ensure that it can continue to work with lower specced machines and to keep the price point lower, but I can live with these compromises. I would be happy to recommend the Rift S. I’ve had it since release day and I have used it for quite some time now. I find the halo design comfortable and supportive, though I have got quite a large head it does still fit. I am disappointed by the lack of a manual IPD adjustment. I would hope that any future headsets would bring this back; most of the others still have it. I’d love to be able to try some of the higher-end headsets to get a comparison for myself but I’m yet to find somewhere that I can do this in North Yorkshire! I’d be very interested to compare with the Valve Index and the new HTC Cosmos.