The Oculus Rift is fast approaching three years old in the face of a growing number of newer headsets offering “improved” VR experiences. How well does it stack up though against newcomer from Samsung, the Odyssey+? After hundreds of hours inside the Oculus experience (including the Oculus GO) I have a firm grasp of the pros and cons. So, stepping into Samsung’s Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) offering it’s plain to see what differences present themselves. Some more obvious than others. I will break down the comparison into sections but to be clear, I am running an RTX 2080 Ti which allows for some expensive GPU grinding Super-sampling skewing the results somewhat. In my comparisons both headsets use super-sampling. Vanilla usage might result in some differences which I’ve not touched upon here. So bear this in mind.
When the Rift released as a new product on the market in March 2016, the price of entry was relatively high, especially with the additional cost of the Touch controllers months later. However, as of today the cost is around $399 for a Rift+Touch controller combo. The Odyssey+ on the other hand recently danced with a tempting Black Friday deal for $299 against its regular price of $399. Sadly, Samsung don’t sell in Europe so anyone from this region looking to dive-in needs to import. In the UK at least, the cost then skyrockets once import duties, tax and shipping costs rear their ugly heads. Even with the black Friday deal, all-in with shipping and added VAT the Odyssey+ costs more than the Rift (my grand total came to £462.66). But ignoring the Black Friday deal, importing the Odyssey+ is an expensive venture for Europeans.
Obviously, the Rift entered the fray as a fairly new VR experience for me coming from the DK2 and original Gear VR. Setup wasn’t too hard to figure out. Oculus streamlined the experience (compared to the HTC Vive) and once plugged in sensors work and installation of software complete it’s fairly plain-sailing as long as your hardware is up to par. Bearing in mind at the time of release Touch controllers weren’t a thing. Fast-forward to anyone buying a Rift today and the presentation of the process via on-screen prompts works well and is easy to understand. The Odyssey+ however is remarkable in that if you have the right version of Windows 10 then it’s practically just a plug-and-play device. In this regard it completely obliterates the competition. No fiddling with wires aside from the singular HDMI and combined USB 3.0.
Oculus Rift’s Home environment started as a standard menu system and now with Home 2.0 a fully functional VR space to share with others and decorate to your heart’s content. The WMR cabin and sky-lounge offer a seamless mirroring of the Windows 10 experience. Pop-ups of desktop, email, calendar, films & TV, photos, Internet Explorer are all here at the touch of a button as an extension of your 2D desktop. Now, if like me you don’t use any of them, then it’s just junk which you disable with one touch. Apps and games from Steam VR pin into your environment which is neat. Plus, like the Rift Home, 3D models placed within offer some colourful contrast. It’s a pleasant environment overall, but lacking in options siding on functional rather than a fun VR place to mess around with.
I had problems with the Rift initially and whilst easy to put on and remove (like a baseball cap), the default foam wasn’t great for my head shape. A little itchy and irritating after prolonged use. However, thanks to VR covers a softer option makes it an easy fit. Adding a leathery padded foam results in no issues with the Rift where I can wear it comfortably for hours. The Odyssey+ suffers by default but is really uncomfortable in comparison to the default Rift. The foam is hard and presses into the forehead leaving a red indentation after 10 minutes. It’s just not comfortable for my head shape regardless of fiddling with the band for optimal comfort. However, once again a softer VR Cover provides a better experience. The extra padding makes all the difference for longer play sessions. I have to say though, the default foam resulted in an unusable headset. Thank God then for VR Covers.
I am not going to go into detail about the built in headphones other than they work well enough, fit nicely and sound good. Some decent bass but not mind shattering due to how they don’t necessarily press against your ears tightly. This aspect is subjective depending on head shape though.
Samsung’s camera based tracking solution is impressive and works well but isn’t perfect. It has an advantage in that one can move around without being tied to external sensors. For me it’s easy to move from my desk, to play-space (which is rather cosy) to lying down for viewing movie content. But…the accuracy and reliability of the Rift sensor setup is unparalleled made apparent when the Odyssey+ controllers drift away or momentarily lose tracking. That said, the clunky design of the Odyssey+ wands are nowhere near as comfortable as the Touch controllers despite boasting thumb-sticks and track-pads.
Without going into technical details ad. nausea, I will outline the main differences between the two headsets in terms of visuals. From the offset, the Odyssey+ boasts a slight increase in field of view but it’s not massive. The overall view looks more oval shaped with a slightly higher top and bottom. However, what is immediately obvious and the saving grace or whole point of the Odyssey+ is a lack of screen door effect (SDE). Samsung touted this aspect as the selling point and completely succeeded. Looking at static character models in games like Skyrim or Fallout 4 for example even videos it’s apparent right away. Surfaces, textures look smooth. No distractions at all. A blank surface in Minecraft remains solid for example and serves as a good game to showcase how well visuals look without SDE interference due to its simple colours. What is noticeable though is a slight mura effect which is an artefact of Oled displays. It’s very fine and obvious if looking for it or under specific conditions. Compared to the Rift the lack of SDE is night and day, swapping between the two across applications and in the Rift the SDE becomes totally distracting in comparison.
Visuals God-Rays/Black levels and Colour:
The Odyssey+ eliminates (not entirely) the god rays of the Rift where again the differences between the two are stark. The Odyssey+ somewhat shifts the rays to one side rather than have them shine at you when looking directly at light on dark backgrounds. It’s an unusual effect and noticeable all the same but a sizeable improvement over the Rift.
Colours look on an even par with wonderful black levels and an overall vibrancy that draws you in. However, the sweet spot is seemingly smaller on the Odyssey+ making the user exercise increased head turning in VR applications and games to keep focus.
Now here is the stinker. Samsung delivered a device with a reduced SDE so hats off to them for that. Their SDE-Free Structure technology works. But a massive trade-off presents itself which is highly noticeable when swapping between the two devices. The Odyssey+ sports such a smooth presentation that sharpness and clarity suffer. Compared to the Rift It’s a night and day difference however, I can appreciate it’s also subjective in what people want to view in VR. For some, softer visuals are fine or preferred even, yet others might enjoy a crisp look. Without any direct comparison close-by then the Odyssey+ is perfectly acceptable, the norm so to speak. But once compared with the Rift the differences show. As far as I am concerned the end result presents a massive set of compromises. Neither headset provides an ultimate viewing experience. If the two combined their positives, sharpness of Rift, with the lessened god rays and almost zero SDE of the Odyssey+ then sure we have a VR winner.
Having missed out on the Odyssey and opting for a Pimax 8K instead, it was a no-brainer to dive in to the seemingly better Odyssey+ when it was announced. The Black Friday deal sealed it for me. After using it for some time, I like the headset, but it does not provide a definitive all encompassing VR experience. Watching movies or even VR porn for example the softer image and lack of SDE/god-rays is where it works best. Minecraft is a good example of a game which benefits more from lesser SDE. No more distractions despite some feint mura. The Odyssey+ lack of SDE is way better than the Vive, Rift and Oculus GO for example. Playing games like Skyrim, Fallout 4 etc on the other hand, and sadly the Rift has it beat but only if SDE isn’t the bane of your existence. For those less sensitive to it or playing faster-paced games like Beat Sabre then its reduction is less obvious. The lack of sharpness is a massive trade-off for me where no amount of super-sampling can overcome it unfortunately.
The Odyssey+ is a good headset, especially once comfort is adjusted to suit. If it was the only VR headset available then its soft image is perfectly acceptable, pleasant even. But with eyes opened to alternatives with sharper visuals its effect is diminished where it only presents an advantage under specific use cases – or if the viewer has a preference for no SDE.