Oculus Takes One Giant Half-Step With the 'Rift S' Headset

The Oculus Rift S will cost $399 when it arrives later this spring.

Two years and 357 days ago, the current age of virtual reality began in earnest. That was the day—March 28, 2016—that the Oculus Rift headset became available. And sure, yes, people had been waiting for it since 2012, and everything from the Google Cardboard to the Samsung Gear VR had already come out, but the Rift was the first headset to deliver on a now-mandatory threshold for VR.

While it was a necessity, it was also a stopgap. It was expensive ($599 at the time), required a high-powered PC to run it (another $1,000 or more), lacked hand controllers (the Oculus Touch would come out later that year), and delivered immersion at the price of external sensors that needed to be set up just so around the room. So two years and 357 days ago, people started asking when the Rift's next iteration would arrive to solve these problems.

The answer is now. Kinda.

This morning, Oculus officially announced the Rift S, a headset arriving this spring that represents a sizable half-step past the original Rift. It's not a full-fledged sequel, as the now-conventional "S" can attest, nor is it a surprise —but it adds some marked improvements that make it a device much more attuned to the (virtual) realities of 2019.

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The tracking and setup, however, has changed markedly. The Rift S employs the same inside-out tracking system, Insight, as the Quest; gone are the USB-hogging external sensors. (It's true: only a single USB 3.0 port is required.) Five embedded sensors on the headset use a combination of SLAM—simultaneous localization and mapping—and natural feature recognition to monitor its position in space, enabling room-scale play.

According to Oculus VP of product Nate Mitchell, the headset also uses an improved passthrough video system, which will allow people to map out their playspace without even taking the headset off. The Rift S uses the same Oculus Touch controllers that will ship with the Quest, a slightly redesigned version from the original that moves the tracking ring below your hand to minimize occlusion.


The WIRED Guide to Virtual Reality

Display and optics receive significant upgrades in the Rift S. The headset uses a single fast-switch LCD panel that delivers 1280 x 1440 per eye—still short of the HTC Vive Pro's 2880 x 1620 total, and well short of the newly announced HP Reverb, but better than its predecessor, and with what Mitchell called at a preview event "increased vertical clarity." (Mitchell also cited an "improved Fresnel lens stack" that reduces screen-door effect and gives better text legibility.) Interpupillary distance adjustment, done with a wheel on the last Rift, is digital-only this time around.

The other notable change to the Rift S is apparent the first time you see it—and even more apparent the first time you put it on. The industrial design is completely different, the result of a partnership with Lenovo. Gone are the velcro side-straps, replaced by a halo-style headband that tightens via a rear rotary dial. (There's still a lightweight strap on the top.) The eyebox's distance from your face is also adjustable, much like the PlayStation VR. The result, while slightly heavier than the original Rift, is far better balanced—and surprisingly soft, almost cushy, against your forehead. I'd never minded wearing the Rift, but when playing through a new demo of Stormland, the S felt like an improvement in every possible way.

"Spring 2019" means just about anytime between now and June 30, of course, and Oculus isn't saying much by way of specifics. Those might come at the F8 developer conference in April, or some time thereafter, but between the Vive Cosmos, the HP Reverb, and the Rift S, VR fans won't be wanting for options.

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