Like a lot of people, I was excited when Half-Life: Alyx was released and so far I have not been disappointed. My initial playing was more experimentation with three HMD’s (head-mounted display) and their different controllers, The Vive, Rift, and Odyssey.
First up let’s get the specifics out of the way like the machine driving the VR experience. An i7 Intel HP Omen with 32 Gigs RAM and Nvidia RTX with 64 Gigs RAM. Oculus Rift and Samsung Odyssey were tethered while the Vive has a wireless adapter. No changes were made to game setting between HMDs.
To make up for the legacy resolution on the Vive I upped the Supersampling in SteamVR to a bit over 300 percent. The Oculus Rift seemed to always be a little clearer for my usage and the Odyssey Plus has higher resolution as its design is newer than the other two HMDs.
Vive with Wireless Adapter and Wands
This was the first HMD I used at home and one I am still most familiar and comfortable with. The reason is simple and that is the funky little wireless wing that rests on top of the headband eliminating the tether. When I first got the wireless unit, I questioned whether it was worth it for a legacy system and for me it has been. Being wireless just makes a better experience.
I am also more experienced with the Vive wand controllers and have always liked them for shooters as the grips feel almost like a pistol. I dove right into the game and played up to point where you upgraded your weapon the first time. The experience was very immersive as the wands just seemed to behave intuitively for most functions.
The gameplay was smooth with no technical glitches and I progressed through the initial VR run with no problems. In fact... the simpler controllers and wireless adapter made it a flawless VR experience.
The HTC Vive with Wands, Samsung Odyssey Plus with WMR controllers and Oculus Rift with Touch Controllers
Oculus Rift with Touch Controllers
While there was no noticeable difference in graphics or gameplay and text was easy to read my two-sensor system made it difficult for the controllers to maintain contact. The occlusion when I turned away from the sensors was so bad you couldn’t push a button and sometimes while facing it, I had to hit the button with a fist to get it to activate.
Finally, I switched to a sitting position and had a great time. I was getting tired anyway. The only drawback was doing things from a lower height and occasionally standing up to reach something. This solved the controller occlusion as the chair kept me from turning away. I used controller motion to rotate in the game. Having more than 2 sensors should alleviate this problem.
Using the joysticks to switch from an open hand to weapon or multi-tool seemed more difficult than the Vive wands.
The lightweight of this HMD is a real pleasure. It sits most comfortably of the HMDs tested.
Samsung Odyssey Plus
This HMD has the best bang for the buck. In terms of cost, this Windows Mixed Reality HMD was a little less than half the initial cost of the Vive or Rift. Some are $399 US when I tested one and came with controllers. Apparently, you need to aware that some great deals are for the HMD only and not the controllers.
Being much newer technology, the resolution was higher than the Rift or the Vive and it was a bit sharper. However... jack up the supersampling in StreamVR and you won’t notice that much difference.
Being inside out tracking the controllers would occasionally occlude and lose contact but nothing like the Rift experienced.
Windows Mixed Reality is NOT augmented reality, it is Windows version of VR. This HMD is a nice entry into VR.
In summary... if you have a legacy HMD like the Vive or Rift then the game is worth the price of admission as the experience is still upper-level VR. If you want to jump on the VR train with a more budget-friendly HMD then look to the various Windows Mixed Reality headsets like the Odyssey Plus. There are some good deals to be had and keep in mind Lenovo, HP and other manufacturers that build to the Windows Mixed Reality specs. And make sure you're getting the whole VR kit with controllers since Windows Mixed Reality HMD’s tend to sell without them. Refurbished is another option if you can find them. Don't forget eBay either.
You can’t grab Gordon Freeman's crowbar and get after it but if you snag an HMD and the game chances are you’d be so busy you’ll never miss it.
Oculus Rift – the old girl is lightweight with no fatigue.
Samsung Odyssey Plus.
Lays lower on the front of the head than other HMDs, not a negative just different.
HTC Vive – with the wireless adapter this legacy HMD gets a bit heavy and the more you play the heavier it seems to get. The weight is not a show-stopper though. More of a nuisance towards the end of a session. This weight is compounded by the upgraded Audio Strap and the Wireless Adapter which is heavier than the HMD. The Vive sits more on the top of the head.
HTC Vive – for me the easiest to use and most intuitive but it’s also the controller set I’ve used for years. The lack of a joystick or buttons didn’t hamper my play.
Oculus Rift comes in second as the touch controllers feel good and have buttons. If you only have two sensors then controller occlusion is a big problem when turning away from the sensors
Samsung Odyssey comes in a close third because Windows Mixed Reality controllers were the least intuitive to use.
HTC Vive – the Wireless Adapter renders the tether obsolete. No wires mean no cable management, no tripping, and a more immersive experience. While the extra weight can become a bit tedious in a long session the freedom of movement is worth it. The near flawless tracking of the base stations cannot be overstated.
Samsung Odyssey Plus gets second place by virtue of higher resolution.
The Oculus Rift is last due to controller occlusion with only 2 sensors facing forward but the old girl holds her own and if you have more sensors then your experience will be much better.
NOTE: The HTC Vive used in this article is substantially upgraded from the stock unit with the Audio Strap and Wireless Adapter which cost more than the Odyssey Plus HMD and Controllers combined. If you don't want base stations then look at the Windows Mixed Reality HMDs with inside out tracking and no base stations.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.