With Rift S right around the corner, a bunch of people are about to find that the headset’s on-board audio is lacking in quality and that the face gasket will make it difficult for some to get the lenses into the ideal position for maximum clarity and field of view. Luckily there’s a path forward—the Rift S design is relatively modular, allowing both the headstrap and the face gasket to be removed, meaning that Oculus could (and should) offer accessories to improve the experience.

Rift S isn’t a bad headset by any means, but compared to the original Rift its upgrades come with a handful of downgrades. For early adopters who bought into Oculus’ ecosystem (and want to stay in it), this presents a conundrum—are the upsides of Rift S worth the downsides over the original Rift? Right now it’s not really a clear cut answer, and different people will likely come to different conclusions.

SEE ALSO
Oculus Rift S Review – A Good Choice for VR Newcomers, a Difficult Choice for VR Vets

But, Oculus could (and I think should) tilt the scales toward the Rift S by addressing two three with optional accessories: audio and ergonomics. Luckily, the Rift S’ somewhat modular design should make this easy. And there’s already precedent in the VR market for this sort of thing; in 2017 HTC release the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap which upgraded the headset’s soft strap to a rigid strap with headphones. Though it cost $100, many consider it an essential accessory—on Amazon, the Deluxe Audio Strap is better rated than the Vive headset itself!

Rift S Audio

Audio on Rift S comes from these small holes on the headstrap | Photo by Road to VR

The Rift S includes integrated audio, but instead of the on-ear headphones of the original Rift, it uses small speakers built into the headstrap. The idea is that the headphones won’t get in the way when putting on the headset or need adjustment, and ostensibly it’s a more simple design with fewer parts. The problem is that the audio quality on Rift S is not just worse than the original Rift, it’s pretty weak overall.

When using the Rift S I always have it set to 100% volume, and even then I’ve sometimes wished it would go louder. It’s not just volume; the small speakers just don’t have a very good frequency range, and quite lacking in bass. Oculus’ other headset, Quest, uses a similar hidden audio solution, but even it seems to have better range and more bass.

There’s also the matter of positional audio accuracy. On the Rift S, the sound is output from somewhere above your ear, which naturally biases all positional information in that direction (because that’s the direction of greatest amplitude). It’s not that you can’t get a sense of positional audio, it just isn’t as clear as the Rift’s on-ear headphones which direct sound more evenly into your ear.

Yes, Rift S has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side which anyone could plug their own headphones into, but the VR market has clearly shown over the last three years that very few people want to put up with the annoyance of putting another thing on their head after the headset, let alone another cable dangling around their arms. Even if you were willing to, finding headphones that would comfortably fit around the Rift S headstrap won’t be easy.

So, how could Oculus fix this? There’s two options. The company could release on-ear headphones which snap onto the headband, similar to the Mantis headphones for PSVR [Amazon]. These would plug into the 3.5mm jack on the side with a short cable that doesn’t get in the way.

A more elegant solution would be to offer a Deluxe Audio Strap, which would be a complete replacement for the headstrap with on-ear headphones built right in, just like HTC did with the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap.

The Rift S headstrap is easy to remove and re-attach without tools | Photo by Road to VR

Compared to the original Rift, which had a permanently affixed headstrap, this would be trivial for the Rift S because its headstrap is completely removable from the visor by flipping a little switch and the pulling the headstrap off.

Rift S Fit and Visuals

Photo by Road to VR

One simple issue with the Rift S limits the visual experience for me more than it should: the face gasket. That’s the piece of the headset that rests between the visor and your face. While I never felt like I needed to get my eyes closer to the original Rift’s lenses, it’s clear when wearing the Rift S that I can get a notably larger field of view and a larger sweet spot by moving my eyes closer to the lenses.

And while the Rift S has a lens-to-eye distance adjustment, it moves the entire visor (not just the lenses), and the rigid face gasket means I have to uncomfortably press it against my face to achieve optimal visual quality. PSVR on the other hand has a very similar lens-to-eye adjustment that moves the whole visor, but the face gasket is soft and flexible, so it doesn’t prevent you from putting the lenses in their ideal position.

Even though it means exposing my peripheral view to the outside world, I nearly prefer to use the Rift S with the face gasket removed entirely because of the benefits in comfort and clarity.

Photo by Road to VR

So the fix is pretty clear—Oculus could offer a soft face gasket that flexes to allow a wider range of adjustments while maintaining comfort, or they could release one or more face gaskets of different sizes to allow more people to get their eyes into the sweet spot.

I’m fully aware that this particular issue is dependent on the shape of each person’s face—in particular, how deep their eyes are compared to the foremost part of their cheeks and forehead. Granted, I don’t think my eyes are particularly sunken, and I don’t run into this particular issue with other headsets.

– – — – –

For general consumers, maybe these things aren’t too important, but there’s no denying that the existing PC VR market is composed very heavily of early adopter and enthusiast types. These are people who spend money on high-end gaming PCs so that they can have a high-end gaming experience, the kind of people that are more likely than general consumers to be willing to spend to improve their VR experience if upgrades are available.

It’s fortunate that Rift S happens to be designed in a modular way that could improve some of its downsides with optional accessories. If Oculus doesn’t step up to the plate, third-party accessory makers could have a nice new opportunity on their hands.

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  • Immersive_Computing

    @Ben

    Great to see your forward thinking of ergonomic and audio improvements for the Rift S.

    I’m very interested to demo a Rift S as soon as they setup the demo stations here in the UK – currently they still have the previous Rift and Go in stores.

    My main concern with Rift S is the fixed IPD at 63.5mm; perhaps for a media viewing device like Go aimed at short use sessions this is less of a concern, although of course its always less than ideal, as many reported issues using Go, some selling it on or returning it.

    But for PC VR headsets where hours of concentrated play are possible, its not ideal and I’d argue we should not have any headsets with fixed IPD coming to market in 2019; its such a critical element of the optical system.

    Companies can market ‘software IPD’ and lenses with ‘big sweetspots’ but the laws of optical physics are immutable, its nothing more than marketing fudge camouflaging cost cutting? I’ve owned three headsets (1 PC VR and 2 mobile VR) with fixed IPD which all gave me eyestrain and headaches, and I’m only a couple of mm outside of their fixed IPD.

    Going to be very interesting to see how Rift S fares with its 63.5mm fixed IPD once its released into the market.

  • Vulas Helefaren

    Good business model. Nicely done, Facebook.

    • Jistuce

      Only if they follow through. Original Rift has modular audio and facial interface, and this was barely followed up on. There’s a headphone replacement, but there’s no facial interface replacement. Even though they SAID there was going to be a roomier facial interface available for glasses wearers, which was one of the reasons I bought a Rift. But I’m not bitter.

      • Lucidfeuer

        I think you missed the sarcasm in the comment.

        • Jistuce

          I definitely did.

  • gnarppy

    your article acts like they could give a shit.

    they outsourced Rift S to a lesser company with minimal input who designed an overpriced headset.

    they could have slightly redesigned Rift with 2k LCD’s, minor revision to tracking and lenses and added eyetracking capable of foveated rendering at $400 launch price, but didn’t because?

    • MOT

      Correct. Rather bizarely the rift s has a lower resolution than the Lenovo explorer. Rift s is just disappointing in nearly every department.

      • CURTROCK

        Have you tried it?

    • CURTROCK

      Because it would price the HMD out of reach for most consumers. Eye tracking & foveated rendering @same min spec on PC for $400? Not realistic.

      • gnarppy

        “Because it would price the HMD out of reach for most consumers.”

        you have no idea what you’re talking about, princess.

        “Also, you say $400 is overpriced”

        Yes, Rift S is overpriced. It not even half way between $199 Go and $399 Quest yet is priced at $399. It’s clearly $100 overpriced, honeybuns.

    • Cybis Z

      WTF? We don’t have eye tracking tech yet. At least none that’s good enough to not feel totally jarring. Also, foveated rendering isn’t a hardware feature. It’s not something you just put into a headset. It’s the game developers who have to build engines, or build their games off engines, which support this feature.

      • gnarppy

        “WTF? We don’t have eye tracking tech yet. At least none that’s good enough to not feel totally jarring.”

        you have no idea what you talk about. Foveated rendering has been shown off for years already with no noticeable artifacts

        ” Also, foveated rendering isn’t a hardware feature”

        actually it is with nvidia/directx12 variable rate shading

        “It’s the game developers who have to build engines, or build their games off engines, which support this feature”

        now just a few lines of code to implement

        • Cybis Z

          “Foveated rendering has been shown off for years already with no noticeable artifacts”

          We have fixed foveated rendering. We do not have eye-tracked foveated rendering. The eye tracking tech isn’t good enough yet to put into VR headsets because it doesn’t actually work for everyone (everybody’s eyes are different, go figure).

          “actually it is with nvidia/directx12 variable rate shading…now just a few lines of code to implement”

          Right… I take it you don’t actually develop software professionally, do you? Foveated rendering isn’t a switch you turn on that makes it just work automagically for all your games. The engines that games run on have to be designed to support it.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Don’t count on good quality eyetracking for a low price. Just look at the HTC Vive Pro Eye which only adds eyetracking compared to the pro, but at a much higher price. Eyetracking is just too costly at the moment, so you’re really unrealistic if you think they can add that for under $400 to the original rift and have better displays.. but then again, a lot of people here on Road-to-VR are being unrealistic.

      • gnarppy

        “Don’t count on good quality eyetracking for a low price”

        hardware price = a few $ to several $ per headset.

        Algorithms price = $0- $x depending on patents, license fees vs. roll your own…

        • Andrew Jakobs

          It’s not as simple/cheap as you make it look. And yes, stuff like R&D has to be counted for. At the moment cheap eyetracking is awful for VR, and the better eyetracking really adds more than a few $ per headset.

  • Grey Lock

    “Rift S isn’t a bad headset by any means, but compared to the original Rift its upgrades come with a handful of downgrades. For early adopters who bought into Oculus’ ecosystem (and want to stay in it), this presents a conundrum—are the upsides of Rift S worth the downsides over the original Rift?”

    Nope, not enough of an upgrade to the Rift for me to spend $400 on.

    What I’d like is a new gen 1.5 headset with:
    – 1600×1600 or 2100×2100 per eye
    – Four of more cameras for inside out tracking
    – Over the ears headphones or speakers
    – Touch or Knuckles controllers
    – Comfortable Rift / Quest like headstrap
    – All in price under $700

    Why no one seems to put all of the above together is frustrating, especially since the only new tech on the list is the 4 camera tracking – everything else was available in 2017.

    Will be interesting to see what happens with the Cosmos.

    • Ben Laty

      Dont expect much from HTC when it comes to vr nowadays. The cosmos will probably be overpriced.

    • Jorge

      …Valve Index, next month. It will without a doubt exceed expectations. The price however is according….

  • care package

    sounds like Lenovo kinda screwed the pooch on audio. 2nd time I’ve heard the quest audio is better. Why not just make little clip on tubes that aim the sound more directly. I’m going to try something like that at least.

  • Ultimaniacx4

    I don’t know whether to blame Lenovo for the design, or Oculus for having them do it.

  • The Bard

    What about those who have Odyssey+ OLED 1440×1600 and want an upgrade? Nothing on the market, yet.

    • brandon9271

      I just want an Odyssey with better controller tracking. I’d be happy with than until a truly next gen device happens. Same with the Reverb.. It’s great visually the the WMR controllers are holding it back.

    • CURTROCK

      Hi. Sorry, I haven’t tried the Odyssey. I hear good things about it. Sounds to me like VR enthusiasts who aren’t satisfied with Rift S and such, all seem to be gravitating towards the Valve Index.

    • Ugur Ister

      The Rift touch controllers are massively better than windows mixed reality controllers and the Rift S’ tracking with 5 cams is also way better than the Windows Mixed Reality headsets’ tracking which only have two cams.
      It really makes a big difference, i had an Odyssey, too and sold it later on, mostly due to controllers and tracking, the headset itself was very nice display side etc.
      The HP Reverb for example would have been in my top choices list for my next Highend PC VR headset (next to the Valve Index), but yeah, the tracking and controllers are still the old WMR setup.
      I hope MS hasn’t given up on VR yet and reworks their setup asap to go with 4-5+ cams for the tracking and releases better controllers, too.
      With Rift touch already out for a good while and Valve Index controllers soon coming out, the WMR controllers just feel way behind meanwhile.

      i know one can use Vive wands or even the knuckles/Index controllers with WMR headsets, too but that requires quite the investment, since one basically at that point has to have most of the Vive setup+ the WMR headset setup.

    • Robbie

      The rift S is an upgrade to your trashy blurrry O+… there was a comparison done on youtube and the S annihilates your 2 camera gayness.

    • Jorge

      FWIW – The Rift S visual quality is great compared and also the controllers track very well. For the price it seems like a no brainer to me….. keep an eye out though for the Valve Index next month which is sure to blow everything else out of the water. The price tag is steep though.

      • The Bard

        Valve? Odyssey+ costs now 299$ with controllers. No screen door effect like in Index, much higher resolution 2880×1600 and no shit LCD. Dude, what are you talking about? Rift S is completely unreliable in terms of tracking. Check forums and reviews. WMR tracking is much better… with two cameras, not 5.

  • xxHanoverxx

    Sounds like the Bionik BNK-9007 is already the solution for the audio…

  • a247slacker

    i think the big thing that most of these articles is missing is the people that wear glasses, the rift was not at all comfortable with my glasses neither was the HTC vive, the Oclulus Go fits great with my glasses! I am thinking that the Quest and the Rift S will be the same fit with people that wear glasses much better! and this will be help with adoption rates time will tell I guess!

  • JamesDWestoby

    Hmm, OK bought the S have/had two Oculus’s (Oculi?) from last year (mainly for Elite) and preferred my own headphones. So how DOES the headband come off so I can try it without trashing £400 please? (James Westoby)