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Saturday, July 11, 2020

What is the best VR headset for Half Life Alyx?

Half-Life: Alyx may have been built from the ground up to support Valve’s super expensive Index headphones, but as you can see from my Half-Life: Alyx article on PC requirements and VR headphone specifications, you can really play it on any VR headphones that support SteamVR, including HTC Vive, Oculus Rift headphones and any Windows Mixed Reality headphones. Hell, you can even play Half-Life: Alyx on Oculus Quest if you connect it to your PC via Oculus’ Link software and a high-speed USB cable. The key question, however, is which VR headset offers the best Half-Life: Alyx experience?

To find out, I tested the game with all the VR headphones that I was able to get my hands on: Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive Cosmos, HTC Vive Cosmos Elite and, of course, Valve Index. Below, I put them all head to head (or should it be a headset) to find out which one offers the best half-life ever: the Alyx experience, classifying them all for comfort, visual fidelity and how easy they are to use and play. Which VR headset will triumph? Let’s find out.

As a brief reminder, here is Half-Life: the minimum PC requirements of Alyx, which are above all what is necessary to get each of the earphones that I have tested to work. As I found out in my article on Half-Life: Alyx VR performance, however, the minimum specifications are really the most suitable only for playing with medium-low quality settings, especially if you want to get the most out of the maximum refresh rate of the headphones. .

Half-Life: minimum Alyx PC requirements:
OS: Windows 10
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-7500 / AMD Ryzen 5 1600
RAM: 12 GB of RAM
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB) / AMD Radeon RX 580 (8GB)

To make sure PC performance isn’t a problem here, I used the following components to maintain Half-Life: Alyx works well and runs smoothly: an Intel Core i5-8600K CPU at stock speeds, 16 GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super graphics card (which is the minimum GPU I would recommend entering those higher quality settings), along with all the latest Windows 10 drivers and graphics installed. I also tried high-quality gaming when testing each headset and used a combination of teleportation and continuous movement mode.

To set up the basic experience, I started with my cheapest VR headset, Oculus Quest, before getting on the VR food chain based on the price. In this way, we can see how the experience evolves compared to how much money you are spending and if it is really worth shelling out the best dollar for the Valve index. So, without further ado, let’s move on with those cybergoggles.

Half-Life: Alyx in Oculus Quest

Half Life Alyx in Oculus Quest

Oculus Quest headset specifications:
Screen: OLED
Resolution: 1440 × 1600 per eye (2800 × 1600)
Update frequency: 72Hz
Field of view: N / A (90 degree estimate)
monitoring: 6 internal-external DOF tracking via 4 cameras
Audio: Integrated stereo speakers
Price: £ 399 / $ 399 (64 GB)

After setting up Oculus Quest to work with your PC (follow my practical Half-Life: Alyx guide on the Oculus Quest guide if you haven’t already done so) and connected it via high speed USB-C from USB3 cable (available from Amazon USA or Amazon UK), this standalone VR headset makes the Half-Life: Alyx experience surprisingly decent.

Despite having the lowest refresh rate of the five earbuds being tested here, I didn’t find it overly nauseous and was able to use both teleportation and continuous movement modes without problems. The newly updated continuous mode made me feel a little bad, but the regular movement options worked well.

Thanks to Quest’s combined resolution of 2800 × 1600, the world of Half-Life: Alyx looked adorable and crisp inside the headphones, and its OLED panel meant that the colors were rich and vibrant. Above all, they didn’t even seem too saturated, which can sometimes happen with some OLED displays. There was a slight effect of opening the door around the edges of the Quest display, and I was constantly aware that there was a lot of sunlight creeping in from the bottom of the headset.

However, Quest’s 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) tracking worked well and staying next to a particularly bright window did not affect his ability to track my body movements (which can’t be said for every headset in this list). The only negative is that its two Touch controllers (which are the same used by Rift S) were able to map the movement of the thumbs and index fingers only when I was not pressing any button. In order to track down the other three fingers, I had to pull the controller’s rear trigger. It’s not the end of the world, all things considered, but you’ll soon see that other headsets on this list are able to track all five fingers, regardless of where they are on the respective controller.

The only big problem with playing Half-Life: Alyx on Oculus Quest is that damned cable. While other headphones sensibly position the PC connector cables so that they drop behind the headset behind you, Quest has to settle for its front charging port. This means that the cable that connects the headset to the PC effectively protrudes from the left temple, which can hinder the movement of the left arm depending on where you are / sitting and how far you are from the PC. The Anker cables that Oculus recommends as an alternative to their super expensive (and currently out of stock) fiber optic cable certainly have the disadvantage of protruding directly from the headset, rather than at right angles like the official Oculus ones, but I imagine that even Oculus cables can hinder the movements of the left arm depending on where you are in relation to the PC.

I also found out that Oculus Quest was the least comfortable of the five headsets, which meant I wasn’t able to play Half-Life: Alyx for long before I had to take a break. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I have a smaller head than most, but I found that I had to pull the straps tight enough to make it feel safe enough on my face so that it didn’t fall forward when I moved, which in turn made me made to dig a little on the cheeks. I also had to set the interpupillary distance to its smallest possible setting to make everything nice and clear, which ended up pinching my nose after about half an hour.

All in all, I would give it 3/5 headcrabs.

Half-Life: Alyx on Oculus Rift S

Half Life Alyx on Oculus Rift S

Oculus Rift S headphones specifications:
Screen: Fast switching LCD
Resolution: 1280 × 1440 per eye (2560 × 1440)
Update frequency: 80Hz
Field of view: 110 degrees
monitoring: 6 internal-external DOF tracking via 5 cameras
Audio: Integrated stereo speakers
Price:
£ 399 / $ 399

Immediately, the comfort levels increase by 487% when switching to the Rift S, thanks in part to its wonderful light band. With the adjustment controlled exclusively by the circular dial on the back of the headset, the Rift S is not only easier to assemble than the Quest, but also removes a lot of pressure from the top of my head. The front still digs a little bit on my cheeks after a while, but overall it’s a much less heavy earpiece than its self-contained brother and I’ve been able to wear it for a longer period of time. Not much longer, all things considered, since my cheeks felt quite sore after a while, but the pressure was not at all as bad as on the Quest.

Strangely, despite having a lower resolution than the Quest, the Rift S looks noticeably sharper in the game. Maybe this is due to the superior fit of the Rift S, which facilitates positioning on my head without weakening infinitely with interpupillary dials and the like, or maybe it’s just a strange oddity of its LCD display. One thing is certain: the thicker padding around the lenses of the Rift S means that there is much less light scattering than the Quest, making the experience more engaging in general.

The cable is still a little painful, it’s true. Here, Oculus has it attached to the side of the headset, but it doesn’t go all the way to the respective HTC or Valve headphones. As a result, sometimes I still felt it curl around my shoulder and it continued to be a nuisance when I started moving my left arm a lot – which you do repeatedly in Half-Life: Alyx every time you need to reach the backpack for more ammo. It wasn’t as annoying as the Quest cable, but it was still a nuisance.

However, its tracking seemed as accurate as the Quest, and I was able to move around my game space easily without losing track of myself. Sure, it falls under the same pitfalls as manual Quest tracking, due to the fact that they have the same Touch controllers, but as I said above, it’s actually not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

I wouldn’t say that the built-in speakers of Rift S were better than those of the Quest. In fact, the audio could be fairly soft at times and a lot of Half-Life: Alyx’s atmospheric music didn’t leave much impact as a result. The Rift S, at least, gives you the ability to connect a dedicated pair of headphones thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side of the headphones, but I wouldn’t recommend using a full gaming headset with it. This ends up feeling rather bulky after a while, and becomes less and less comfortable with the passage of time. Opting for the earphones proved to be the best option, as this did not exert any additional pressure on the top of my head, but it meant having another cable (albeit thin) that beat me while I was playing.

However, overall, a definite step forward compared to the Quest in this case. I give it 4 delicious sandwiches out of 5.

Half-Life: Alyx on HTC Vive Cosmos

Half Life Alyx on HTC Vive Cosmos

Headphone specifications for HTC Vive Cosmos:
Screen: LCD
Resolution: 1440 × 1700 per eye (2880 × 1700)
Update frequency: 90Hz
Field of view: 110 degrees
monitoring: 6 internal-external DOF tracking via 6 cameras
Audio: Integrated stereo headphones with 3D spatial audio
Price:
£ 699 / $ 699

Moving on to the Vive Cosmos, this resulted in a slightly smaller setting than the Rift S, if only because this particular headset needs to be connected to mains power. It was also not so easy to get comfortable on my head. Despite having the rather elegant feature of being able to lift the entire headband at a right angle to the headset, allowing you to easily hook it over your head rather than lengthening it like the Rift S, I had to spend some time fading around with the posterior quadrant and the interpupillary spacer in the front of the cuff before it was a) stable and b) produced a fairly clear image.

This is in part because Vive Cosmos has the slight advantage of sitting a little further away from your face, which means there is less pressure on your cheeks as you play. However, the downside of this is that it has made it more difficult for me to get a clear picture. In fact, the only way I managed to keep the screen from falling into a blurry pixel fest was by tightening the band so much that it ended up as a kind of medieval torture device. Instead of hurting my cheeks, I now had a full face.

Still, even with this insanely tight band in place, there were still times when I felt like I needed to push it closer to my face to get rid of some blur, and I had to take a break after about half an hour because the force against my head was just too much.

I also had problems with Vive Cosmos tracking. In bright sunlight, the built-in sensors of the headset produced a message saying that the environment was too bright. In the evening with the lights on, he sometimes warned me that the environment was too dark. There was simply no victory. My hands also trembled throughout the shop, making it difficult to use Alyx’s flash light with some degree of precision, and it was particularly shaky when I used my left hand to support my right while shooting.

I wasn’t even a fan of Cosmos controllers. Not only did they have worse finger detection than the Rift S Touch controllers, but the trigger buttons were also sticky and spongy. They needed a lot more force to fully lower, causing many unsuccessful attempts to grab ammunition from behind my head – which isn’t really useful when you’re prey to multiple headlights and zombies in the dark.

The audio was slightly better, but I couldn’t say I noticed its 3D spatial audio coming into effect in Half-Life: Alyx. However, it is definitely an advantage that they are far from the ear, like the valve index, and they are also easy to adjust.

Overall, however, the Vive Cosmos did not quite live up to the same standards as the two Oculus headphones. I give this 2/5 barnacles.

Half-Life: Alyx on HTC Vive Cosmos Elite

Half Life Alyx on HTC Vive Cosmos Elite

Headphone specifications for HTC Vive Cosmos Elite:
Screen: LCD
Resolution: 1440 × 1700 per eye (2880 × 1700)
Update frequency: 90Hz
Field of view: 110 degrees
monitoring: Outside via two base stations
Audio: Integrated stereo headphones with 3D spatial audio
Price:
£ 899 / $ 899

Finally, we are in the realm of external tracking headphones. Technically, Vive Cosmos Elite is exactly the same headset as the regular Cosmos – it only has a different front plate attachment and comes with two old school Vive wand controllers and two base stations – presumably to improve its overall tracking capabilities.

But the holey mole, the track pads are not the way to play Half-Life: Alyx – especially after using four headphones with the same analog sticks. They are not sensitive, tactile or responsive enough for the amount of movement you need to do in Half-Life: Alyx. Whether it’s teleporting using the base of the right track pad or shooting around with the side of that track pad, I’ve always felt at a disadvantage with these old Vive controllers and it’s become increasingly frustrating to keep playing the last 30 minutes of cyber -goggling. Likewise, with so few buttons at its disposal, many previously intuitive controls on other headphones were now assigned to different fingers or had been pinched in the trackpad somehow, effectively forcing me to completely recalibrate the way I played. You adapt after a while, but it was still horrible, and that’s why I’m just jumping straight 1/5 hacker here. To move on!

Half-life: Alyx index on valve

Half Life Alyx on Valve Index

Valve index cuff specifications:
Screen: LCD
Resolution: 1440 × 1600 per eye (2880 × 1600)
Update frequency: 80Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz
Field of view: 130 degrees
monitoring: Outside via two base stations
Audio: Integrated headphones
Price:
£ 919 / $ 999

Here we are, the great kahuna of VR headphones. The Valve index is the most expensive VR headset on this list, but the living man can see and hear where all that money has gone. Not only is it the most comfortable VR headset of the big five, thanks in large part to its abundant fabric padding around the lenses and the back of the headband, but it is also the best sound, since integrated by Valve, off- the- the headphones offer a rich and full-bodied audio experience that makes anything fantastic, from intense Combine battles to shabby slum tongues.

I had no problem seating the Index comfortably on my face, as its posterior dial offered many adjustments without making it seem like I was undergoing a medieval head grip. The interpupillary distance dial also goes much further than the other earbuds on this list and you can also move the lenses closer to or further away from your face, giving you many options to find the right size and get the sharpest image possible.

Index tracking is also second to none. I put its two SteamVR 2.0 bases in exactly the same position as the Vive Cosmos Elite base stations (which, I should note, are only version 1.0, rather than the 2.0 model you get with the Index), and I didn’t I don’t have a single technical hitch during my entire game session. No nervous hands, nothing.

Finger tracking of the Valve Index controllers is also the best in the bunch. Thanks to its lightweight external tracking band, Index controllers can accurately map the position of each finger, even when they are not pressing on the rear handle and activation buttons. As I said before, it doesn’t make much difference to your moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s a more engaging fraction to see your fingers in the game mimic the movements of your real fingers. Plus, the extra fabric strap that slides across the back of your hand means you don’t always have to grab the controller to stay in your hand as well, which loosens the tension a little when your fingers need some rest.

The buttons themselves also offer a lot of tactile feedback and feel much lighter and more responsive than the spongy triggers of Vive Cosmos and Cosmos Elite. As a result, pulling things towards you with gravity gloves is much smoother and less frustrating, and I never lost any important ammo from my backpack when I had to reload.

I found that the Index cable was also the least intrusive of the lot. The valve fixed it sensibly almost down to the back of the headset so that it slides properly down the back rather than falling in front of the shoulder, and it certainly didn’t hold me up as much as my other earbuds on this list. There were still strange times when I felt it tangle around my legs a little bit, but that’s a risk for any PC-related headset.

Overall, therefore, it is really difficult to find a defect in the index, and for this reason I give it 5 crushing Russells out of 5.

So what is the best VR headset for Half-Life: Alyx?

It is not surprising that the Valves index it’s really the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to playing Half-Life: Alyx in VR, but it’s also insanely expensive. For those of you who prefer not to spend nearly a big one on a VR headset, the Oculus Rift S it is by far the best option for Alyx-ers aspirants. At £ 399, it’s still a big chunk of change, but its internal tracking is superb, it’s easy to set up, and its comfort levels are also pretty good.

Accordingly, choose the Index if you have the money, but for everyone else, the best VR headset for Half-Life: Alyx will almost certainly be Oculus Rift S.

Damn! I’m glad we fixed it. However, while we may have solved the argument about the best VR headset for Half-Life: Alyx, this does not necessarily mean that we have got the best VR headset ever. In fact, I’m going to take an even closer look at each of the earphones I’ve talked about here in the coming weeks, writing individual reviews of what they want to use more generally, and how their respective store fronts keep up in terms of games. exclusives and VR experiences. Will Oculus Rift S and Valve Index be able to hold their crowns? Only time will tell.

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