By default, the Vive requires you to BYO audio gear. It doesn’t seem like a huge deal to put on a separate pair of headphones after donning the headset, but the absurdity of that five seconds spent fumbling around, trying to first find your headphones and then put them on while you’re immersed in VR, has only grown more ridiculous in light of the Rift’s elegant solution.
Again, the Deluxe Audio Strap “borrows” the Rift’s design, with headphones that now hang down from the sides of the band. The Vive’s are sleeker though, better padded and covered with a soft leatherette that feels a bit more upscale than the Rift’s mesh. The Vive’s headphones also have more movement, swiveling back and forth and also sliding up and down to accommodate different ear sizes and positions.
As with the Rift, I’d never claim the Vive’s now-built-in headphones are on par with a great pair of headphones—but that’s not the point. I have a couple of excellent pairs of headphones sitting on my desk, and I don’t see myself ever going back to using them with the Vive despite their better sound. It’s simply more convenient to have everything merged together into one self-contained package, and the Deluxe Audio Strap’s sound quality is “good enough” for most people and purposes.
Installation and quibbles
Best of all, the Deluxe Audio Strap installs on the standard Vive with a bit of doing. You need to pop off the plastic cover over the cable housing, unplug the three-in-one cable’s components, unplug the old 3.5mm audio-in, then pull off the old strap, click the new one on, and then plug all those cables back in and seal it up. It’s not especially difficult, but it is a bit tedious.
I’m serious when I say it feels like Vive 2.0 when you’re done, though. In terms of comfort, in terms of long-term usability, in terms of ease of use, the Vive with the Deluxe Audio Strap is now on par—or better than—the Rift’s design.
One potential downside: The Deluxe Audio Strap is not, so far as I can tell, compatible with the Vive Pre developer kit, so if you for some reason own one of those you’re out of luck. That’s a small percentage of Vive owners though—mostly developers who probably also own the final consumer model. It’s worth noting nevertheless.
When I reviewed the Vive last year I scored it on par with the Rift. Both received four-star ratings (out of five), with Oculus having the advantage in design, in comfort, and in its software library.
What I didn’t realize at the time was how modular the Vive would prove to be, how easily HTC and Valve could adapt. It’s a very PC-centric approach, really—tinkering and upgrading in stages, swapping out old parts and replacing with new. The Vive with a three-in-one cable and the Deluxe Audio Strap is hands-down a better system than what we got at launch. The Rift? Well, it’s still the Rift.
If I were to re-review both today, I’d give the Vive a distinct edge. Not only has its open approach to software allowed it to somewhat close the games gap, but its evolving design has made it a more comfortable and better-designed system than Oculus has on-hand. The one realm in which Oculus holds the advantage is how the Touch controllers feel in-hand versus the Vive’s wands, but given how touchy Oculus’s tracking can be I’d rather take wands with perfect tracking over Touch with subpar tracking any day.
Oh, and price—one area where the $500 Oculus Rift ($600 with Touch controllers) stomps HTC’s VR headset. Purchasing the Vive with the Deluxe Audio Strap will now run you $900, which is definitely not pocket change. Here’s hoping HTC can bring the cost down in the near future, as that’s still the biggest obstacle between your average gaming PC owner and the best VR experience on the market.
HTC Vive Deluxe Audio Strap
The HTC Vive probably should've shipped with the Deluxe Audio Strap to start with, but this $100 add-on is so good it makes the Vive feel like a brand new VR headset.
- More comfortable and easier to adjust than the standard Vive's elastic
- Built-in headphones are way more convenient
- Installs on the launch-day Vive, no problem
- Another $100 expense on top of an already expensive headset
- Installation is a bit tedious and awkward