Companies like Facebook Inc (FB), HTC and Samsung (SSNLF) are betting that the time for virtual reality is now. With its 2014 acquisition of pioneer Oculus VR for $2 billion, FB in particular is betting big. That investment is now paying off with the commercial release of the Oculus Rift, which began shipping at the end of March.
Facebook accomplished its goal of seeing the Oculus Rift move from the proof of concept that has starred at conferences and industry trade shows since 2012 to a shipping consumer product.
However, the $599 price tag is much higher than originally expected, and the Oculus Rift requires some serious PC muscle for a decent experience.
Is it worth it?
Our Oculus Rift review explores FB’s virtual reality headset to answer that question.
Oculus Rift Review: VR Is Definitely the Future
There’s a reason why Oculus has been wowing attendees at events like the Consumer Electronics Show.
The company has been working on virtual reality for nearly five years now; it released developer editions of the Oculus Rift hardware and forged partnerships with many leading software developers.
The release version of the Oculus Rift is lighter and sleeker than the developer kits. With extensive use of Lycra, rubber and a single cable tethering it to a PC, the headset is both minimalist and comfortable to wear.
Setting the system up is a question of connecting the included tracking camera and headset, downloading a Windows app and running through a checklist.
Once up and running, the actual virtual reality experience is slick. The resolution is higher than in the past, but still low enough that there is some granularity — although lag has been all but eliminated and the refresh rate is fast enough that motion sickness should be less of an issue.
The single camera limits the wearer’s virtual movements to several steps, but developers have released some titles that really take advantage of this VR gear. Video games in particular are entertaining with titles like Chronos and Lucky’s Tale leading the charge.
However, good as the experience is, having to use an Xbox controller instead of the Oculus Touch (which isn’t released until later this year) is a compromise and most titles still feel like experimental adaptations from standard game titles. You can see the future of gaming with the Oculus Rift, but we’re clearly in early days.
But the Cost…
As cool as the VR world created by the Oculus headset may be, the money required to make the most of it will bring many people crashing back to reality.
The first obstacle is the price of the Oculus Rift itself: $599. That’s a lot more than the $350 Oculus hinted at before release, causing a serious PR problem prior to launch. However, the headset is just the start for many potential buyers.
Powering the pixels behind that virtual reality requires some serious computing muscle. If your PC isn’t up to the task –and for many people it won’t be — then PC manufacturers like Dell are selling “Oculus Ready” computer bundles starting at $1,500.
Then there are the specialized Touch controllers expected to be released later this year.
All told, the equipment required for the full Oculus Rift VR experience could end up costing well over $2,000.
When you compare that to the cost of Microsoft Corporation‘s (MSFT) Xbox One at $350 for the console, a controller and a pre-pack game or two, the case gets harder to make for buying into Oculus — at least for most consumers.
- Two 1200 x 1080-pixel OLED displays
- 110 degree field of vision
- Camera tracks area 5 feet x 11 feet
- Removable headphones
- Built-in mic
- Requires a Windows PC with minimum Core i5-4590 CPU equivalent or greater, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 970/AMD 290 video card equivalent or greater, 3 x USB 3.0 ports (plus one USB 2.0 port), HDMI 1.3 video output
- MSRP $599 (includes headset, sensor, remote, Xbox One controller, cables and Lucky’s Tale)
Oculus Rift Review: Conclusion
There’s no question that virtual reality is hitting the mainstream in 2016. The HTC Vive and Sony Corp (ADR)’s (SNE) Playstation VR are just two of the high profile releases, but the spotlight is firmly on the Oculus Rift.
The FB acquisition delivers a compelling VR experience, although it’s pretty obvious that we’re in the first generation of this technology. But Oculus boasts a solid collection of launch titles, and developers are excited about the platform.
Parent company Facebook is pumped about introducing virtual reality to social media, and that’s going to help push adoption.
For now, though, the primary drawback of the Oculus Rift is its steep entry price. If it was the cost equivalent of a gaming console, mass adoption could be in the cards. But at $599 (or over $2k if your PC isn’t up to snuff), making the leap into the VR world of Oculus is too expensive for anyone but early adopters and hardcore VR enthusiasts.
As of this writing, Robert Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.