With the first major VR headset available for pre-order on January 6, here’s what you need to know before you buy
Update, January 6, 11:25 a.m. EST: Oculus has announced that the Rift will be sold for pre-order at $599 a set excluding taxes and shipping, with all the parts listed below included. For those of you who were planning to stock up, you’ll have to wait as they are limiting one set per person.
As promised, Oculus has announced the opening of pre-ordering starting tomorrow, January 6 at 8:00 a.m. PST for the first generation consumer headset. Already one of the biggest names in the up to this point virtual world of virtual reality, Oculus Rift’s product launch has been one the most anticipated ever since they announced that they would be starting sales in Q1 of 2016.
For as much excitement as the Rift’s entrance onto the stage has elicited, the controversy over whether the squeeze will be worth the juice has been just as tumultuous. At this stage, there are still many important unknowns.
First and foremost is that with little more than 24 hours until zero hour, Oculus is still holding back on publicizing their device’s price.
What we do and don’t know so far
The basic package that consumers can look to buy when it opens will include the headset itself, the motion tracking sensor, an XBox One controller, the Oculus remote, the cables, and two games — Lucky’s Tale by Playful and EVE: Valkyrie from CCP. This starter set should be enough to get most players the introduction they have been looking for in VR.
For those who want to get a little more into it, Oculus is selling their very own creation, the Touch. This is a new way of interacting with the virtual space, with the user holding the pair of controllers in their hands and manipulating their environment. Unfortunately, it isn’t slated to ship until the second half of this year.
Regarding the price, it is really anyone’s guess at this point as to which direction they will go. The developer’s kit (DK2) has run at a surprisingly reasonable $400. Vegas odds would put it as likely that they will stick to something close to this number since the folks most likely to buy it during this round are the kinds of people who care more about being the first to own the technology, and have the cash to burn on it.
Just to be doubly clear, Oculus still requires the use of a high-powered PC for running the programs. Asus and Alienware have already partnered up with Oculus to create their own “Oculus ready” machines, with Dell expected to join this group in the near future. These work horses should be expected to run at around $1,000, which is a cost that should be taken into account for anyone thinking about wading into the high end of gaming.
In looking to judge how to approach the Rift, it is important to come at it with a few things in mind.
At this point in time, this product will likely only be picked up by a smaller niche community of the first adopters, and that’s actually fine. Like any kind of new technology, the first generation is always a live test for both the product but also the audience as both sides begin to feel themselves out. The fact that Oculus went through two generations of developer kits and has had plenty of exposure means that everyone has a pretty good idea of what this device will look like.
But don’t expect the games that are out there now to be representative of what this industry is capable of down the road. Since this medium is still new and the actual penetration stats over the long haul are so unknown, the AAA studios that bring games like the Fallouts and HALOs are steering clear of the field until a big enough market segment grows around it. This uncertainty is actually a good thing, since it is making way for some of the smaller studios like Vertigo to get their foot in the door. While these designers are still working out which kinds of games will sell, they are going shotgun mode, making a variety of games and selling them cheap.
Whatever this device ends up costing, it is nothing on its own. While many of the serious gamers already have the kinds of hardware at home that are needed to make the Oculus run smoothly, this will be a hurdle that the company will need to think about moving forward when it branches out to a wider audience.
Samsung’s Oculus-designed Gear VR is already on sale for $99 and probably should not be used as a point of reference. It is a standalone device (cutting the cord from the PC) where the user snaps their compatible device into the headset to enjoy a very decent selection of games and viewing options. This souped-up version of the Google Cardboard should be taken as a separate type of product, even if it may end up being closer to where the future of VR tech (and possibly personal computers) is heading. While a potentially great choice for a limited VR experience, the PC-run Rift is likely to outclass it, standing alone in its own category.
Should you buy it?
The short answer is that it depends.
If you are the kind of gamer that has the existing hardware to run the Rift, then this should be a no brainer. As the kind of person whose gaming pleasures pretty much end at solitaire, I was blown away by the possibilities that VR is laying out when I tested it out back in August of 2015.
To sweeten the deal, if you were smart enough to back Oculus Rift when it was on Kickstarter, you are going to be handsomely rewarded: they announced on Tuesday that all Kickstarter backers will get a headset for free.
But for serious gamers who do not already own the power PCs, I would suggest holding off for the next generation while they work out the kinks on this version that are likely to lead to an even stronger offering down the road. The game play, while it looks enticing, is not likely to maintain the interest of most after they get over their initial high of playing with the new shiny world of VR.
Regardless of whether the Rift is the future of gaming or not, virtual reality and Oculus will be key elements in the next generation of communication, consumption of entertainment, and many more areas of our lives that are yet to be developed. With Zuckerberg behind them, how can we expect anything less? In the years since Lucky Palmer first went on stage in 2012 to introduce his vision of a viable VR, the tech community has been holding its breath, waiting for this product to drop. If the end result can measure up to even half of its hype, then this should be a very exciting Q1 to watch.