The foundation has been laid for months; 2016 will be the VR battleground year. Will it become as common as tablets and smartphones? Or go the way of 3d Televisions and HD-DVD? We won’t know the answers to those questions anytime soon. However we do have some answers in place for the Oculus Rift VR headset units. It has a firm price in place, and some details on final specs and what it will release with. A lot of these details are a little perplexing and are worth a closer look.
For starters the price sails over our heads at $600 a unit. Resolution for the final retail unit is set at 2160×1200, which means you will need a PC capable of playing top games at this resolution – and 90 frames per second for optimum visual smoothness in most cases (with 60 fps on some VR dev kits specs as a sheer minimum refresh rate). According to the Oculus Rift recommended PC Specs, a PC with at least a GTX 970/R2 290 and i5-4590 or better is needed. The unit is bundled with an Xbox One controller, and two games (EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale). VR audio is available, but you can also use your own favorite gaming headset for the full hair salon look.
$600 for the retail gaming immersion solution from Oculus. Keep in mind this does not include the Oculus Touch, the hearing aid looking handheld input devices. These controllers are meant to allow for a higher degree of movement and control befitting a completely isolated virtual world environment. These will not be available at the time Rift’s launch, and pricing on those controllers are at this time unknown.
I had to do a double take on the price. Remember three years ago when a duct taped LCD screen strapped to someone’s face was being demo’ed? It sparked the imagination. Finally gaming could be like a good version of Lawnmower Man! How long 3D optical devices have been trying to catch on for? Sadly traditional glasses have inherent issues with visual quality, performance, and a propensity for inducing headaches with prolonged wear. Early Oculus Rift units and user feedback appeared to be indicate that this solution solved those hindrances. This could be the real deal. Internet forums and social media were alight with comments and expectations for VR. Culminating with Facebook purchasing the company for a whopping two billion dollars.
Having a big bank such as Facebook behind this product could lead one to believe the Oculus Rift would have instant mass market appeal, in both ease of use, pricing, and availability. Now that the dawn of this long road to release is drawing to a close, it feels as if we’re looking at a gutted Macy’s Day parade float in January. The balloons have been popped. The glitter long washed away. All that’s left are thousands of discard Farmville VR leaflets flickering in the winds.
$600 for a unit is part of the reason to feel disheartened, but not the only one. The technology utilized to bring this experience retail is no longer revolutionary. LCD screens at this resolution are more commonplace than napkin; the same can be said for motion sensors, magnetometers, accelerometers. So what’s the major mind blowing piece at this point? The lens? Don’t think so. Will the Oculus Rift weight 0.2 milligrams? Doubtful. Can it detect hand gestures? Lift you out of your seat and send you galloping across time and space on a digital unicorn? Will it be far higher resolution and with far less visual lag than its competitors? All answers just seem to point to: No.
Not even the bundled Oculus Home software seems very appealing. Why replace Steam or GoG with yet another game display platform? I don’t know but it’s not a very enticing selling point. I already wish that PC gaming companies would unify one way or another for achievement tracking and social collaborative ease, and it’s not happening. The last thing I want is yet another high-strung groupie vying for my system tray attention.
So why is it so expensive? Is the extra $300 padding a byproduct of Facebook buying Oculus for $2 billion USD? Sorry Mark, you probably wipe your cheeks with 2-ply $100 bills. Everyone else does not. Other companies have developer their own competing solutions in mind. How quickly these other solutions are close to release despite the substantial head start Oculus has on everyone is clear indication as to how un-revolutionary the technology being used really is (see Google Cardboard). Other gaming leaders such as Sony, have comparable units close to launch, Sony has announced their Playstation VR set will cost approximately as much as its latest console the Playstation 4. This puts their solution in the $350 estimated range. Granted their solution appears to be limited to Playstation gamers only for the time being, but it does set the pricing stage towards something the more realistic.
Keep in mind that after years of testing, 2k-3k resolution LCD screens and 90 frames per second provide the “ultimate” and fluid VR experience. That’s one of the main reasons why the Oculus device was delayed from the 720 initial development units, to the 1080p, and finally the 2160×1200 displays. Current gen consoles are geared for solid 1080p play, so if I’m thinking of VR, console discussion immediately ceases. To drop any kind of VR dimes down, it would have to be played on the kind of gaming hardware that can handle it at 2k/90FPS smoothly, right?
For PC gamers, all eyes must certainly be turning towards the SteamVR (HTC Vive). Their solution was delayed due to a “major breakthrough”, whatever that breakthrough is we know that SteamVR will work with Steam Big Picture, SteamOs, and Windows 10 seamlessly. With the motion controllers available with its release, and laser emitters that track positions within the room. Many early testers had already proclaimed the Oculus Rift dethroned in early 2015. So why not wait? 2016 will be the year of VR, with multiple options, what we are not clear on is what the pricing will be on those alternate solutions. The $600 bar set by Facebook this week will be toyed with by other companies.