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Oculus VR - Stepping into the Rift is too costly

Oculus Rift Virtual Reality.jpg

The Oculus Rift consumer version pre-orders opened up yesterday, 6 January 2016. The first batch of units will ship to consumers on 28 March 2016.  

Here is what the Rift will cost, a look at the system requirements which lead to additional costs for most PC gamers and the difference between the Rift DevKits /consumer version. Further, the founder of Oculus, Palmer Lucky explains why the early ballpark price point is so much different from the actual price. But before we get to all that, here's the TL;DR version - don't buy the Rift. We got to play around with the Rift DevKit at the MCave, (thanks Zombie Dedd!) Here's what MWEB's Digital and Gaming Manager, Desmond Kurz, has to say about stepping into the costly Rift.

"The virtual reality environment that the Oculus Rift provides certainly fools your senses as it delivers a very immersive experience. It's certainly novel at the start, but from a very practical perspective, I could not see the Oculus replacing my normal screen for gaming because of the very jarring experience that it creates.

It's this jarring experience that would preclude me from using it for extended gaming sessions. The giddiness and strange feeling in the pit of my stomach actually continued for an hour or two after the Oculus sessions (which were about 15-20 minutes long at a time). So, would I pay R10k or more for something that I would likely occasionally use? No."

The Oculus is a very expensive piece of hardware to use

As with most new technology on the market, Virtual Reality (VR) isn’t cheap. The price tag on the Rift is $599 (R9647.67 at the time of writing). Even if you can afford such an expensive piece of hardware, you might still need to fork out a lot of extra cash to meet the Rift’s system requirements.

First, let’s take a look at the Rift’s system requirements below:

  • Graphics card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
  • Processor: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
  • Memory: 8GB+ RAM
  • Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
  • Input: 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
  • OS: Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

If you take a look at the system requirements and compare them to what the Steam Hardware and Software survey reveals about the average PC gamer rigs, one thing is for certain; only a small percentage of PC gamers will be able to even use the Rift with their current setup.

Although roughly 45% of PC gamers have enough RAM and over 50% have enough CPU horsepower, one of the biggest issues is the GPU required. Only 10% of PC gamers even have a GPU with over 2GB of VRAM, which both the Nvidia GTX 970 and the AMD R9 290 have. If you take into account that there are GTX 960 4GB versions and quite a few AMD cards that are less powerful than the R9290 have over 2GB or VRAM, it becomes clear that the percentage of PC gamers that meet the Rift’s requirements is lower than 10%.

A quick look at some of the local PC hardware stores reveal that the GTX 970, on special, goes for around R6000, for example Wootware’s deal on the GalaxGTX 970 EXOC Black Edition. Therefore, if you just need to upgrade your GPU in order to use the Rift, you will be looking at R6000 plus R9600. That is R15,600.00, the price of a whole gaming PC capable of running games on 1080p at 60FPS.

If you are thinking of purchasing a Rift but worried that you PC might be just below the system requirements, you can download the Rift compatibility tool before making the purchase during the checkout process.

new p.jpg

The Rift bundle includes:

  • The Headset
  • Sensor
  • Oculus Remote
  • Cables
  • Xbox One Controller
  • EVE: Valkyrie
  • Lucky's Tale  

It is important to note that if you purchased an early version of the Rift through Kickstarter will receive the retail version for free, according to Extreme Tech. Note that: “This offer applies only to backers who pledged money during the initial Kickstarter run, not anyone who purchased a second-generation dev kit (DK2) or has purchased hardware since the company was bought by Facebook.”

If you do own a DevKit version of the Rift, there is still reason to upgrade.

The Rift DevKit versus consumer version

One of the most important questions regarding the consumer version of the Rift is; why buy it if you already own a DevKit version, especially since the DevKit version cost half the consumer price.

Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, explains:

“The unfortunate reality we discovered is that making a VR product good enough to deliver presence and eliminate discomfort was not really feasible at the lower prices of earlier dev kits that used mostly off the shelf hardware. We could have released a lower quality product and saved one or two hundred bucks, but the all-in cost for the average consumer (including PC) would not have budged significantly. To address a later post, mums and dads would be paying in the $1300 to $1500 range regardless.

DK1 and DK2 cost a lot less - they used mostly off the shelf components. They also had significantly fewer features (back of head tracking, headphones, mic, removal facial interfaces, etc.) For Rift, we’re using largely custom VR technology (eg. custom displays designed for VR) to push the experience well beyond DK2 to the Crescent Bay level.” - Source

Mr. Luckey adds: “We could have shipped something along the lines of DK2, but I really don’t think it would have been good enough to kickstart the consumer VR industry, especially in the long run.” - Source  

An explanation of the high price and early ballpark figures

When asked back in October 2015 how much the consumer version of the Rift will cost and if it will be close the the DevKi2 price of $350, Mr. Luckey told Road to VR: “You know, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. We’re roughly in that ballpark… but it’s going to cost more than that. And the reason for that is that we’ve added a lot of technology to this thing beyond what existed in the DK1 and DK2 days.”

Further, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe explained back in 2013 that the company would love the Rift to be free and that the initial expected price point was around $300. It is therefore not unexpected that potential buyers were taken aback by the $600 price tag.

Palmer 1.jpg

Mr. Luckey with the Oculus Rift

Mr. Luckey took to Reddit in an Ask Me Anything after the pre-orders went live, and the first question by the Reddit community wasn’t all that surprising. Reddit user Codisms asked: “Why was the messaging about price so poor? $599 is not in the ballpark of $350"

Mr. Luckey responds to the question, offering an explanation and an apology to the way the messaging to the community was handled:

“I handled the messaging poorly. Earlier last year, we started officially messaging that the Rift+Recommended spec PC would cost roughly $1500. That was around the time we committed to the path of prioritizing quality over cost, trying to make the best VR headset possible with current technology. Many outlets picked the story up as “Rift will cost $1500!”, which was honestly a good thing - the vast majority of consumers (and even gamers!) don’t have a PC anywhere close to the rec. spec, and many people were confused enough to think the Rift was a standalone device. For that vast majority of people, $1500 is the all-in cost of owning Rift.

The biggest portion of their cost is the PC, not the Rift itself. For gamers that already have high end GPUs, the equation is obviously different. In a September interview, during the Oculus Connect developer conference, I made the infamous “roughly in that $350 ballpark, but it will cost more than that” quote. As an explanation, not an excuse: during that time, many outlets were repeating the 'Rift is $1500!' line, and I was frustrated by how many people thought that was the price of the headset itself. My answer was ill-prepared, and mentally, I was contrasting $349 with $1500, not our internal estimate that hovered close to $599 - that is why I said it was in roughly the same ballpark.

Later on, I tried to get across that the Rift would cost more than many expected, in the past two weeks particularly. There are a lot of reasons we did not do a better job of prepping people who already have high end GPUs, legal, financial, competitive, and otherwise, but to be perfectly honest, our biggest failing was assuming we had been clear enough about setting expectations. Another problem is that people looked at the much less advanced technology in DK2 for $350 and assumed the consumer Rift would cost a similar amount, an assumption that myself (and Oculus) did not do a good job of fixing. I apologize.” - Source

Rift package.jpg

If you take a look at the Rift pre-order page, you will see that the Rift comes with quite a few extras, for example an Xbox Controller and bundled games. So why can’t consumers purchase the Rift without extras they may not want or need? Wouldn’t an unbundled version drop the price? Mr. Luckey explains:

“To be perfectly clear, we don’t make money on the Rift. The Xbox controller costs us almost nothing to bundle, and people can easily resell it for profit. A lot of people wish we would sell a bundle without “useless extras” like high-end audio, a carrying case, the bundled games, etc, but those just don’t significantly impact the cost.

The core technology in the Rift is the main driver - two built-for-VR OLED displays with very high refresh rate and pixel density, a very precise tracking system, mechanical adjustment systems that must be lightweight, durable, and precise, and cutting-edge optics that are more complex to manufacture than many high end DSLR lenses.  

It is expensive, but for the $599 you spend, you get a lot more than spending $599 on pretty much any other consumer electronics devices - phones that cost $599 cost a fraction of that to make, same with mid-range TVs that cost $599. There are a lot of mainstream devices in that price-range, so as you have said, our failing was in communication, not just price.” - Source

VR Rift.jpg

The price to love VR is pretty high

The initial release date for the Rift is 28 March 2016 (for the first batch which sold out “within 15 minutes of going on sale”. According to GameSpot, the next batch of Rifts are estimated to ship in May 2016. Further, the Oculus Touch (motion control device that operates with the Rift) release has been delayed until “the second half of 2016”.

What do you think about the Rift’s price and minimum requirements? Does the high price open up the market a bit more for other VR Headsets such as the HTC Vive? Let us know in the comment section below.

Sources: Reddit AMA, GameSpot

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