By Krysta Scripter
This coming March boasts the possibility of over 10 different virtual reality headsets hitting the market, and some are already available for preorder. Oculus Rift is one that is set to launch next month.
Oculus, at the forefront of the VR revolution, started three years ago as a crowdfunded independent business that raised over $2 million for the product’s initial development. Since then, it’s released two development kits, and now consumer versions are available.
But here’s the kicker: they’re really expensive. Despite Oculus CEO Palmer Lucky’s initial promise to keep it in the $300-400 range, the Oculus Rift currently costs a whopping $599. In comparison, both a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One currently cost $399.
Not only that, but the hardware requirements needed to run the Rift on a PC are pretty hefty too, if you’re not already a hardcore PC gamer. You’ll need at least 8 gigabytes of RAM, and an NVIDIA GTX 970 graphics card, which currently retails at a smooth $379.99 at Best Buy.
That’s not counting the other specifications Oculus recommends for the Rift either. A Rift plus PC bundle runs at just under $1,500. At this point, you could have bought four PlayStation 4 consoles, but Oculus argues that the graphic requirements demand more advanced technology.
Competitors like the Sony PlayStation VR have been shown at conferences and expos, but have yet to be priced. Even Google showed off its own cost-effective Google Cardboard, using smartphones popped into a cardboard viewfinder. Each start at $23 and $99, respectively. Howard Goldbaum, director of the Reynolds School Graduate Program at the University of Nevada, Reno, says this is why the Rift is so much more expensive.
“The difference is, is that the Oculus [Rift] is a self-contained device,” Goldbaum said. “All of the other solutions involve you taking your smartphone and putting it inside a device.”
Goldbaum regularly uses VR tech with his students in his photography class, and is working with the Bureau of Land Management to create a virtual tour for the American Flat Mill site outside of Virginia City. The mill site was demolished in 2014. Goldbaum has been doing virtual reality for almost 20 years, working with film to painstakingly stitch together images in 1997.
While Goldbaum uses VR to create interactive photographic environments, he says that Oculus was always intended for gaming, and that gamers looking for VR tech are already prepared.
“Serious gamers have that hardware,” Goldbaum said. “They’re used to, you know, playing games and having incredible graphics where they want real ray tracing effects and real time…. So they’ve invested.”
Goldbaum was originally surprised by the initial price for preorders, but he’s ordered one for use at the Reynolds School of Journalism, and he plans on ordering two more when they become available.
“There’s an economy of numbers, when the production ramps up they have better contracts with their suppliers and they can put the device together for less money,” Goldbaum said as a note to consumers.
Lucky also argued in a series of tweets that Oculus isn’t making any money off the hardware, and given the technological scale of what Oculus accomplishes, the price could be much higher.
The argument for the Oculus is the same with every new technology: is it worth the cash, or just another gimmick? Is it worth it to spend hundreds of dollars on a relatively new technology that may not live up to its own hype?
Ultimately, it just might be gamers who save VR. Oculus has at least 70 games in development or already announced, and Sony similarly announced over 100 at The International Consumer Electronic Show this year for the PlayStation VR. The initial look at VR titles feels promising, and more and more games are announced every week. Right now, it feels overpriced and inaccessible like most groundbreaking technology. But the possibilities for the technology are endless, and it may just have enough staying power to be a staple in the gaming industry.
Krysta Scripter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TheSagebrush.