Virtual Reality Is Expensive, But That’s OK

It’s safe to say that the price of the Oculus Rift took a lot of people by surprise. It’s an expensive bit of kit, coming in at $599/£499, before you take into account shipping and tax (depending on your location), and the overwhelming feeling when you take a look at the reactions from around the internet is that this is too much. Perhaps more accurately, it’s that it’s too much for the people who are saying that it’s too expensive.

I’m part of that crowd, as well, where dropping half a grand on a VR headset puts it out of my price point as a consumer. So maybe I’m not Oculus’ target audience just yet. For one thing, even if I did get an Oculus Rift, my PC doesn’t match up to the exacting specifications that the system demands. Most of it does, but my AMD Radeon 280X was last considered high end in 2013 – in truth, it’s a rebadged 7970 from 2012 – while getting a good experience with the Rift absolutely demands the big step up to a AMD Radeon 290 or Nvidia GTX 970, at least.

Perhaps calling this the “Consumer Version” of the Rift is a bit of a misnomer, then, because you absolutely need to be in the category of “enthusiast” or “fanatical” gamer, and one with the income required to be able to afford the very best components. Befitting of that market, the Oculus Rift CV1 matches the high end expectations that ought to be levelled at it, with a sleek and very well thought out design.

The hardware has evolved an awful lot since it was first proposed in the 2012 Kickstarter. The screen was initially a lowly 720p, before Development Kit 2 took a step up to 1080p. The Consumer Version goes a long way beyond DK2’s step-up, with a resolution of 2160×1200. That’s a big part of why you need a very powerful GPU to run games for it, but so too is the need to have an absolutely seamlessly high frame rate, hopefully to match the 90Hz refresh rate. This is the equivalent to a high end gaming computer monitor or a good quality TV set, and something like that will cost a sizeable outlay from the buyer.

Oculus’ main failing was that the expectations for this system were set much, much lower than the $599/£499 price point. The Kickstarter and the original Developer Kit cost $300, while Developer Kit 2 jumped up to around $350, and that, alongside numerous statements from senior figures in the company, set expectations to be $400 or lower. Even as recently as October of last year, Palmer Luckey was doing very little to dispel the notion that it would diverge quite so significantly from that pricepoint.

Of course, the real question is where this leaves the rest of this first generation of VR hardware and how accessible – or inaccessible – they are to eager consumers. The HTC Vive will surely be a more expensive proposition than the Oculus Rift, especially now that the head mounted display includes a forward facing camera, to go alongside the special controllers and other hardware which has to be bundled with it for its Room Scale VR. It too will need a PC with a top tier CPU and GPU to power it.

Perhaps more interesting will be how Sony price the PlayStation VR. The PlayStation 4 simply isn’t anywhere near as powerful as the PCs needed for the Rift or Vive, and you can see some of that in the specifications of the PS VR, most notably with its 1080p display. So there’s a chance that this will be much more in reach of the average consumer, even though prices will climb a little as soon as you start to factor in the need to make sure you have a PlayStation Camera and PlayStation Move controllers for the best overall experience.

Even if it comes with a lower price point, this will be a niche product, but with a lower bar for entry both on the processing side and potentially for the headset itself, PlayStation VR is the best opportunity for VR to get a foothold in the mass market to start with.

While that kind of widespread adoption is important, its also important to realise that this is still a nascent market. Over the next five years, we’ll see the kinds of processing power required for VR become more readily available to consumers at a lower price point, we’ll also see the next generation of PlayStation hardware and revisions of all three of these VR platforms, with evolving hardware capabilities.

So yes, the Oculus Rift is expensive, but for now, that’s OK.

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21 Comments

  1. I’m not sure it is okay. I’ve been a VR evangelist since the initial Kickstarter and have been waiting eagerly for the final release. I will definitely be buying one of the headsets and while the PSVR isn’t an option for me (I’m not convinced it has quite enough grunt to work as well), this price tag is high enough to make me wait to see what HTCVive has to offer. If it was £100 less, I would have gone for it, but this is too much to jump in without seeing the competition first..

  2. I don’t think it matters how much it is as long as it works well and receives the right amount of support.

    That’s the main issue I have with VR, especially with the PSVR. Sony have a history of abandoning ideas when they don’t sell well. If Sony guaranteed five years of AAA games and support for PSVR, I’d pre-order one tomorrow. The reality is, PSVR could very well be dead in the water within 12 months and it isn’t worth the risk.

    For me, it’s not about the money, it’s whether or not I’ll be throwing my money away or investing in something worthwhile.

    • I think we kind of assume a guaranteed support for a device anyway, so guarantee or no, Sony can’t be trusted to stick with something for long enough.

  3. An unfortunate quote from Palmer Luckey speaking about the Rift in 2013..
    “If something’s even $600, it doesn’t matter how good it is, how great of an experience it is – if they just can’t afford it, then it really might as well not exist.”

    Also, apparently there is estimated to be a Rift userbase of around 14 million (currently capable pcs), contrasted with the current PS4 potential userbase of 35 million. Undoubtedly more people will buy or upgrade their pcs in the meantime, and potentially more people will buy PS4’s for the VR experience, but right from the start the PS4 seems to have a lead in terms of potential launch market – as well as probably having the cheaper entrypoint.

    One thing i’ve been wondering is, all those folks who invested in the kickstarter/devkits – will they still have to pay full whack for the updated hardware – or can they continue using the older hardware for fufture VR game releases?

    Another question is if the Rift launch price will affect development of VR games in general, given the mainstream reaction to the cost?

    • I did think this way initially but I imagine there are more pc gamers who are willing to buy into (expensive) VR than there are PS4 gamers. A large number of pc gamers spend thousands on their pc’s. Most console gamers think £400 is too much for an actual console never mind a VR headset.

      • True that, it’ll be interesting to see how things are looking in 6-12 months from now.

      • The difference is Oculus is a niche thing, even on PC. Its for the elite of the elite, and you can only buy it from Oculus.

        PSVR will be available from everywhere. Amazon. GAME. Currys. GameStop. Walmart. Everywhere. And it’s going to be targeted at gamers. Not just the hardcore niche ones, everyone one. When it launches you will see adverts for it on ITV at 7pm on a saturday. Sony will have so much more exposure so will mop up more of the “Not hardcore gamer” market.

    • In answer about early adopters with dev kits, Oculus have said that these people will receive the retail version for FREE.

      • That’s for those who backed on Kickstarter, which amounts to 6000 units and people. They’ve sold around 170,000 DK2 units which won’t upgrade.

        But there’s no restriction from one model to another that I’m aware of or that would logically follow. It will simply be down to the developers themselves – who’ve been using and developing for DK2 and similar prototype units – to make sure that the older hardware is fully tested to give a good experience, but the difference will be relatively small. DK2 has a slightly lower resolution screen, perhaps less finely tuned head tracking etc. etc., but it’s doing all of the same fundamental things as the final version and uses the same APIs.

      • Thanks for the replies, neat for the kickstarter folks and also cool that the adopters of the early hardware won’t be left out of the mix.

  4. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best VR solution is the smartphone.
    It really needs to be wireless, it needs to have the support of an app store that is as well established as Apple or Google Play. If you’ve already got a smartphone and it has maybe a 4K screen, and you just need to pop it into a headset then you’ve already got what you need. I know you need a good frame rate to reduce things like simulation-sickness, but either streaming from a console or just playing 3D video (with head tracking) should be possible.

    I love my Oculus DK2 – as people have said, it’ll never escape the niche.
    I longed for PSVR, but have been burnt too many times by Sony (PSEye, PSP, Vita, Move, 3D, WonderBook) to dive in from the outset. Unless they really put some effort into it this time around I’ll sit this out.

    • Having said all of that – HoloLens seems a much better way of combining VR, 3D and AR without the simulation sickness, without tripping over things, and without wondering what else is going on around.

      • HoloLens cant do VR, just AR. The HTC Vive’s latest pre-release revision has the forward facing camera which would let you see an image of the real world without taking the headset off, though.

      • Wasn’t sure quite how much of your vision they can fill with the HoloLens output, or how ‘solid’ the images are. As the percentage of AR in our field of vision increases, does it ever become VR?

      • Augmented reality allows you to see your normal everyday reality, but with interactive elements overlaid, ie toolbars, menus, or some manner of virtual critters climbing over your furniture etc.
        Virtual reality takes you to a completely different reality and in order to do so it has to block out your regular reality, so even if AR filled the screen it would still probably be transparent so it would not be possible to provide that isolation which is neccessary for immersion in a different reality.
        But it’s probably all semantics anyway, i mean the enhancements provided by AR are virtual images after all, so you could probably argue that it’s a ‘sort’ of virtual reality, or possibly a hybrid.
        And i know it’s possible to get immersed in something to such a degree that you can block out your surroundings temporarily at least, ie i’ll often become heedless to the world whilst reading a good book.
        So who knows, looking at something like Minecraft Hololens, it might be possible that some of the experiences AR offers will tend towards being as immersive as VR, but just with more potential for that immersion to be interrupted by reality.

  5. Definitely a niche product for now, no matter the platform. I can’t help feel that the longest life-cycle will be on the PC because of the nature of the platform.

    Surely, Sony will eventually pull out due to poor uptake, support and reception. I’m more than happy to be proved wrong but it feels like such a given right now. Same goes for all of the VR headsets that are coming out.

  6. When you think of fuel efficient vehicles, do you picture a Tesla, or a Prius?
    Oculus is going to be the public’s first impression of VR, and so it HAS to be fantastic, cost be damned. If the initial impression that reaches the press is, “causes migraines” that bad PR will take years to undo. I don’t personally understand why this tech (glass lenses, an lcd screen and some motion sensors) would cost this much, but that’s neither here nor there.

    What makes this great is how it sets the stage for Sony and presumably MS’s offerings. The anticipation is that the graphics are super-important. What I think will matter most with VR is that feeling of immersion, accomplished by a high dpi display, high fps and instant head tracking. If the actual game you’re playing looks more like Wii U than PS4, I don’t think it’ll matter.

  7. Does the Oculus rift work with the PS4? I remember someone from Sony saying it won’t be blocked.

    I think maybe it was Kaz Hirai

    • The main developers of VR all agreed to use the same base code for their headsets so technically Oculus should work with the PS4. But each HMD will have their own specific software so that may be a problem. But even if Oculus had all the correct software etc. the PS4 has less power than the PC spec needed to run Oculus.

  8. We can all afford a rift and decent pc, it’s just a lot of money to spend on something as unproven as VR.

    I’m just fed up of waiting for Sony to announce the price . I bet it will be late 2016 now…

  9. If you’re targeting people who’ve spend a grand or so on their pc to run it then you may as well use top quality expensive components and make it a premium product.

    I don’t even think oculus & psvr are in much of a competition with each other. The only people who will be choosing between them will need to have a suitable pc and a ps4, and they may get both anyway.

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