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.