Anyone can now place an order for the Oculus Rift, and the big news is its price: $599
Born out of a Kickstarter campaign back in 2012, and purchased by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014, Oculus Rift launched what Silicon Valley is hoping becomes a virtual reality boom in 2016. Sony and HTC (in partnership with video game company Valve) are releasing virtual-reality headsets later this year, but putting the Rift on sale today means it will be the first concrete look anyone's had at how much virtual reality might cost the average consumer.
And: It'll be a lot, at least in the beginning.
The $600 price tag is slightly higher than expected, especially when considering that Facebook is incentivized to subsidize that price to help launch what it hopes could become an entirely new computing platform.
And the price is misleading, because many users will need to buy a new computer to work with the headset. The Rift is a powerful piece of hardware — it's not something that just can be plugged into a Mac laptop and run. Essentially, if a computer can't handle the massive loads of information creating a virtual environment quickly, it can either shut down or, worse, show everything at a slower frame-rate, which is what's most likely to cause nausea when using a headset.
If you don't have a serious PC (here's what Oculus considers to be a serious PC) but want to run virtual reality, you'll have to buy one, and that's probably going to cost somewhere in the ballpark of $1,000. That is the reason why many people are predicting that VR, at least for the next year or two, is going to be limited to gamers and early adopters and not everyone else; they're the ones that don't need to buy a whole new computer to use the technology.
By the time the Rift launches, Oculus will have an approval system in place to let consumers know which laptops and desktops are "Oculus Ready." In February, pre-orders for an Oculus Bundle, which includes an Oculus Ready PC, will be available starting at $1,499.
You're not just buying a headset.
The Rift comes with a camera for positional tracking (how it knows where you're looking and where your head is), two games (EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale), an Oculus Remote, and an Xbox One controller. That doesn't include the very cool Oculus Touch controllers that debuted last year, but a preorder now does put you at the front of the line to order one when they are available later this year.
Should you buy it?
If you contributed to the original Kickstarter, you're already getting a special-edition Rift for free. If you weren't so lucky, the answer is a little more complicated. Oculus is the biggest player in the game right now, the Rift is really, really good, and it has a wide range of exclusive games and experiences on the way. It also begins shipping to 20 countries on March 28th (although if you order now the delivery date has already been moved to April), far before the competition. So, if you're dying to get into VR right now, it's the quickest way to do so and almost certainly going to be a good experience.
That said, no one knows how much the Sony VR or HTC Vive are going to cost. They are likely to cost close to the same as the Oculus — it's going to be a hard sell to consumers that one virtual reality headset is worth much more than the others. However, the Sony will run exclusively on the Playstation 4, which costs just $349 if ordered today, and can be used for a traditional TV experience as well as VR. The HTC Vive faces similar constraints as the Rift in terms of necessary computing power, but features full room tracking, which basically means you can walk around a virtual environment. It's cool, and it's something this generation of Rift won't have.
So, if you're on the fence on this, jumping right in might not be the best move. 2016 is going to be a big year for virtual reality, and we're just at the beginning of it. In a few months, more people will be able to try it for themselves (the Rift will be available in "select retailers" by April), more experiences will be available on the headsets, and everyone will collectively decide whether VR is worth wearing those dumb headsets.
Wait a little, virtual reality will still be there when you make a decision.