Whether you’ve been following the resurgence in virtual reality technology or not, you’ve probably heard about the Oculus Rift. The Rift is Oculus’ first major VR project, originally started as a simple Kickstarter project. People have been waiting months just to hear what the final price would be – and now that they know, the people are angry.
Earlier this morning, Oculus opened the Rift up for pre-orders. The first few customers received a shipping date of March (toward the end of the month), while the majority of buyers can expect to get their Rift sometime inside of April. If you go to the Oculus website right now, you’ll see a ship date of May – and it’s going to keep stretching out from here.
When Oculus co-founder Palmer Lucky was questioned on pricing recently, he mentioned it would be “in the ballpark” of $350. This statement is probably going to come back to haunt him, because when the site opened for pre-orders today, it did so with a starting Oculus Rift price of $599 US.
Buyers abroad were hit with even more shell shock; thanks to recent currency fluctuations, Canadians can expect to pay over $900 CAD for their devices, and this is before inevitable brokerage fees hit, levied by the delivery companies.
The immediate community response, especially in places like Reddit, has been swift and brutal. Many customers feel betrayed by the huge upswing in pricing over an expected range of $350-$450.
Still, if you’re surprised by the high cost, you probably haven’t been paying attention. Lucky has made a number of statements in the past that the real first generation of VR platforms (the Samsung phone-based Gear VR, also produced in conjunction with Oculus, doesn’t really count) would need to be sold at cost, and that even then, most consumers would be priced out of the market.
Even today, in response to the criticism, Oculus has stated that the company will be making zero profit on this hardware; it’s even subsidizing it to a certain extent.
That leaves many to wonder – how much will HTC’s Vive, currently the only real competitor, cost? HTC has stated that the Vive will open to orders in April, around the same time that Oculus buyers start seeing charges hit their credit cards. But HTC’s system is more complex, and will come with motion controllers developed by Valve – Oculus, in comparison, is shipping with a free Xbox One controller, courtesy of Microsoft; their motion controllers have been pushed back several months.
In addition, HTC has been struggling to make any money over the last couple of years; they’re not exactly at a point where they can afford to give away VR headsets like the Facebook-owned Oculus – which means the Vive may be even more expensive.
A lot goes into making a device like this – companies have to order custom, high-resolution, high-framerate OLED screens, high-quality optics, engineer the molding for the body, figure out the chips for displaying content, the list of expensive materials goes on and on. Unfortunately, it seems like there’ll be no relief on the price until the second generation comes around, likely next year or the year after.
The cost to play is increased when you consider the computer hardware you’ll need to drive it – playing games at 2160 x 1200, at 90fps or so – will require the use of graphics cards costing a minimum of several hundred dollars.
Will you order an Oculus Rift, or is VR just an overpriced fad?