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Oculus CEO hints at cost of Rift headset: $1,500 with PC

The chief executive of Facebook's virtual-reality outfit won't say exactly how much its consumer headset will cost when it launches next year. But he has a ballpark range.

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Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe talks virtual reality at Code Conference. Asa Mathat/Recode

No one knows what Oculus VR's consumer headset will cost when it goes on sale early next year. But on Wednesday we heard a few clues.

Consumers will spend around $1,500 -- when coupled with a PC costing less than $1,000, that is -- for the Rift headset, Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe said Wednesday at Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. The Rift headset, available today as a developer version for around $350, uses a screen pressed against your eyes to simulate 360-degree environments.

It's a clever bit of verbal acrobatics, because Iribe implies the Rift could cost anywhere from $500 to as much as $800. Iribe notes that's because of the cost of upgrading a computer's graphics card so it can handle intensive 3D images. A new, capable graphics chip can cost a few hundred dollars.

"Over time, we'd like it to get to $1,000 or less, as we get to the next generation of VR," Iribe said of cost for both a new computer and a Rift headset.

Pricing is one of the key issues clouding consumer VR headsets. Though the market for these devices has grown fast -- helped along by Facebook's blockbuster acquisition of Oculus VR for $2 billion in March 2014 -- no one knows if everyday consumers will pony up for one. Another issue: Virtual-reality headsets tend to induce nausea -- a problem Oculus has been working on since the beginning. On top of that, there still aren't that many activities you can do in VR.

The technology's advocates promise it can change everything from film and medicine to travel and real estate. But right now VR -- like the Rift headset -- is squarely focused on gaming applications, with a few forays into 3D movies and live theater, music performances and sports.

"I think it's going to be for tech enthusiasts, for a lot of gamers, because it's 3D," Iribe said of the Rift's appeal to early developers. "Game developers are the first to create content -- some are creating cinematic content, interactive content."

Oculus is dabbling in replicating the real world too, not just creating virtual ones. On Tuesday, the company announced its acquisition of Surreal Vision, a small startup specializing in computer vision that re-creates the 3D world as the human eye sees it. That would let Oculus better re-create and display your living room or other real-world places, like a concert or sports match, and let you experience it using the headset.

"We call that augmented virtual reality," he said. "We think that's a longer road -- everybody replacing their regular glasses with augmented-reality glasses."

Augmented reality can overlay 3D images onto everyday scenes. Competitors include Microsoft, which is developing its HoloLens, and Google-funded Magic Leap, which has yet to show off its product.

Iribe stressed that for now Oculus is focused on high-quality VR. And that means the Rift will require a powerful computer.

Granted, VR is available today through cheaper products, but those products are not anywhere near as immersive. For example, Samsung's GearVR headset mounts its Galaxy smartphones into a headset and costs around $200, not including the cost of the phone.

Google also has a low-cost, do-it-yourself virtual-reality platform, called Google Cardboard, that's powered by its Android mobile operating system. Google is expected to reveal more details about its VR ambitions at its annual I/O developers conference, which starts Thursday.

Iribe was also questioned by Recode's Walt Mossberg about the medical impact of VR on younger brains. The company currently advises against use by children under the age of 13. Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz has publicly questioned the health and safety of long-term VR use, saying it may cause brain damage.

"It's early days and we are really trying to be conscious of health and safety," Iribe said. "We put a warning on right when you put it on. The age of 13 made a lot of sense when we joined Facebook -- their age is 13," he added, referring to Facebook's minimum age for opening an account.

There are few medical studies exploring the long-term effects of VR.

"We need to start doing those studies and learning what kinds of things need to be fixed to be comfortable for long use," Iribe said. "One day we want to have Oculus for kids."