Nearly four years ago, the Oculus Rift was little more than a smartphone screen duct-taped to a set of ski goggles which claimed to transport you to a virtual world. Now, after years of anticipation, a consumer-ready Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is finally going on sale -- for nearly $600.
Today, Oculus -- now owned by Facebook -- is opening pre-orders of the Rift for $599, £499 or AU$649. The company says the first batch of units will ship March 28.
Update: As of January 16th, new buyers are seeing ship dates of July. Originally, Oculus appeared to quickly sold out of units that ship March, followed shortly by April, then May and June.
Here's the initial list of countries where the Rift will ship.
For the money, you'll get a wired headset, a camera that you'll place on a desk or wall to help track your head movements, and a Microsoft Xbox One gamepad (with a USB wireless adapter) to let you navigate virtual reality apps and games. It also comes with a newly announced simple media remote: the Oculus Remote.
Two games are also included, free of charge: Lucky's Tale, a Super Mario-like game where you play a fox exploring a cartoony world one jump at a time, and Eve: Valkyrie, a fast-paced space dogfighting game that puts you in the cockpit of a starfighter, duking it out in five vs. five online multiplayer skirmishes with several wingmen at your side..
In a blog post, Oculus claims there will be over 100 VR titles available for the Rift by the end of 2016, including Minecraft, Rock Band, Edge of Nowhere (by the developers of Uncharted), and The Climb (by the developers of Crysis).
$599 is a good bit more than many VR enthusiasts expected the Oculus Rift to cost. Early developer kits ranged from $300 to $350, and when Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion, the company communicated that the deal could allow Oculus to sell the headset for a lower price. Oculus has already taken care of its most outspoken enthusiasts, though, by offering a free headset to those who backed the device on Kickstarter. Founder Palmer Luckey also claims that even at $599, Oculus isn't making any money on the hardware.
Nor does $599 buy you a complete virtual reality setup, either. For one thing, the Oculus Rift needs to be plugged into a powerful gaming PC in order to function properly -- a computer that could easily cost $800 even if you piece it together yourself.
Oculus says bundles that come with compatible PCs will be available starting at $1,499 this February, and can be tacked onto your Rift pre-order when they're available without changing your ship date. One such computer will be the Alienware X51, which will come with a GTX 970 graphics card for a discounted price of $999 when buying alongside an Oculus Rift -- a $200 discount.
Here are the recommended system specs for the Oculus Rift:
- Graphics card: Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
- Processor: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
- Memory: 8GB+ RAM
- Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
- Input: 3x USB 3.0 ports, plus a USB 2.0 port
- Operating system: Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer
(You can check whether your computer is compatible with this Windows app.)
For another thing, the optional Oculus Touch motion controllers -- designed to let you reach out and grab things in virtual reality, instead of limiting your interactions to the buttons and joysticks of a traditional gamepad -- won't be available until the second half of the year. (You can reserve a spot in line for the Touch controllers when you pre-order an Oculus, though.)
And the Oculus Rift isn't the only virtual reality headset to choose from in 2016. The Vive, created by the smartphone company HTC in partnership with video game giant Valve (which owns the Steam PC game store) is also coming to gaming PCs within the next few months. It includes an innovative tracking system that lets you actually walk around a room in virtual reality with no fear of bumping into walls. We don't know how much it'll cost.
Then there's Sony's PlayStation VR, a promising virtual reality headset that doesn't require a gaming PC at all, but rather Sony's relatively inexpensive ($350, £300, AU$480) PlayStation 4. We also don't know what the PlayStation VR will cost, but Sony has already sold over 30 million PS4 consoles to date, meaning there are likely more VR buyers in the PlayStation camp than there are willing to buy expensive new graphics cards for their PCs.
There are also far cheaper VR headsets that simply place a smartphone inside a viewer to display their virtual worlds, such as Samsung's Gear VR and Google Cardboard. They're not quite in the same category as Rift, Vive and PlayStation VR because they don't have nearly as much processing power to create realistic graphics, and they don't have full controllers to let you interact with those worlds.
At this point, choosing an enthusiast VR headset like the Rift is choosing a side in a battle for the attention of game and app developers. Whichever one you pick (if any), you're casting a vote for where they should spend their money creating virtual reality experiences. It's not yet clear whether any of them will necessarily succeed. But today is the first time you've been able to pick.
Before you do, you might want to check out our full preview of the final Oculus Rift. Find it right here.
Full disclosure: My wife works at Facebook, owner of Oculus VR, as a business-to-business video producer.