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Oculus Rift costs now costs $399. Should you buy it?

Facebook keeps dropping the price on high-end VR. Has the time finally come to say VR is a must-buy? CNET's Scott Stein and Sean Hollister argue both sides.

Facebook's Oculus just reduced the price on the Rift, the company's premium VR headset, to $399. Suddenly, it's more affordable than the PlayStation VR

The sale's only happening for the summer, which is why it's time to ask... should you take the plunge?

Scott Stein

Scott Stein rocks out with an Oculus Rift.

Josh Miller/CNET

I say yes... if you're at all curious about what it's like to play and experience VR and have the right PC. But know that you're essentially renting the future for now.

The Oculus Rift originally cost $800 for a headset and the pretty-much-essential Touch controllers. But at the moment, the Rift bundle is half that price.

Of course, you also need a compatible high-end gaming PC. Those are becoming more affordable now, too.

Even a year ago, I found the Rift's library of games and apps to be impressive enough to recommend it. And I still think it's the best VR platform out there: its curated library of software and fantastic hand controllers are the best way to experience the best of what's out there in virtual reality.

Sure, there's a distinct possibility that better VR hardware could be announced sooner than later. Maybe it's a higher-resolution headset, or a wireless one. You could wait, although I'm not convinced that next generation of hardware is coming immediately. This really isn't a bad time to buy. There are enough good games, videos, and experiences to justify the leap, and the PC hardware that works with it has gotten more affordable. Just remember, at the heart of it all, VR is still largely a novelty.

Are you considering heading to some sort of VR arcade and renting a VR experience? Those tend to cost a dollar a minute. So, you'd need to spend 400 minutes in the Rift to merit buying it. Less than 7 hours. Oculus' included bundle of games and apps provides a really good package, too, enough you could be satisfied just playing with the software included.

At $400, the Rift is still almost twice the price of a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. It's not an impulse buy. And also know that my own VR habits tend to be limited. I can't spend more than a full hour in VR without needing a long break. 

But, that being said, for the best VR experiences that don't involve wandering across an entire room (HTC Vive does that better, but for most homes it's probably not a perfect fit), the Oculus Rift is the best software-hardware package.

Will it be outdated? Sure. That's why I suggest it only as the best current way to experience everything that VR has on tap.

So, go for it, if you're tempted. It's better hardware than PlayStation VR, and now it also costs less.

Sean Hollister

Sean Hollister, in the Oculus Rift.

Josh Miller/CNET

I can't recommend the Oculus Rift with a clean conscience. I'm no VR hater, and it's undeniably an awesome piece of hardware with some mind-blowing experiences to try.

But not many. There's still no killer app for VR. And I highly doubt VR's killer apps will work on the Rift when they finally do arrive.

You see, VR headsets are on the cusp of some huge technological additions that'll make them way the heck better to use. 

With new wireless radios and outward-facing cameras, you'll be able to cut the cords and freely walk around a room without tripping over furniture or your headset cable.

With eye-tracking cameras, you'll be able to intuitively interact with people and objects, and game developers will be able to use a technique called foveated rendering (which focuses a computer's processing power where you're looking instead of wasting it everywhere you're not) to create more detailed, realistic VR titles than the ones we've seen so far.

Industry insiders have told me these tech advancements should ship in high-end headsets as soon as 2018.

(Update, July 13: Bloomberg reports Oculus is planning a $200 standalone wireless headset for 2018 that won't require a PC or phone.)

Knowing that these breakthroughs are coming (as well as smaller, lighter and higher-res headsets), do you think VR game developers will really waste their best ideas on the early adopter headsets available today?

Particularly when so few of them have been sold up until now? (Estimates suggest only Samsung's Gear VR and Sony's Playstation VR have even broken 1 million.)

And out of today's headsets, the Oculus Rift is arguably the riskiest of all, because VR developers can't count on an Oculus user being able to turn around and interact with objects behind them.

(Unlike the HTC Vive, whose independent base stations let you freely walk around a room, a pair of Oculus sensors only fully supports games that put the action right in front of the player. To interact in 360 degrees, you've gotta buy a third sensor and find some way to run that fourth USB cable from your PC to the other side of the room.)

Even with a huge price drop and the excellent Touch controllers packed in, the Oculus Rift feels like a dead end to me. If you buy a Rift today, I worry that VR may leave you behind. 

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