Alice Through the Oculus Glass
Well, I’m sure that we’ve all heard the news by now. The Oculus Rift is available for pre-order and costs just a wee bit more than that “$350 ballpark” we were expecting. In fact, the total price is expected to run the average user closer to $1500 when taking into account the high end hardware recommended to even run the thing. Though the latter amount isn’t too surprising when considering that was projected at the same time as the $350 figure was first posited.
So what changed? Why did the amount double? Especially after the Facebook purchase and assurance that cost would be reduced due to the significantly deeper pockets effectively allowing Oculus to eat the loss of selling their hardware at cost. Well, Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, took to Reddit in a lengthy AMA to address those concerns, as well as a whole lot more.
Curiously, the question on everyone’s lips was not why the price had almost doubled, though that was certainly a major concern that people wanted to see addressed. And the simple answer is money. But not in the sense that Oculus want more. Rather, the Facebook purchase gave them significantly deeper pockets, which allowed them to form a business model around selling the headset at cost (they make no profit) but also put them in a position to push the tech beyond its original scope.
“The core technology in the Rift is the main driver - two built-for-VR OLED displays with very high refresh rate and pixel density, a very precise tracking system, mechanical adjustment systems that must be lightweight, durable, and precise, and cutting-edge optics that are more complex to manufacture than many high end DSLR lenses. It is expensive, but for the $599 you spend, you get a lot more than spending $599 on pretty much any other consumer electronics devices - phones that cost $599 cost a fraction of that to make, same with mid-range TVs that cost $599. There are a lot of mainstream devices in that price-range, so as you have said, our failing was in communication, not just price.”
Essentially, the Rift is no longer intended to be an entry level device as it used to be. It now boasts a 1440p resolution running at 90fps. That’s not something to be so easily scoffed at. And that, too, is why the listed specs are so high, leading to the all in estimate of $1500 to have a Rift ready machine. See, what they’re now doing is aiming to have, in a very loose analogy, the 4K holographic Sony TV of VR machines. Where other, less expensive, products will offer an introduction to what VR is. Whilst Oculus will be this what VR can do.
“Somewhat surprisingly, the majority of time spent right in Gear VR is video and experiences, not games. Over time, VR span beyond games, much like the evolution of computer and mobile platforms before it. Right now, gaming is going to be the primary driver of PC VR, but the content base will expand over time.”
They’re playing the long game. Another advantage of the massive resources Facebook brought to the table is that they can now, effectively, eat the cost of having their sales trickle in over time. Rather than having to rely on early adoption recouping their losses. Thus allowing them to build a better experience for everyone. Not just their own company, but giving room for other VR technology to compete.
“We are focusing on launching our own product right now, but when standardization does eventually happen, it will be the result of collaboration between many companies, not control by a single company.”
And this, ladies and gentlefolk, is why I am suddenly a lot more excited about the Oculus Rift. This is why we all should be at least sceptically optimistic. At this stage, yes, it remains somewhat uncertain. But Palmer is talking the talk and, frankly, if Oculus deliver on even a fraction of what we are being promised. Both from the tech and future business practice, pun intended, this is going to be a game changer.
It is also worth noting, and stressing, that even the recommended PC specs for Rift usage do not guarantee maximum return. Unlike many companies today, they are playing the long game, as previously stated. With the intention being that later hardware will be better equipped to really push the technology towards even greater returns. Future-proofing, as they call it.
Having said that, older hardware that falls outside the recommended ranges will not be locked out. There is simply no guarantee that, for example, an old HD model AMD card will be able to even manage to display an image. Let alone attain the 90fps needed for everything to run smoothly. But we’re PC gamers, and we’re no stranger to having to scale things back at times. So why should it be any different for a new peripheral?
“We will not be artificially restricting use of computers. Not my style. Some apps will run on lower spec machines, especially things like movie apps, but we can't officially support that, especially since many low end cards are physically unable to output the framerate and resolution required for the hardware to operate.”
There’s a lot more in the AMA, which is well worth the time to read through fully. But one last thing which we all need to be aware of, is that this open approach will also extend to software. Whilst individual developers may decide to make their game/app/whatever run solely on the Rift, Oculus will not be enforcing any such requirement. Not even in so far as limiting software for their devices to be sold on their own service.
“We want to have all Oculus Store content available everywhere in the world for Gear VR and Rift. There may be some cases where we can’t because of local policy or technical limitations. Our games services provide devs the ability to use your Oculus Name throughout all of the Oculus games and experiences. On Gear VR, Oculus Video has a paid video store that features full-length films from our content partners. It also supports sideloaded video playback. You can expect similar features to come to Rift over time.”
So will we see exclusive titles? Almost certainly. Which is something that PC users have never really had to deal with before, making it a daunting prospect certainly, but then perhaps not. After all, online services such as Origin, Steam and Uplay have their unique titles as well. This is simply the first time we have seen it done by hardware…except that isn’t true either. Nvidia PhysX anyone? This really isn’t quite as large of a concern as it may seem. Though I agree, it is something of an irritation and only time will tell how much of an impact it truly has.
So where does that leave us? Is the $600/£500 price tag too high? Absolutely not. If you are willing to pay for it. Which a lot of people, clearly, already are. Also, with all Kickstarter backers who pledged to the DK1 level or above being sent a retail unit gratis, there will be a wealth of end user information coming our way in short order. Which means those of us still on the fence will have ample opportunity to hear first hand reports, and even see the Rift in action before making a decision.
But let's be honest. We all know we're going to get one sooner or later.