The CEO of Oculus, Brendan Iribe, recently gave a talk at Re/code’s Code Conference, and one of the details mentioned was that the combined cost of the Rift and a computer to run it, the “all-in price,” would be in the $1500 range. This was just a bit under two weeks since the recommended specs for running the Rift had been released, and the $1500 price took into account what it would take to go from absolutely nothing at all to being able to run it comfortably. So of course this is suddenly news, as if it’s something we not only didn’t already know but also the actual cost of the Rift itself.
We didn’t get around to covering the recommended specs for a computer running Oculus Rift back when they were released on May 15, but they’re not unexpectedly steep based on what VR needs. Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 or better for the video card, Intel i5-4590 for the CPU, 8GB RAM, two USB 3.0 ports, and Win 7 or better. The math on this hardware wasn’t particularly hard, but it wasn’t until Iribe quoted $1500 that people took notice. Sure, it’s kinda pricey, but VR needs to run at very high frame rates on one monitor per eyeball to deliver on its promise and not send the user diving for a vomit bucket.
That’s not hyperbole, by the way. Bad VR brings on heavy nausea due to the mismatch between what you’re seeing and feeling, and the body wants whatever substance is causing it removed immediately. You and I both know it’s a headset strapped to your face, but deep-seated unconscious instinct doesn’t work from a reason-based perspective. A major cause for it taking so long to go from the initial September 2012 Kickstarter end-date to a final release is making sure that VR’s second chance at success isn’t shortchanged by an extra-chunky flood of vomiting users. The recommended PC specs are roughly half of what’s needed to avoid this, and the other half is getting developers the experience necessary to know what kind of camera movement to avoid. The developer kits released in the last couple of years are to help with the latter problem, but it’s the consumer hardware side of the equation that’s causing a bit of noise right now.
If you don’t have a PC and want to experience the Oculus Rift, or Vive, or whatever other headset might come along, it’s going to be expensive. That $1500 figure didn’t give a breakdown in price between a nice PC and the headset itself, but hopefully the day-1 cost hasn’t wandered too far from the $350 the DK2 sells for. It’s important to note, though, that whatever percentage of the price the Rift ends up being, it’s still just a peripheral for a nicely-powerful gaming rig. Admitted, it would be nice if it ran well on hardware bought in 2014, but it hasn’t been a secret that making VR games work properly requires serious PC muscle.
The real issue behind the all-in price tag isn’t cost so much as it is consumer acceptance, and that $1500 figure is scary for any level of mass-market penetration. Core PC gamers probably have a couple of components they can scavenge from their current machine to trim that $1500 down to size, but the average PC user is getting by on older hardware because it gets the job done. Oculus is taking the long view on this, though, knowing that they’ll do just fine from an enthusiast audience for a while, and that hardware prices will plummet over time as hardware prices always do. VR isn’t the gimmick that 3D tv or movies were, and actually adds something worthwhile to the gaming experience. It’s a feature that people actively want or can easily be sold on once they’ve experienced it, and if it’s expensive for a while to gear up for VR? Well, at least that money buys you a killer gaming rig that can do just about anything you care to think of.