The virtual reality revolution is finally here! The Kickstarter crowdfunding project for the Oculus Rift that started it all on August 1, 2012, which lead to the legitimate launch of the VR industry and an eventual $2 billion Facebook acquisition in July 2014, has now been made public. Interested tech enthusiasts, early adopters, and developers could of course order their own Oculus Rift dev kits (I own a DK2 for example) but after three major iterations the first consumer edition is finally here.
The price point of the Oculus Rift at $600 earned its detractors but it didn’t stop pre-orders from crashing the website back in January, but prices aside, is the Oculus Rift VR headset worth it? Does it work and are its launch games worthy of playing? Let’s find out.
Palmer Luckey (Founder of Oculus) traveled with the very first consumer Oculus Rift to Anchorage, Alaska over the weekend to hand-deliver it, but the release date of the Oculus Rift is today March 28, 2016 and the first reviews are now online from major tech publications. Here are snippets and highlights from the reviews to go along with review scores where applicable.
Note: the kit includes an Xbox One controller and there are 30 games available at launch, a few of them included with the Rift, but the motion controllers don’t release until later in the year.
Ars Technica – “Despite first-gen roughness, PC virtual reality is finally—incredibly—real.”
After decades of incremental improvements to the way PC games and apps are displayed on monitors, the Rift feels like an entirely new way of thinking about how we look at the computerized world. It’s unique enough that a lot of the things we take for granted in computing and gaming are struggling to catch up with the new rules necessitated by its entirely new viewpoint. That means this first step still feels a little rough and uncertain in many ways that lessen its sheer impact.
Despite all the potentially revolutionary changes, though, for now the Rift hasn’t done much to change the way we interact with the PC. This brave new display technology is a strictly “look, don’t touch” affair, controlled primarily through a standard Xbox One gamepad that seems built for an entirely different way of playing. In the Rift, you have to tamp down that first instinct to simply reach out and grab at the convincing world surrounding you… Oculus’ hand-tracking Touch controllers, due later this year at a still-unknown cost, will help fix this problem. At that point, though, they risk becoming a niche within a niche, supported only by the developers who want to appeal to people who bought an extra accessory for their virtual reality accessory.
This and other early product issues make the Rift feel very much like the first-generation product it is. Similar to the first the first iPhone, which launched nearly 10 years ago with a crappy camera and no app store, the Oculus Rift is as revolutionary as it is still limited. If the mere potential of convincing virtual reality wasn’t enough to get you to lay down a $600 pre-order sight unseen (or more, if you needed a computer upgrade), you’re probably better off waiting for time and competition to drive the performance up and the price down.
Engadget – 84/100
Even after spending the better part of a week with the Oculus Rift, it’s still hard to fathom that virtual reality is something I can just jump into at home. It’s almost as easy as flipping on a game console or turning on the radio. It’s even harder to believe that we have a first-generation technology product that mostly lives up to all of the hype, and decades of geek fantasies.
But as with any first-gen product, there are a few flaws with the Oculus Rift. The imaging technology still isn’t perfect, and it requires a significant amount of powerful gaming hardware. The price is understandable, given that it’s leading us into an entirely new form of computing. But it’s also hard to champion the Rift completely when few people can afford it. It’s the very definition of elite technology.
Hopefully in a few years, when the hardware gets cheaper, VR will have something for everyone. Right now, though, the important thing is that it actually exists.
Gizmodo – “This Shit Is Legit”
There are still moments when you see hints of “screen-door effect”—wherein the space between pixels is visible, because the OLED displays are almost on top of of your eyeballs. The effect is akin to seeing the world through a screened-in porch. Plus the image is occasionally blurry, and the sweet spot for the lenses feels elusive and small. At times, it’s like you’re staring through a tunnel at the image, insofar as the edges of your field-of-view look artificially cut off.
What Oculus has accomplished is remarkable. There’s plenty that even the completely uninitiated user can enjoy. More importantly, the Rift is truly immersive in most cases. The image quality is mostly excellent, and the head-tracking is nearly flawless. Indeed, perhaps what’s most significant is that there are moments when I can say unreservedly and without caveats that I am enjoying the Rift right in the moment—not as a device indicative of some desirable future, but as a device to own right now. I still can’t afford the future of virtual reality, but for the first time, I actually want to.
Polygon – 8.5/10
The first retail Oculus Rift is an interesting release in that it already feels like a luxury item, but there are obvious areas that need to improve in future iterations. It’s not the easiest system to put on over glasses, or to remove. The straps on the sides and top are adjusted using velcro, and how well will it work after a year? Or three?
Testing the bounds of what feels real and how we interact with worlds we control completely is a new frontier for gaming, and the Oculus Rift delivers on that promise. There are issues, and the software will continue to get better and offer more features, but this is a functional platform with a wide selection of available games and experiences. It changed how we think of games. It made us feel. It put us inside things that we used to only be able to see. Going back to a standard screen is hard.
Retail virtual reality is here. It was worth the wait.
TechCrunch – “Most shouldn’t buy, but all should try”
Some bugs on both the hardware and software side won’t be worked out until the company actually sees how real money-wielding humans beings sit down and interact with their product. Buying a shiny first-gen product in a totally new consumer product category is doubly risky… This generally holds true for the Rift. Though the hardware experience it offers feels surprisingly refined and well thought out, the broader ecosystem is still a bit of a Wild West. This won’t stop the more adventurous who will likely have no qualms dropping $599 on a shot at the future.
The Oculus Rift is a crazy device that is more than the sum of its parts. As the first consumer high-powered virtual reality headset, it deserves props for just existing, but incredibly it manages to kick ass as well. Whether you should buy now, just try it out or wait until Oculus Touch arrives depends mostly on your patience and cashflow.
The Rift has had an entire industry riding on its back, and more than a handful of skeptics praying for its downfall. It impresses, and signals more good things to come from consumer virtual reality and — more broadly — our technological future.
Wired – 9/10
The long-promised virtual reality headset is finally here, in a remarkably well-made and accessible device. Built-in 3-D audio makes the VR experiences that much more riveting. Positional tracking adds a layer of reality smartphone-powered headsets can’t match. Once you download the installer, setup is easy. Appropriately padded and well balanced, it’s comfortable to wear for long sessions.
Many of the coolest-looking games aren’t here yet. You’ll just have to wait. Same with the controllers. Also, since it requires a pricey VR-ready PC, you’re likely laying out more than the $600 just for the headset. All of these things are typical of early-adopter hardware, and none of them really matter if you consider this an investment for the future.
Assigning numerical value scores to a new kind of tech where there’s nothing to compare to and software is so limited at this point seems inexplicable and strange, but at least they get the overall message across that this stuff actually works. It’s pricey, it’ll evolve, there’s still hardware missing (i.e. the controllers), but it is a starting point that’s leading to a major change in not just entertainment, but will have business, social, research, industrial, etc. implications as well.
Heck, there are even roller coaster rides at amusement parks that’ll be utilizing the Oculus Rift this year (Superman: Ride of Steel coaster at Six Flags America and Superman Krypton Coaster at Six Flags Fiesta Texas).