After years of development (and hype), the Oculus Rift is finally coming out March 28. The $600 virtual reality headset is the first in a series of mainstream devices coming out this year. Here's a guide to understanding what exactly it is and isn't:
What is it?
The first high-fidelity, PC-powered, cable-tethered virtual reality headset to hit the market. It stands in competition with the HTC Vive ($799, due April 5) and Sony's PlayStation VR ($499 bundled with camera and controllers, due in October).
Yes, less expensive alternatives like Google Cardboard and the Gear VR (by Samsung and Oculus) have been around for awhile now at the impulse end of the market. But the Rift is powered by PC processors orders of magnitude more powerful than VR's entry-level models. It's the headset most responsible for all the virtual reality chatter these past few years. And it's the approach Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg found persuasive enough to pay $2 billion for, snatching up Rift parent company Oculus VR in March 2014.
What can I do with it?
Imagine strapping on a pair of safety goggles—you know, the kind you can buy at any hardware store with wide elastic straps and that lie flush against your face around your eyes and nose. Now imagine a posher, more comfortable version of those, only the goggle portion protrudes several inches further from your face, plus it's solid black, to block any external light.
Instead of gazing at a flat plastic wall, you're peering through a pair of special lenses that refract the light from twin tiny high-end video screens (sitting just behind the lenses), which work with motion sensors in the headset to create the illusion of a wraparound alternate reality as you naturally swivel or nod your head.
Those alt-realities at launch consist mostly of games at this point: arcade shooters, flight sims, racers, a hack-and-slash, an action-roleplaying game, real-time strategy and tower defense stuff, a pinball thing, a tennis sim, air hockey, a puzzler, some interactive stories and outliers like a “bomb-defusing” party game.
The Rift will launch with 30 games, and Oculus promises you'll be able to pick from over 100 Rift games by year's end.
How much does it cost?
The Rift headset lists for $599. But it also requires a high-end PC, and the 30 launch titles run from as little as $5 to as much as $60.
All told, if you buy the Rift, a fully "Oculus Ready" PC and a handful of games, you're looking at spending $1,600 to $1,700.
Where and when can I buy it?
The Rift goes on sale March 28, but don't expect to find a headset lying around if you didn't preorder back in early January. Orders processed mere days after the Rift went on sale January 6 may not be processed for weeks after the official launch date, according to Oculus.
What do I get with the headset?
The Rift box includes:
- The headset itself (with integrated headphones and mic)
- An Oculus sensor (a camera to track you)
- An Oculus remote (essentially a TV remote, and no motion control)
- An Xbox One wireless gamepad (with batteries, adapter and extender)
- Connection cables, plus a tool to add/remove the integrated headphones
You also get a copy of studio Playful's Lucky's Tale (a whimsical run-and-jump adventure game), and if you preordered the Rift, a copy of CCP's EVE Valkyrie (an online-focused arcade space sim).
What are the tech specs?
The Rift headset includes:
- A gyroscope and accelerometer (motion-sensors)
- Twin AMOLED displays with resolutions of 1,200-by-1080 pixels per eye
- 90Hz refresh rate
- Adjustable lens spacing from 58 to 72 millimeters
- A 4 meter cable (connects the headset to your PC)
- Replaceable facial interface
And the sensor/camera includes:
- A 1/4-20 camera mount compatible stand
- Infrared constellation tracking (a fancy way of saying it'll keep tabs on you and your peripherals)
- A 2.5 meter cable (connects the sensor to your PC)
Do I need a new PC?
The Rift's recommended specs are as follows:
- Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 970/AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
- Processor: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
- Memory: 8GB+ RAM
- Output: HDMI-compatible 1.3 video output
- Operating System: Windows 7 SP1 64-bit or newer
- Inputs: 3x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0
Oculus Rift games will run on lesser hardware, but you then you risk running into performance issues that, given how critical high and consistent frame rates are to soothing your hoodwinked visual cortex, could make your feel ill.
Note that the most impactful (and expensive) component above is the video card. If you already have a PC and plan to upgrade just the video card, models based on Nvidia's GTX 970 or AMD's R9 290 GPUs sell in the mid to high $300s, depending on the manufacturer and processor clock speeds.
If you plan (or need) to buy a completely new PC, "Oculus Ready" systems run in the vicinity of $1,000, but you can save a few bucks if you buy them bundled with the Rift headset.
Can my kids use it?
Oculus says the Rift "is not intended for children under 13 years old."
Why 13? Because 12 to 13 is the age range VR manufacturers have settled on absent guidance from medical professionals or data from long term usage studies. Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe has said the company went with 13 because that's where Facebook (which owns Oculus) draws the line.
Will it make me dizzy or sick?
You won't know until you try it. Games that make some ill, others have no trouble with. The law of averages does seem to apply here, and to that end, Oculus has established a "Comfort Ratings" system designed offer general guidance.
Look for these ratings on each Oculus game:
- Comfortable: Experiences with a comfortable rating involve little or no movement, often stationary.
- Moderate: A moderate experience will be non-stationary and likely includes gentle camera movements.
- Intense: Anything with complex movement, such as running and jumping in 1st-person shooters.
How do I clean it?
Very carefully, and with nothing more than a dry microfiber cloth. Oculus also says to keep the headset, sensor and remote out of direct sunlight.
Aren't there supposed to be touch controls?
Yes, one for each hand, but they'll cost extra, and won't be available until the second half of 2016. Until then, Rift games are restricted to input from the headset itself and the Xbox One gamepad.