The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will not work right out of the box. The Oculus Rift consumer edition that starts pre-orders later this year and ships in Q1 2016 will require a personal computer to power it, Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell said on stage today at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. That could make Oculus significantly less accessible to people who aren’t serious computer gamers already.
When asked whether the Oculus Rift will require a monstrous, super-premium PC to deliver its advertised immersive experience, Mitchell said: “We’re not talking about a crazy high-end machine, but something that can play modern games.” In the demo given to the press at CES this year, the PC that powered the demo included an nVidia GTX 980, a $600 graphics card.
Regarding the price, Mitchell said Oculus wants the Rift to be affordable, but admitted its positioned as a high-end experience that will cost significantly more than the Samsung Gear VR mobile headset that Oculus helped build and release last year.
Mitchell explained “Overall when we look at VR we see two product categories, the high end that will be represented by the Rift and the low end represented by our collaboration with Samsung.” Right now, the Oculus-built Samsung Gear VR costs $200. That’s on top of the phone that powers it — which generally cost $649 or more.
As for how people will buy the Rift, Mitchell said retail will play a big part according to Oculus VP of Product Nate Mitchell.
“We will probably take [pre-orders] on Oculus.com, but retail is going to be a big part of our strategy,” Mitchell noted during his interview at Disrupt NY this morning. “So far buying it has been about trial, you put it on and you’re transported to another place. That experience is going to be vital to getting hundreds of millions of people to adopt it.”
He wouldn’t go into more detail than that, but couldn’t suppress a smile when interview moderator Josh Constine brought up the idea of trial stations at retailers like Best Buy.
If the “Crescent Bay” demo at CES was any indication, the consumer Rift will feature graphics that would make a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One owner envious, so one would assume that the rig to power it (the Rift will not function as a standalone device in its first generation) will require more than just a high-end CPU — you’ll need a GPU that can handle high resolutions, large textures, high frame rates, and effects like shaders.
Luckily, there will be some “awesome” games available day one for the Oculus Rift, Mitchell says. That’s because Oculus has quietly begun building its own games. While it previewed an experimental in-house title called Hero Bound last year, Mitchell revealed that Oculus has several small teams building first-party titles. It will also publish second-party titles built by outside developers, and allow third-party titles created entirely independently of Oculus on its platform.
That doesn’t mean there will be half-baked apps on the Rift. Games that are too shocking or nauseating could scare people away from virtual reality.
Mitchell says that Oculus wants to make sure it only offers high-quality experiences at first, so expect it to have to review and approve Rift apps before they’re released. The company still values openness in its ecosystem, so it will allow third-party hardware peripherals and controllers to be compatible with the Rift. It will continue open sourcing its technologies when possible to aid developers.
It’ll be another month until Oculus reveals more at the E3 gaming conference. But if it can release a polished, somewhat affordable headset with great experiences from both inside and outside the company, Oculus could make the sci-fi dream of virtual reality finally come true.