Oculus VR unveils finished design, targets 2016 launch; price is still unknown

If you're looking to pick up Facebook Inc.'s (FB) official Oculus Rift gaming headset next year, you can expect a sweet ride -- if you can pay the entrance fee.

Last year was an action packed one for the firm behind the head mounted display (HMD), Oculus VR.  In March 2014 Facebook acquired the John Carmack-backed startup for $2B USD.  By July 2014 it was shipping a second-round developers model dubbed DevKit 2 (DK2).  And in September Oculus VR began "Crescent Bay" prototype, which reportedly was a major leap over DK2.

Now at long last Oculus (and Facebook) have given us a view of the finish line.  The finished product will launch in Q1 2016 (so by March of next year).  It will look like this. It's reportedly based closely on last fall's Crescent Moon prototype.  In addition to the display it features built in speakers with directional sound.

Oculus Rift finished

Following the publication of the above photos a little over a week back Oculus VR today published its "Recommended Spec" (minimum suggested hardware):
  • GPU
  • CPU
  • Other:
    • 8GB+ RAM (~$40 USD and up at present)
    • Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
    • 2x USB 3.0 ports
    • Windows 7 SP1 or newer
So just the CPU, GPU, and motherboard requirements will put this rig at $540 USD.  Add in your power supply, motherboard, and power supply and you're looking at around $900 in parts, likely.  You can find bundles on sites like Newegg that will give you all the parts you need (including a slightly better CPU) for around $800.

Oculus's relatively high end spec is pragmatic.  It's pushing 400+ million pixels per second, thanks to its 90 Hz refresh rate 2160x1200 effective display resolution.  The fast refresh rate and high resolution help to reduce the likeliness of motion sickness and avoid disappointing visual realism -- two problems that plagued earlier VR HMD attempts.  But they also mean the entrance fee isn't going to be cheap if you dont already own a high end gaming PC.

Oculus Rift
A 30,000 polygon scene rendered with Oculus VR is pictured.

And remember that $800 sticker is without the cost of Oculus Rift itself.  Cofounders Palmer Luckey and Nate Mitchell suggested in an interview with Eurogamer last fall that a price of somewhere between $200-400 USD was being targeted.  Commented Luckey:
Whatever [the price] is, it's going to be as cheap as possible.  That's really the goal.

Of course, "cheap" is in the eye of the beholder.  For PC gamers, it may indeed be cheap -- as they likely already own a rig capable of handling the Oculus Rift.  But for newcomers, the entrance fee will likely be at least $1000 USD.

That price tag could put a damper on the mass market appeal.  PC gamers are a fiercely loyal and enthusiastic, but there's not as many of them as you might think.  Jon Peddie Research estimated back in 2012 that globally there were 54 million PC gamers.  However, that figure likely includes gamers who play massively multiplayer online games or puzzle/strategy games.  Such games have much lower requirements.

Oculus VR -- finished

If you narrow your window to the crowd of hardcore PC gamers with high end gaming rigs, you could be talking about 10-20 million gamers.  That's a modest audience, but it's clear that Oculus wants to find a way to expand beyond that crowd, luring in traditional console gamers as well.  It certainly has the cool factor needed to pitch to console gamers.  However, the more challenging question is whether console gamers will buy into Oculus VR when it's more than twice the price of the latest generation of gaming consoles.

Part of what might make it a harder sell for console gamers is the fact that Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) are launching solutions of their own that will be compatible with their gaming consoles.  Microsoft is crafting the HoloLens, an HMD of its own.  And Sony is developing a wearable named Morpheus.  And that's not to mention the quirky duo of legendary American game studio Valve Corp. and Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) whose upcoming HTC Vive VR wearable is aimed at both smartphone and for gaming applications.

None of those rivals have the developer support and number of prototypes in the wild that Oculus VR does.  But given their potential to hit lower price points, Oculus could see significant selling challenges, should the rival designs make it to market in time.  It should be particularly interesting to see not just how hardcore PC gamers, but console gamers as well react to Oculus Rift when it hits the market next year.

And then there's the final wrinkle -- cellular gamers.  Facebook/Oculus has partnered with Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) to make the Galaxy Gear VR, a variant of Oculus Rift that will pair with smartphone games.  If the two make that option attractive enough, they may have found a way to sneak Oculus Rift around the PC hardware price hurdle.

Source: Oculus VR [official blog]

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