On Wednesday, January 6th, and as I reported, Oculus VR announced the price of the first generation Oculus Rift VR headset as being US $599 (€699 in Europe and £499 in the UK) + shipping at applicable taxes, with the unit available for pre-order.
The price has caused some consternation around the globe, even though Palmer Luckey had, since September 2015, been indicating the headset would be more than the assumed price of US $350, as my colleague Ben Lang over at The Road to VR quoted Luckey saying at the time.
As it is, the Oculus Rift is apparently heavily subsidised by Facebook; had it not been so, then the price might have been north of the US $1,000 mark . Further, and like it or not, the HTC / Valve Vive is likely to have a price point somewhat more than the Rift – although it will include hand controllers and room sensors, which the Rift does not. In addition, the latest version of the Vive sports a “chaperone system”: a front-mounted camera which allows the user to overlay their VR environment with images of the room around them, making for easier physical movement when using the headset.
Elsewhere, there has been speculation about the possible price of Sony’s PlayStation VR (PSVR), particularly after Forbes reported Amazon Canada had it listed at CAN $1,125 (roughly US $800). The listing price was later removed, with Sony stating it was an error and that the final price of the PSVR has yet to be determined – but it has left people wondering.
And while the Oculus Rift price may seem steep, it might be worth pointing out that the Vuzix iWear, an OSVR-based headset initially aimed at the immersive film experience, but capable of supporting VR games and applications, is currently available for pre-order at US $499, and comes with a specification somewhat below that of the Rift.
So does this mean the US $599 price tag for the Oculus Rift is justified? Given that the first pre-order batch apparently sold-out within minutes, one might be tempted to say “yes”. However, the initial rush could be deceptive; while there are undoubtedly a lot of early adopters out there willing to pay a premium for the hardware, they aren’t likely to be in the majority.
And here is where consumer-focused VR could end-up being hoist by its own petard, and in a number of ways, some of which are pointed to by Chris Kohler, writing at Wired.
The first is that VR as a term is already being badly abused.Much is made of 360-degree video (already a thing through Google Cardboard systems), but it really isn’t VR as many would accept it.
The second is there is already a rising tide of headsets offering “VR experiences”. Most of these are (again) Cardboard-based and utilised a mobile ‘phone. The problem here is that inevitably, the quality of the experience isn’t all it could be. What’s more, it often hooks back into the idea that VR is pretty much stuff like 360-degree video.
The issue here is that despite these factors, these low-end headsets and units such as Samsung’s Gear VR, are presenting VR as something that’s easily affordable (given most people are liable to have a suitable ‘phone to use with them). The experience may not be terribly clever when compared to the Rift or the Vive – but it is there, and it is coupled with a possible perception that VR is about 360 film / sports experiences.
Thus, unless the Rift and the Vive et al can convince the greater populace they offer a truly unique, high-end, head-and shoulders-above-the-rest type of VR experience that instantly compels people to shell out the readies for them, there is a risk that they could be seen a “just another headset”, and passed by in favour of the cheaper albeit less capable headsets, at least until the price point is seen to come down – and that could put something of a pin in the side of the VR bubble, if only in the short-term.