At what price VR?

Oculus CR-1 with microphone, Oculus Remote and Xbox wireless controller
Oculus CR-1 package (image: Oculus VR)

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.

Sony PSVR - Amazon Canada quoted a price of US $800, quickly countered by Sony - but some speculate it might be accurate
Sony PSVR – Amazon Canada quoted a price of US $800, quickly countered by Sony – but some speculate it might be accurate or at least close to the truth (image: Sony Computer Entertainment)

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.

Samsung's Gear VR sits at the top of the mobile VR pyramid, and could be said to be indicative of where Oculus VR would like to go: a self-contained, lightweight system which doesn't necessarily tether the user to their computer
Samsung’s Gear VR sits at the top of the mobile VR pyramid, and could be said to be indicative of where Oculus VR would like to go: a self-contained, lightweight system which doesn’t necessarily tether the user to their computer (image: Samsung)

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.


6 thoughts on “At what price VR?

  1. My eyesight is just dodgy enough that I struggle with 3D images, and I don’t think that there has been anything that really uses even the basic capacities of something such as Google Cardboard.

    People have been having the ideas, such as Charles Stross with his novel “Halting State”, but i don’t see anything out there that is worth using a headset, I would probably buy a Cardboard-style phone-holder, and luckily I have a good phone. The basic hardware is looking too expensive, and the killer apps aren’t there.

    There have been Second Life viewers which have tried to provide 3D. It needs more computing power than watching a 3D movie. It needs more power than being able to walk down the street and getting streetsigns and adverts. in your field of view.

    Wait for somebody to go bust and the liquidator to sell the patents and the designs. And then we’ll know what they’re really worth.


    1. “and the killer apps aren’t there.”

      This is actually my major critique of the new age of VR: the “Field of Dreams syndrome” (allowing for the misquote). While the are clear niches where it can have significant application, it seems as if everyone is rushing headlong into the hardware development – headsets, controllers, treadmills, sensors, yadda, yadda, without really studying precisely how VR might best serve those niches / use cases. And even those who are looking towards providing platforms with the hardware can be exploited in support of those use cases (e.g. LL with “Sansar” and – more particularly – High Fidelity) – the focus is again more on the “gee-whiz, everyone says this is going to be huge” aspect rather than on the practicalities of actual appeal – or equally, what actually might lie beyond the current hype and offer genuine potential and / or knock the VR hype into a cocked hat.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Indeed, I was thinking the same 🙂 On the other hand computer history is plenty of underestimated potentials, lost opportunities, and surprises. I can understand LL and others are taking the bet.
          Just recently I was using SL for relaxation. I went to a virtual beach just to lay down (nothing adult related), and I went in first person view / mouse-look. Feeling like I was there, the place was beautiful and all this felt so nice. And I thought that if I had a VR headset, it would be even more immersing, and it could have felt even better. Perhaps VR may have a place in relaxation techniques too 🙂


      1. I was shocked when the pre-order price of the Oculus came out at $599 USD. The only price rumor I had heard put the price at $350. The lower price was in my realm of possibility to play with. Since I only really enjoy SL among video “games” and that application does not work that well with the Oculus I have pretty much written Oculus off as something I would try in 2016.

        Still being curious I checked my hardware and that reinforced my decision. I would need new hardware for a minimum of $1000 USD. So the cost had ballooned up to $1600 USD for something I would just be playing with. It makes more sense for me to wait until summer and spend that $1600 on an updated computer to run SL.

        Like Inara I am not one of those who will come if someone builds it. But unlike her I suspect I am not one of those people who will run out and try project Sansar. Since from I have heard about Sansar I am not attracted at all.

        I have not completely rejected Sansar at this early date but it will take a lot of changes from what I heard about Sansar to want to try it. Maybe by Christmas 2016 I will have an updated computer; some type of VR goggles; and be singing the praises of Sansar but it will take a lot of convincing in both cost reduction and application changes.


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