Futurists, tech fiends, and futurist tech fiends have had their eyes on the progress of the Oculus Rift for a while now. When Facebook purchased Oculus for a cool $2 billion in 2014, it was clear Mark Zuckerberg and team saw something that many others didn't, considering that the company's technology seemed at first to largely center around immersive video game experiences. Nearly two years later, the Oculus Rift is just months away from release and has a hefty price tag, but its inventor is saying a $599 cost is cheap for what the technology is and will be.
Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, said in a Reddit AMA recently that "we are not making money on Rift hardware. High-end VR is expensive, but Rift is obscenely cheap for what it is." That might not be the best choice of words given that $600 is a lot of money for the majority of people who don't yet see how transformative virtual reality can become. In other words, it's too expensive to be mainstream. For now.
Luckey did point out that compared to other devices in the same price range, what you get for the Oculus is much more advanced. "It is expensive," he explained. "But for the $599 you spend, you get a lot more than spending $599 on pretty much any other consumer electronics devices — phones that cost $599 cost a fraction of that to make, same with mid-range TVs that cost $599." It's a fair point, but worth noting that both smartphones and TVs have already established themselves as mainstays — they've "earned" their price tags, so to speak. Beyond that, the Rift itself is just a piece of the puzzle you need to actually use it — buyers will also need a PC, which runs in the range of $1,000.
To be fair, the other side of the argument would stress accurately that any cutting-edge technology is going to be expensive to manufacture and thus expensive to consumers at first. From the sound of it, the Oculus Rift does indeed cost a lot to make and isn't priced far above that level. "The core technology in the Rift is the main driver — two built-for-VR OLED displays with very high refresh rate and pixel density, a very precise tracking system, mechanical adjustment systems that must be lightweight, durable, and precise and cutting-edge optics that are more complex to manufacture than many high-end DSLR lenses," wrote Luckey. The short version: the stuff inside this baby isn't cheap.
Oculus is excited about finally bringing its Rift headset to the public, but it's being pretty clear that this will be a high-level experience. Although VR products such as Google Cardboard are very cheap and accessible, they aren't nearly in the same sphere as the Rift, as Oculus would have us believe. If that really ends up being the case, the company's technology really could carve itself a nice space in consumer electronics as the must-have virtual reality experience, eventually becoming cheaper as its appeal grows to the mainstream.
The stage is set. Now Oculus just has to prove itself.
Cover image: Wikimedia