To Rift or not to Rift, that is the question

Many people have asked me if I'm buying the new Oculus and whether or not I feel it's a good idea to buy in an Oculus Rift.  Here's my answer.

Unless you're an early adopter or a developer then my answer is NO.  Not for most people.  Not this iteration of the Rift.

This as it is now, feels to me like a niche and relatively expensive first generation consumer product that is almost fully baked... buuuuut not quite ready, not yet.  Please don't get me wrong, I actually like the Oculus, a lot, and I see a bright future for VR, obviously.  I also acknowledge the fact that this iteration is the result of years of research and development, of which I have been a part of:  I own the first Developer Edition of the Oculus Rift.  But that said there are a lot of things about this release that, quite frankly, lead me to believe that it may not be the right time, for most of us.  Of course, I don't speak for everybody, but I'll expand on my position.

1) Right now... as I said earlier, it's too niche.  This is not a product that will be purchased in as high a volume as an X-Box or Play station gaming console.  In fact the number of people that will be ordering this will be a fraction of that number. That's always the case with unfamiliar, new technology.  So why is this a problem?  It's not really, as long as there are enough people interested in the product it should do well, but unless we have some solid market numbers, there will be limited developer appeal, at least for now in 2016.  It's a numbers game, VR is going to explode but my concern is that developers are waiting to see how the Oculus plays out in the market or if it'll be a flop.  There are several competing products coming out in 2016 with similar functionality.  But Oculus is a solid product with Facebook backing so if the numbers are fair, developers will jump on board which means more games and experiences.  With Facebook owning Oculus, I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of confidence behind the hardware and platform as it grows but it'll take a year or two before the Oculus marketplace begins to thrive with activity.

2) Design changes might be dramatic, or minor.  At this point it's too early to tell.  There is a lot of learning going on with this technology at this time.  As feedback comes in from developers and consumers, the results collected will likely impact the design of the next release.  This usually translates in a more polished 2nd generation consumer unit that overcomes some of the issues flagged from the first generation release.  As developers continue exploring the use cases the Oculus team will be able to target and root out weaknesses in the hardware and software that may have not been obvious before, which leads to a better user experience down the road.

3) Something about the included XBOX One controller does not sit right with me.  I have nothing against XBOX, but this feels very "put together".  I can understand the need to include a standardized game controller, but to rely on a Microsoft piece of hardware puts too much reliance on a 3rd party which feels clumsy and cobbled together.  It feels like a short-term solution, a quick fix, to get this out the door.  The strategy makes sense, having a well known controller helps to overcome incompatibility issues with developers and ensures that developers can safely develop their VR experiences knowing that the controller will be the same for all consumer users.  So that makes sense, but I cannot see Oculus maintaining this partnership with Microsoft for the long term.  Microsoft has spent years developing the XBOX experience and they have their own user accounts and console based operating system.  Oculus is doing the same with the Oculus platform.  These are conflicts of interest for both companies and I can't help but feel that this partnership exists for this iteration of the product and that's it.  I'm convinced that the next iteration of the headset will include their own Oculus controller, which they are already exploring.  That said, there's a possibility that there could be a long term partnership going on with Microsoft: Maybe they're working closely with Oculus for a custom VR headset for the X-Box console, roughly similar to their partnership with Samsung and the Gear VR.  That might be the case.  But right now it's all speculation.

4) The entry price point is fair considering what you're getting, but it's expensive and this makes the device too expensive for your average gamer.  When a peripheral is more expensive than a gaming console then it's reasonable to expect that only a limited amount of people will be buying it.  The Oculus Gear VR is a cheaper alternative that I would consider over the Rift.

5) You need a powerful GPU.  nVidia GTX 970 or higher.  So this won't work on your average computer or workstation.  You need a relatively high-end system which means if you don't meet the recommended requirements, you might experience slower frame rates that compromise the experience.  A decent system with the recommended requirements won't break the bank, but it won't exactly be cheap either.  And in a year from now a 970 level system will be far more affordable for the masses and in two years, an Oculus ready system will be common place.

6) No real mobility.  The Oculus Rift is more mobile than the HTC Vive but both need to be plugged into a powerful computer (laptop or desktop).  The Oculus Gear VR only requires the smartphone and is far more mobile and simple to carry around and share with friends.  To me mobility is a very nice thing to have and makes a lot of sense.  The less clunky, the better.

Not everybody is the same, I get that.  If you want one, buy one, who am I to stop an early adopter like myself? Have at it and enjoy! :-)  Also it might make more sense to buy one of these if you're a software developer exploring VR, or a video producer exploring 360 video.  But that said, remember that the audience is very small at this time.  It's growing, it's exciting, but the real numbers kick in after a price drop and/or a second release comes out which overcomes notable limitations from the first gen at an equal or lesser price.  And, I can't see this happening in 2016 (maybe late 2016), but it's all highly speculative at this time.

As for me, I'm on the fence.... currently leaning towards NO.  I am more interested in developing content for the Oculus Gear VR which mirrors the Rift platform in several key areas but offers the added mobility, a much lower price point, and greater audience.  So I might change my mind at a later date but as of today, I'm a NO on the Oculus Rift.

Tags: VR,, Gear VR, Oculus, Rift