The first long-awaited units of Facebook’s high-tech VR headset Oculus Rift are shipping, but reviewers recommend you keep waiting
Oculus, the virtual-reality hardware company that social network giant Facebook acquired for $2 billion in 2014, began shipping its marquee Rift headset designed for consumers Monday, and the milestone has unleashed a slew of reviews.
The main theme: It’s great, but wait.
With Oculus Rift’s arrival this month, followed by HTC’s high-end Vive headsets in April and Sony’s Playstation console-based VR system coming later this year, 2016 marks a turning point for VR, a time when the most advanced technology for the immersive format begins to reach normal people all at once.
That is, it’s reaching normal people with thousands of dollars to spare. Many reviews of Oculus Rift noted its hefty price tag — $599, which is on top of the expensive PC that you need to already have to run it.
Other recurrent complaints included how using the headset for extended periods of time can take a serious physical toll and the limited appeal of the content, which should be alluring to hard-core gamers but not many more.
The following is a roundup of reviews:
The New York Times
While paying homage to Oculus Rift’s strides toward reaching the highest ambitions of VR — “A dream of science fiction…is about to come true” –NYT’s Tech Fix writer Brian X. Chen’s review called the headset well-built and “brimming with potential” but limited in appeal to hard-core gamers because of Oculus Rift’s current catalog of apps and games.
He was blunt about real-world drawbacks, from public mockery to medical ailments. “If you purchase the Rift, you had better have thick skin…I became a subject of ridicule when my partner was watching TV and I crouched in the middle of the living room while playing the dead space pilot game,” he said.
He added: “I felt mentally drained after 20-minute sessions. My eyes felt strained after half an hour, and over a week I developed a nervous eye twitch.”
The Wall Street Journal
The Journal, in dual reviews, examined the Rift headset from the perspective of the mainstream consumer and the vantage point of a video game fan. Neither was ebullient.
In the consumer review, Geoffrey A. Fowler is at his most flattering when he says the Rift’s capability to let users walk around in a virtual world is “undeniably cool,” but he has a laundry list of practical complaints. The headset “still just isn’t that good at convincing you you’re in an alternate reality,” and he says the cable that connects Rift to the computer that powers it is “eerily similar” to ones that plug into human brains in the dystopian sci-fi film “The Matrix.”
The review for gamers was also underwhelming. Nathan Olivarez-Giles said although the headset has been awaited like a Holy Grail, he’d recommend people keep waiting: “I’m going to hold off on shelling out hundreds–perhaps thousands–of dollars. I’m waiting for the arrival of competitors that may deliver better games.”
Saying that sitting down with the headset feels “as close to being a brain in a jar as humanly possible,” The Verge’s review by Adi Robertson praised Rift VR for its immersiveness but not addictiveness: “Think of it as ‘I’m really there’ versus ‘I’m never leaving.'”
That “lays a solid foundation for what’s to come,” but the review notes the expense, limited content beyond gaming, and lack of motion controls in the first round of shipments means the “headset you can buy today is not Oculus’ most ambitious vision for virtual reality.”
Try it, don’t buy it, CNET reviewers Scott Stein and Sean Hollister said.
“You simply must try the Oculus Rift. It’s breathtaking. I just wouldn’t buy one right now — and there’s no reason you should feel the need to, either,” they say. The best and worst point of Oculus Rift right now is the same thing — you can see how much better it can get.
Headlined “This Shit is Legit,” Gizmodo’s review highlights how immersive Rift can be.
“Virtual reality has never really convinced me it’s worth the hassle,” reviewer Mario Aguilar said. “So imagine my surprise when, after pulling off the final version of the Oculus Rift during a recent session, I realized I had been playing for more than an hour. It was dark out, and all my coworkers had gone home.”
“A crazy device that is more than the sum of its parts,” Oculus Rift deserves some praise for simply existing, but that the device goes further by managing “to kick ass as well.”
It also echoes complaints in other reviews about a flaw in Rift’s immersiveness: It doesn’t rest directly on the wearer’s nose, and so the sliver of space leaks in light. “This was a bummer as it often broke…the idea that you’re actually existing in the world you’re viewing. It isn’t all bad, it did make it much easier to eye the notifications on my phone, but I really just wish the problem didn’t exist to begin with.”