Oculus Unveils Virtual Reality Headset – But Will Facebook’s 1.5 Billion Users Embrace It?

Facebook unit reveals Rift retail device, previews proprietary games, announces Xbox partnership

Oculus, Facebook’s Virtual Reality unit, is ready for the consumer market. Three years after revealing its first prototype, Oculus on Thursday officially unveiled the Rift VR device it will eventually sell to the public.

“This isn’t science fiction,” Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said. “This is reality, and it’s happening today.”

One of the biggest focuses on Oculus’s road to the retail market has been the weight — making the device as comfortable as possible. With that solved (not to mention any of the early concerns about motion sickness, et cetera), the focus turns to content.

What will early adopters be able to do with Rift? While Hollywood content creators are actively developing a wealth of VR experiences, this is very much a gamer’s device for now. The Oculus team is jazzed about the shooter game “EVE: Valkyrie” from CCP Games, while “VR Sports Challenge” allows you to play virtual versions of popular sports.

“Oculus Rift is going to deliver the magic of presence,” Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe said. “For the first time, we will finally be inside the game. This is going to change everything.”

The bigger question, however, is when will Facebook’s user base of nearly 1.5 billion people make its way into the VR world?

Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion last year. At Facebook’s recent developers conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke enthusiastically about a virtual reality-filled future. While photos are the most frequently shared content on Facebook, Zuckerberg sees Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality content taking the lead down the road.

The Rift device will begin shipping in the first quarter of 2016. With many expecting a price tag of around $1,500, that Facebook use case still seems far off. Indeed, advisory firm Digi-Capital recently forecast VR/AR market could generate a whopping $150 billion in revenue by the year 2020, with much of that VR-related revenue coming from gaming and 3D films.

Thursday’s announcement included a preview of other Rift games, including Insomniac Games adventure title “Edge of Nowhere”; news that the product will be shipped with an Xbox One controller and Xbox One owners will be able to stream their games to the Rift; and a demonstration of Oculus Touch, a pair of tracked controllers to enhance VR games and experiences.

Microsoft’s Head of Xbox Phil Spencer also took part in the announcement.