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The Oculus Rift Review

The Oculus Rift, the first high-end, consumer VR head-mounted display is now available, and it's poised to usher in a future of immersive experiences.

Conclusion

I remember stumbling upon the Oculus Rift Kickstarter page on the very first day of its campaign. I watched the pitch video a half-dozen times. I showed it to everyone I knew. Then, I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to buy one for myself. The endorsements and praise that John Carmack (id Software,) Gabe Newell (Valve,) Michael Abrash (Valve,) Cliff Bleszinski (Epic Games) and David Helgason (Unity) piled onto the Rift had me convinced I had to own a VR headset.

Before the Kickstarter campaign ended, I talked myself out of buying in. I’m not a developer, and I have no interest in being one. Fortunately, a friend of mine introduced me to the Rift DK1 shortly after its release. Little did I know, three more years would pass before a retail version showed up at my door. But I also didn't think we'd be seeing this level of sophistication in a first-gen HMD.

My first experience with the Rift was a crude roller coaster ride you've probably seen reaction videos to on YouTube. It was blurry, lacked head tracking and triggered debilitating vertigo that probably wasn't helped by my fear of heights. It’s incredible what a few years of refinement by some of the most brilliant minds in gaming, backed by millions of dollars, can create.

As a result, Oculus has some very tall expectations to satisfy and a lot of convincing to do on its road to widespread VR adoption. We believe that the Rift is a good start. The visual clarity you get today far exceeds my initial experience, and I believe it'll go beyond what most enthusiasts anticipated. Further, the headset is very comfortable when it's adjusted correctly. And if the few "civilians" we strapped in to the Rift are any indication, anyone unfamiliar with VR is going to be blown away.

On the other hand, at $599, the Rift is a very expensive accessory that requires a high-end PC. Only the most dedicated gamers own such top-shelf hardware, and those folks want to play demanding AAA titles that push the boundaries of graphics technology. The immersive stories you often get from movie studio-quality productions are mostly missing from VR right now. Development is in its infancy. And although there are 30 titles launching alongside the Rift, most cater to a more casual audience.

In short, the VR content available right now may not be what hardcore gamers are looking for. It'll undoubtedly surface over time (and with 100+ titles expected this year, that killer app may not be far off), but in the meantime, Oculus is going to lean on the novelty factor to keep customers engaged as the ecosystem matures. Multi-player experiences like EVE: Valkyrie, Project Cars and Radial-G will probably provide the longest-lasting entertainment, but we'll see if it's enough to satisfy someone spending $600 on a gaming accessory.

Lower-priority, but still important, we'd like to see Oculus clarify its comfort ratings. They currently don't paint a very clear picture about what you should expect from different games. For example, Project: Cars is very fast and immersive, but it never felt "intense." Dreadhalls, on the other hand, is very intense. Not only is it unnerving and creepy, but it's also controlled from a first-person perspective. The motion can be incredibly uncomfortable in VR. Both games should have different comfort levels. They may both be "intense," but the racing game makes your heart beat quickly, while Dreadhalls is intense because it's jarring. Because those labels may differ person to person, Oculus would be wise to gather community input to inform these ratings.

Finally, the VR industry is moving incredibly fast, and we’ve seen some very big breakthroughs in the last year, particularly around controllers. Hand controls make a tremendous difference in VR, and I felt myself longing for them during this review. The Xbox One controller works fine in that it is familiar to many gamers; however, a gamepad is not a natural input. If anything broke the feeling of “presence” for me, it was the controller in my hand. Take it from someone spoiled by the Vive's tracked hand controllers and my early experiences with Oculus Touch: when you remove that extra dimension, it becomes clear just how significant Touch will become to the Rift's story.

So, Should You Buy The Rift?

Oculus' final effort is an incredible piece of hardware, and a year ago it practically stood alone. But now HTC's Vive is right on its heels (like, right there) with room-scale tracking and controllers. We simply have to compare them side by side. And that works out fine. If you pre-ordered a Rift, you already paid your $600. If not, you'd be in a line almost four months long anyway. The short wait for a more definitive conclusion should be good for some peace of mind.

To be sure, we're bouncing back and forth between two awesome VR platforms. We're not doubting whether VR will succeed. Stereoscopic gaming on monitors? Yeah, that never really got us giggling uncontrollably. This stuff does. Pulling the Rift over your head feels like stepping into the future. Despite our critiques, we think the experience is well worth the cost. Now it's a matter of deciding which experience to get behind. You'll be hearing more from us on that very soon. In the meantime, try to find a friend with a Rift, fire up EVE: Valkyrie and just try not to smile.

MORE: The History of Virtual RealityMORE:
AMD Liquid VR ExplainedMORE:
Nvidia GameWorks VR ExplainedMORE:
Oculus' Uncompromising Obsession With Hardware
MORE: The First 30 Oculus Rift Launch Titles
MORE: The Past, Present, And Future Of VR And AR: The Pioneers SpeakMORE:
Audio, Audio, Audio: The Key To Virtual Reality Immersion Is The Audio

Kevin Carbotte is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Graphics. Follow him on Twitter..

Chris Angelini is Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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  • ingtar33
    My main concern about the Rift isn't addressed in this article. And that's if it will become Orphanware. You see, there is a fraction of the gaming public who has a computer able to play games on a Rift, and an even smaller number of those people who will spend $600 to buy a Rift.

    This leaves the game manufacturers in a tough spot. They want to make and market games that will play on the most pcs possible. So my fear is that in 6-18mo we'll see the end of titles that will play on the rift, and nothing new in the pipeline as those titles will prove to be financial duds to the industry, thanks to the tiny install base.

    And then the Rift will become Orphanware, a product without a market or market support.
    Reply
  • Realist9
    I stopped reading in the "setup up the rift" when I saw:

    1. "you're asked to set up an account..."
    2. "you're prompted to configure a payment method..."

    What am I setting up an account for, why do I have to 'sign in', and what am I setting up a payment for??
    Reply
  • kcarbotte
    17729616 said:
    My main concern about the Rift isn't addressed in this article. And that's if it will become Orphanware. You see, there is a fraction of the gaming public who has a computer able to play games on a Rift, and an even smaller number of those people who will spend $600 to buy a Rift.

    This leaves the game manufacturers in a tough spot. They want to make and market games that will play on the most pcs possible. So my fear is that in 6-18mo we'll see the end of titles that will play on the rift, and nothing new in the pipeline as those titles will prove to be financial duds to the industry, thanks to the tiny install base.

    And then the Rift will become Orphanware, a product without a market or market support.

    Time will be the ultimate test for the Rift, but I don't see that fate coming.
    The companies working in the VR industry are incredibly excited about the prospect of this new medium. When the biggest companies in the world are pushing to bring something to market in the same way, it should be telling of the potential these companies see.

    Facebook and Oculus have not been shy about saying that adoption will be slow. If developers haven't been paying attention to that, then they will surely fail. Most understand that the market will be small, but in the early days of VR the market share will be large, as most people buying in this early will have a hunger to try out as much of the content as possible.

    I've also spoken with several VR developers in person about this issue. Most, if not all of them, are prepared for low volume sales. This is precicesly the reason why you won't see many AAA titles exclusively for VR for a while. The games will be shorter, and inexpensive to produce.
    VR games are mostly being developed by indie shops that have little overhead, and few employees to pay. They are also mostly working for minimum wage, hoping to see bonuses at the end of the year from better than expected sales.

    I don't think we have any chance of seeing the Rift, or the Vive, fall into the realm of abandonware. Tools are getting easier to use (VR editors), and cheaper to access (Unity, Unreal Engine, Cryengine are all free for individuals.) The resources for people to build for this medium are vast, and there's no better time to be an idie dev than now. VR is a new market, and anyone has as much chance as the next to make the next big killer app. It resets the industry and makes it easier to jump into.
    VR will not be dominated by the likes of EA and Activision for some time now. It opens the door for anyone with a good idea to become the next powerhouse. That will be a very compelling prospect for many indipendant, and small development firms.


    Reply
  • Clerk Max
    No mention of VR motion sickness or kinetosis in this conclusion ? This is a major showstopper, preventing more than a few minutes of immersion for most people.
    Reply
  • kcarbotte
    17729694 said:
    I stopped reading in the "setup up the rift" when I saw:

    1. "you're asked to set up an account..."
    2. "you're prompted to configure a payment method..."

    What am I setting up an account for, why do I have to 'sign in', and what am I setting up a payment for??

    If you kept reading you'd know the answer.
    You are signing up for Oculus Home, the only way to access content for the Rift.
    As soon as you put the headset on, the sensor inside it initializes Oculus Home. Without an account, you can't access any of the content. It's exactly like accessing content on Steam. You need to sign in.

    That's the same reason you need a payment method. There's free games, so you can skip it, but you can't access any of the paid content without an Oculus Home account.
    If SteamVR ends up supporting the final rift, then you may be able to play other games on it, but at this time, you need Oculus Home for everything on the Rift, including existing games like Project Cars.
    Reply
  • Joe Black
    I get the sense that it is where 3D gaming was right after Windows95 and directX launched.

    That's cool.Believe it or not you actually did need a relatively beefy PC for that back in the day. It was not for everybody yet.
    Reply
  • bobpies
    What am I setting up an account for,
    to download and play the games

    why do I have to 'sign in'
    to access your games

    and what am I setting up a payment for??
    to buy the games.
    Reply
  • kcarbotte
    17729767 said:
    No mention of VR motion sickness or kinetosis in this conclusion ? This is a major showstopper, preventing more than a few minutes of immersion for most people.

    Read page 8 if you want to know about my motion sickness experience. Only two games gave me any kind of trouble, and both of them were caused by first person experiences. Its well established that moving around in first person is not comfortable for many people. The motion messes with your brain because you aren't actually physically moving. actually sitting, while your character moves around isn't comfortable at all for me. Some people don't have trouble, but the comfort levels are there for a reason. Both of those games are listed as intense experiences, so even Oculus acknowleges that that some folks will get sick.

    All of the 3rd person games that I tried, and the games with cockpits (Radial G, Project Cars, Eve: Valkyrie) are all very comfortable.

    We'll talk more about motion sickness and effects of being in VR for extended periods over the coming weeks. So far, with the limited time we've had with it, I've only used it for less than 10 hours total. There's plenty of games that we've not even fired up yet, so a full discussion about getting motion sickness seesm premature.
    Reply
  • kcarbotte
    17729831 said:
    I get the sense that it is where 3D gaming was right after Windows95 and directX launched.

    That's cool.Believe it or not you actually did need a relatively beefy PC for that back in the day. It was not for everybody yet.

    That's a good comparison.
    I like to use the first Atari console as a comparison. This is the dawn of a new medium that people don't yet understand. It will be expensive, and not for everyone in the early days, but look at where video games are today. If everyone had the same opinion about Atari back then, as many people seem to feel about VR, the entire video game industry wouldn't have existed as we see it today.
    VR will be similar. It will take a long time to get mass adoption, and the road there will have plenty of changes and advancements, but it's definitely going to happen. VR is far too compelling and has far too much potential for it not to.
    Reply
  • Realist9
    The 'conclusion' page is really spot on. Specifically, the parts about AAA titles and casual audience.

    So, does the release version of the Rift still require graphics settings in Project Cars to be turned down with pop in and jaggies? (read this in a Anand article from 16 Mar).
    Reply