Oculus is now accepting pre-orders for the long-in-development Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles. Priced at a $599 USD, the Oculus Rift is not something anyone should plan to buy without doing some due diligence. By due diligence, I mean you need to fully understand what it is you are buying, and what else you need to make it work. Virtual reality is a fantastic new visual medium that enables the wearer to see, walk and interact in a virtually created world. With specialized controllers or a gamepad, you can simulate walking and grabbing objects in the virtual space. Together, the goggles and controllers trick you into feeling like you're in another world that you can touch, it's like being on the Holodeck of the Starship Enterprise, but in a space suit the makes you feel more like the diving bell. The potential behind this technology is exciting and will impact multiple industries, from gaming (of course) to medical and automobiles.
That said, it's new and sexy cutting edge technology with an equally luxury price tag that will keep it out of reach for most, for now. Not only do you need the goggles but to make it work, you need to have a computer capable of driving the intense graphics processing to make the experience worthwhile. Anyone wanting to use the goggles is going to already have a computer with the necessary graphics hardware, memory and processor, or you'll have to buy a new one.
The Oculus website has a separate page dedicated to their computer partners selling Oculus-certified computers for around $1000 USD for a baseline configuration. Or, if you've built a powerful enough rig you may only need a new graphics card, the minimum being an nVidia GTX 970 or an AMD Radeon R9 290X. Each start around $350 USD. Just remember, you may need a new power supply to handle a new graphics card as well. Needless to say, the majority of computer owners, as well as laptop and Mac owners, will need to pay upwards of $1600 or more on this cool luxury experience. Oculus Rift does not work with existing Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo game consoles either, meaning those investments won't help here.
Content is the other factor that that should be considered. There are plenty of cool games that are or will be available as the hardware begins to ship to early adopters later this year. In fact, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive list of games which makes Oculus for gaming an extremely compelling experience. But if you're not a hard-core gamer, Oculus Rift isn't really going to be for you.
As for using the interactive storytelling medium, Studios are making big bets on virtual reality as part of the overall story experience. Earlier this year, Sony's motion picture release of Goosebumps featured a two minute VR experience in select cities. The experience was a partnership with Samsung and D-Box featuring their respective virtual reality goggles powered by a Samsung phone combined with two D-Box motion seats to simulate a scary car ride through the world of Goosebumps. On the extreme side and clocking in at a 30-minute total experience is Twentieth Century Fox's The Martian Experience which debuted at CES last week. The experience puts you in the body of the astronaut Mark Watney played by Matt Damon. The experience featured Oculus Rift technology hooked up to some powerful computers and D-Box motion seats to fully immerse riders into the experience. But at 30-min, it's the first such experience at that length and it's supposed to be fantastic. Jameson Cox wrote about it over at the Verge and incidentally, he writes about some differences between the HTC Vive, which I'll be writing about here, and the Oculus Rift.
So is it worth it? Well, that's a matter of preference and where you fall on the early adopter curve. I would love one to add to my collection of Apple Newton PDA and Vectrex gaming systems: they'd look great in my museum. But for me, the cost is too high to consider at this time. Since this is a version 1 product, I anticipate the next iterations will be smaller, lighter, faster and...cheaper.