Tech Reviews

The Oculus Rift Review: A pricey and beautiful experience

The Oculus Rift 2016The Oculus Rift 2016

Virtual Reality has been a technical milestone that our society has perceived several times over. Like flying cars and jetpacks, VR experiences have been a staple in futuristic sci-fi series and films since the early 60s.

In the 90s pop-culture thought it was getting closer to an actual VR experience. Films like “Lawnmower Man” warned us about the dangers of living in a VR world, while the 80s gave us the Nintendo Virtual Boy gaming experience that left most users underwhelmed and with a migraine.

Now a working VR system is shipping out across the country, and it’s almost exactly what screenwriters and science-fiction authors had hoped for so many years ago. The Oculus Rift will hit stores and doorsteps this week on March 28, and if you haven’t experienced the wonders that the device can bring, you need to try a demo.

The entire Oculus story started with a Kickstarter campaign, that was more than three years ago at this point. In 2014 Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion, and since then, HTC and Sony have been working on their own headsets. All of them are releasing this year and it will introduce one of the most anticipated mediums since 3D.

This version, the Oculus version, is designed for PCs and starts at $600. That means it isn’t exactly priced for everyone during year-one of its rollout. The Oculus is like no other gaming advancement I’ve ever experienced, it’s not something that you can throw on and instantly master; it takes time to adjust. Using the Oculus can feel like starting video-games all over again. You’re not sure of the mechanics, the controls are unnatural and alien, but at the same time it’s wonderfully thrilling.

Not every PC can handle Virtual Reality and that’s another hurdle that will stop users from buying one. The Oculus Rift (which consists of a headset, a camera that works as a sensor, a remote and an Xbox One Controller) costs $600 out of the box. That’s $600 before a possible video-card upgrade. The NVIDIA GTX 970 can handle the new VR world, but even after rebates and savings it can easily cost you $300 and up to purchase one.

If you are starting from scratch or building a new PC to run VR, it can easily cost up to $1,000 to build your PC, add the Rift and you’re looking at almost $1,700 when everything’s said and done. There are VR-ready machines that come pre-built from Alienware and Asus, you can buy a VR capable rig for about $1,000 depending on where you look, and they add the Oculus for about $1,600.

A half-dozen cable-connections will get the hardware ready for your first VR trip, included software for the Rift is available to handle all of the internal preparations.

Wearing the headset is comfortable, but your first experience may be anything but comfortable. You’re in a sort of stasis when wearing the device, completely separated from your surroundings and immersed in the video-content being streamed into your brain.

If there’s anyone in the room watching you play, they will simply have to guess at what is going on under your headset as you gasp, smile and laugh. All of this while you are performing light aerobics and swatting at imaginary objects.

Different straps, adjustments and velcro are what make the Oculus fit a wide-array of head sizes. It’s not a simple adjustment, like putting on a skullcap or a beanie, it’s more like adjusting a scuba mask. The more you use it, the more natural it becomes.

Inside the Oculus Rift everything becomes much more instinctive. Movement is rendered in realtime, so when you look around the VR world the images are 1-to-1, there’s no lag and it’s fluent and peaceful.

It’s almost hauntingly realistic, I couldn’t help but try to find the glitches and lags by testing out my movements, trying to get a baseline for what the device could do. This 1-to-1 movement is a terrific medium that developers are already using to mess with users while they play. Having you slide off a cliff when you’re not ready, or teeter on an edge brings a sense of danger that is not for the faint of heart.

Luckily there are a wide-array of experiences on the Rift and not every game is designed to feel like a rollercoaster or thriller. There are flight simulators, allowing you to feel as if you’re soaring above the ground, and other games simply put you in a new (much safer) location to simply explore the surroundings and find furry friends.

The Rift is more than violence, scares and thrills, it’s a device for immersion. Some offer a means to simply walk around and explore a new world.

Streaming services like Hulu are working on using the rift to create virtual studios that will allow users to “sit” in a virtual theater to browse content and view movies and shows. We are only at the beginning of the VR world, but the Oculus is leaps and bounds above what many people might expect from a first installment device.

Movie studios are already creating content and companion apps for VR devices. Allowing you to tour sets, interact with characters and live in the popular worlds that they have created.

Unlike previous device launches, the Oculus already has an impressive lineup of games and videos to enjoy. Many more are already planned, including social-media apps, films, tours and new games.

While intuitive, the cables and controls of the Oculus are limiting. Users will also be standing more than a regular game would require, much like the Playstation Move or Kinect. Right now I think the price is only true limitation that is keeping customers at bay. The device is a technical marvel, offering an experience unrivaled at this point in time.

If you have a VR capable PC then the $600 price-tag can be doable, but if you need to start from scratch the cost could put the device out of reach for most users at this time.

The Oculus is a major achievement, in all aspects. From development to consumer-use, the Rift offers an unparalleled immersion that is only just now being tested by content creators. It’s the beginning of a new medium, to quote Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”