If you've seen any news about virtual reality in the last few years, you'll probably be familiar with the name Oculus. The company began with a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign before eventually selling out to Facebook for $2 billion.
Finally, after several years of developer prototypes and growing hype, Oculus has released the consumer version of its Oculus Rift headset. You can go buy it right now, but before you jump on the virtual reality bandwagon, there are some things you need to know first.
According to those who have used it, the Oculus Rift is fantastic technology. Its high-quality screens and smooth operation offer one of the best virtual reality experiences to date. Unlike past years when virtual reality was the Next Big Thing, it finally has the hardware to back up the promise.
That being said, there are quite a number of hurdles to consider. The headset itself costs $600, although that includes a controller and a motion-capture camera. But you'll also need a powerful gaming-level computer to actually use it, bringing the total estimated cost to $1,500 if you don't already have a computer that works.
Right now, most of the programs that work with the Rift are hardcore games or tech demos. And there are only a couple dozen right now total. Unless you're a gamer, there isn't much for you to do.
While the Rift uses a standard Xbox controller right now, it has better controllers coming later in the year called the Oculus Touch. Those will be an additional expense, and you'll probably have to wait more time for games that fully use them.
Oculus did a lot of work on the Rift to avoid giving users motion sickness, and apparently succeeded. However, testers still report only being able to use the gadget for 20 to 30 minutes before getting eye strain and feeling mentally drained. Oculus recommends breaks every 30 minutes.
Then there are the Oculus competitors arriving on the market later this year. Sony, for example has the PlayStation VR, which will work with the PlayStation. If you don't already own a PlayStation, the entire setup will cost $800. That's still pricey, but less than a full Oculus rig.
Or you can try out virtual reality for a few dollars, or even free, with a project like Google Cardboard.
To sum things up, workable virtual reality might finally be here. However, unless you're a hardcore gamer or independently wealthy, you'll want to wait for price drops or must-have programs to appear.