As expected, the consumer version of the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift virtual reality headset went on sale today, but at a higher price than some had predicted. But even if you don’t mind spending $599 for the device, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a computer powerful enough to use it.
Unlike the Samsung Gear VR, which uses Oculus technology but is powered by the phone you attach to the $99 headset, the Rift requires a connection to an external Windows PC.
So if you’re on a Mac or other non-Windows computer — or if you’re one of the growing number of people who don’t have a personal PC anymore because their phone suffices for all things Internet — then you’re throwing your money away on the Rift.
Thus, on the Oculus pre-order site, there’s a link to download an application that runs a quick check to see if your computer can handle the device.
Not that we’re planning to spend $599 on a VR headset anytime soon, but out of curiosity we ran the test on a few PCs lying around the Consumerist compound — all failed.
The above results came from a mid-range ASUS laptop purchased new only a few months ago. Neither its graphics card nor its processing power were found to be up to snuff.
We also tried the test on a pair of gaming PCs that, while not exactly new, have had no issues playing new, graphics-heavy games. Neither had enough processing power or sufficient USB ports, and only one had a compatible graphics card.
In short, your average consumer is not going to have the computing power to do anything with the Rift, making it a $599 paperweight.
Speaking of the price, a number of prognosticators had predicted that the Rift would ultimately go for closer to $450, putting it in the ballpark of the cost for a new gaming console.
The company had hinted at the price in previous statements, saying that it would cost $1,500 to have a Rift headset and a new Rift-worthy PC. Today’s price reveal bumps that total up a bit.
After a PC fails the Rift pre-test, the app links to a place on the Oculus store where you can purchase PCs that will run the device. The least expensive of those is $949. So you’re talking closer to $1,600 for headset and a PC guaranteed to run it.
The Wall Street Journal expresses skepticism about the price, wondering if it’s so high that it will keep the Rift from reaching enough consumers.
We think that the problem is the need for such pricey external support. With so many people using their mobile devices as their main personal computing tools, it may be a hard sell to ask consumers to commit to spending that much money just for the novelty of virtual reality, no matter how immersive.
It’s possible that Oculus is deliberately trying to limit the Rift’s availability to high-tech early adopters while it awaits the rollout of the next generation of devices, including the PlayStation VR headset.