Facebook's Oculus VR unveiled the price of its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset on Wednesday morning: $600.
This had some folks balking, many whom were previously interested in buying the Oculus Rift headset:
$600 for Oculus Rift :( no thanks— Carlo (@carlokristoffe) January 7, 2016
no i will not buy the oculus rift. was so hyped when they said it was going to be around 200 to 400. NOT 600 USD. I feel betrayed :(— Rodney Askew (@OneGamerGrinds) January 6, 2016
Though some of the reaction is strictly sticker shock, there are plenty of folks who've been paying close attention to the journey of the Oculus Rift, from prototype to product, across the past three years.
Oculus VR co-founder and Rift creator Palmer Luckey had a strong response to the price backlash, which he put on Twitter:
To reiterate, we are not making money on Rift hardware. High end VR is expensive, but Rift is obscenely cheap for what it is.— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) January 6, 2016
So, where did this all start? $600 is expensive, but virtual reality headsets are part of a brand new medium and much of the technology used inside the headset is being custom built for VR. What's got everyone so riled up?
Many of the folks who are reacting strongly to the $600 headset price announcement are paying attention to the Oculus Rift much more closely than the average person.
And those folks were listening when Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey told RoadToVR's Ben Lang back in September 2015 that the Rift would cost in the "ballpark" of $350.
Here's the full Palmer Luckey quote, from RoadToVR, when asked about a previously discussed ballpark price of $350:
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. We’re roughly in that ballpark… but it’s going to cost more than that. And the reason for that is that we’ve added a lot of technology to this thing beyond what existed in the DK1 and DK2 days [the first two "Development Kit" headsets that Oculus sold to software developers].
That's an unfortunate answer, as $350 is clearly nowhere "in the ballpark" of $600. We're looking at a significant jump in price over the expectations of some of the Rift's closest followers.
Which is to say: people are reacting so strongly to the $600 price specifically because Oculus VR, and Luckey himself, did a poor job of managing expectations.
Palmer Luckey admitted his mistake on Wednesday evening in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session. "I handled the messaging poorly," he told the sprawling internet forum. "Our biggest failing was assuming we had been clear enough about setting expectations ... I apologize."
By way of explanation ("not an excuse"), Luckey laid out the series of events that led to angry Oculus fans. Here's how it went down:
- Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe said in May 2015 that the cost of an Oculus Rift with a computer capable of running it would cost $1,500.
- Media outlets widely reported this as the cost of "an Oculus Rift."
- In an effort to push that conversation back the other way, Luckey gave the "in that ballpark" quote in September 2015.
"I was frustrated by how many people thought that was the price of the headset itself," Luckey told Reddit. "My answer was ill-prepared, and mentally, I was contrasting $349 with $1,500, not our internal estimate that hovered close to $599 — that is why I said it was in roughly the same ballpark."
Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech InsiderNow that we've figured out why people are mad, why is $600 for a VR headset "obscenely cheap for what it is"?
We can't answer that definitively without access to a lot of information Oculus VR isn't sharing: research and development costs, shipping and manufacturing costs, and a whole mess of other factors.
But Luckey laid out his own defense in the same Reddit thread:
To be perfectly clear, we don’t make money on the Rift ... The core technology in the Rift is the main driver — two built-for-VR OLED displays with very high refresh rate and pixel density, a very precise tracking system, mechanical adjustment systems that must be lightweight, durable, and precise, and cutting-edge optics that are more complex to manufacture than many high-end DSLR lenses. It is expensive, but for the $599 you spend, you get a lot more than spending $599 on pretty much any other consumer electronics devices — phones that cost $599 cost a fraction of that to make, same with mid-range TVs that cost $599.
And he's not necessarily wrong — the hardware in the Oculus Rift headset is assuredly bleeding edge and custom. It's not as though there are manufacturing facilities built around VR headsets, at least nowhere near the scale of phone and television manufacturers.
There are a handful of components he specifically calls out that could be costly:
- Lenses — the part you look through when you put the headset on, which helps turn a flat screen into a believable world.
- Two high-resolution OLED screens, one for each eye — these are likely the highest ticket item in the headset, using very expensive OLED technology (an acronym you don't need to know, OLED screens are very nice).
- A camera for tracking your movements — a huge part of creating believable VR is head-tracking: the ability for the headset you're wearing to be tracked so that what you're seeing corresponds to where you're looking.
Whether it's "obscenely cheap" or not is a question you have to answer yourself, of course.
It may be, on paper, a sweet deal for all that fancy tech and the work required to make it do something magical, but it's also six hundred dollars. To say nothing of the PC you'll need to make the headset do anything — the "recommended specs" list is the bare minimum and it asks you to buy a $300 graphics card (just one component of a PC).
Oculus VR actually acknowledges that (thankfully).
In an interview with Tech Insider at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, VP of product Nate Mitchell said, "$600 is a higher price point than we [and the community] would love to be at. This is the dawn of an entirely new product category. The reality is that this first generation of VR is going to be more expensive."
Indeed. It's not illogical that the Oculus Rift costs $600, but between mismanaged expectations and, you know, $600 being a lot of money to basically anyone other than Donald Trump, the first Oculus Rift may be a hard sell.
Of course, while we say that, the expected ship date of headsets has been moved from March 28 to June due to demand. If you're looking to grab an Oculus Rift, the shop's open right here. Just don't be surprised that it costs $600.