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Virtual reality is incredible, but that doesn't mean you should buy a Rift or Vive yet

Hayden Dingman | April 18, 2016
Virtual reality is still an expensive first-generation product, with kinks and software support to work out.

$600 for “really cool”? $800? It’s a lot of money. If you have enough to throw around, by all means do so! But with that money, I can think of quite a few upgrades you could make to your PC that you’d enjoy more often, be they as simple as a mechanical keyboard or as big as a new processor, a new graphics card, or a fancy 144Hz/G-Sync or FreeSync/IPS display.

Speaking of which...

2. The price of the (other) hardware

radeon nano and gtx 980 ti 
Credit: Brad Chacos

Then there’s the hidden cost for virtual reality: your computer. The Rift and Vive require computers to hit 90 frames per second for games, at a resolution of 2160x1200.

That takes a hell of a lot of PC horsepower. Oculus pegged the Rift’s minimum specs at a GTX 970 or Radeon R9 290 and a Core i5-4590. (The Vive’s are similar, but aren’t formally spelled out anywhere.) I’d argue those cards are slightly underpowered, especially for more realistic-looking games, but regardless: The number of people with a VR-ready PC simply isn’t that high, especially in an age where people are holding onto their PCs for longer periods of time—and an age dominated by laptops. The GeForce GTX 970 and Radeon 290/390 are popular cards, especially with gamers, but not that popular.

If you already have a gaming PC that meets or exceeds the Vive/Rift minimum spec, you’re set! But if you don’t, you’re not just looking at the $600/$800 cost of a VR headset. You’re also staring down the barrel of a $900+ PC build.

3. First-gen woes and the rate of advance

 A decade ago, there was no iPhone. There was no Android phone. All of the major mobile advances we’ve seen—Bigger displays! Better resolution! Powerful mobile chips! Fast charging! USB-C! Wireless charging! Tablets! A half-dozen UI design standards! And even bigger displays!—have all happened in the last nine years.

It’s breathtaking.

Virtual reality’s matched that pace, which makes sense given that advances in mobile technology often correlate directly to advances in VR. The result? Four years ago John Carmack was showing off a VR prototype that was literally held together with duct tape, and Oculus was quietly eyeing Kickstarter for funding. Three years ago we got the first Rift dev kit. Two years ago it was the higher-resolution DK2—an exponentially better experience than the original dev kit.

Carmack VR
Seriously. Duct tape.

Now the consumer Rift marks as big an improvement over DK2 as the latter was over DK1, and the Vive is even better, despite some glaring first-generation rough edges for both major VR platforms. A year ago nobody was talking about room-scale VR, and now it’s “the future.”

 

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