The first reviews of the Oculus Rift have started trickling through after the virtual reality headset began making its way to homes and offices on Monday (28 March). Initial verdicts are mostly good, with high praise for the Rift's immediate 'wow' factor being offset by a perceived lack of content and a hefty price tag.
It's been four long years since the VR headset was unveiled to the world via Kickstarter in 2012. Since then, the headset has seen several model iterations as well as multiple delays and setbacks. Being the case, Oculus VR has had its work cut out trying to keep excitement for the Rift alive, and with Samsung, HTC, Microsoft and others all having contributed to the virtual reality hype bubble, Oculus is no longer the only player on the pitch.
With that in mind, does the Oculus Rift have the power and panache to convince the world that VR is back again, and this time, for good? Here's what the critics are saying.
The Verge applauds the Oculus Rift for a strong design, low latency and sense of immersion. However, it adds that for many of the headset's launch titles, VR "feels like an addition, not a transformation", while also drawing attention to the device's off-putting £500 price tag.
"'Just a few more months' has been the mantra of virtual reality since people started getting excited about the Oculus Rift, and saying it after the headset is released feels like either a huge cop-out or a sign that the VR we want may never actually arrive. But it's impossible to think of all the unreleased Oculus Touch experiences I've tried — like three-dimensional painting tool Quill, Old West shooting gallery Dead & Buried, and a VR version of Rock Band— and not feel like the Rift's best days are still ahead of it.
"The high cost of buying and running high-end VR headsets makes them inaccessible to many people, and the Rift in particular is relentlessly focused on gaming. Within these limitations, though, the Rift makes a good case for seated VR, and it lays a solid foundation for what's to come. The headset you can buy today is not Oculus' most ambitious vision for virtual reality — but it's a vision that Oculus has successfully delivered on."
Mashable calls the Oculus Rift "extremely promising", though adds that virtual reality itself still has a long way to go. The publication labels the headset's launch line-up as "polished and comfortable" and says the initial titles available to play on the Oculus Rift "sets a bar for good curation in the Oculus Store".
Nevertheless, Mashable also draws attention to the headset's high cost, which it calls "hard to ignore".
"While it will drop in time, $600 for a headset presents a significant barrier to entry, and that's without the computer required to power it. Oculus waited until the last possible second — until the pre-order page went live — to announce that price, so its significance can't be lost on the company either. It could be a smart decision to limit the Rift's initial market to consumers ready to invest in the commitment of virtual reality. That could also be an obstacle to its growth.
"While we ponder this, on the precipice of virtual reality's wide adoption, it seems too early to completely predict how the platform will evolve. At least Oculus' first Rift is a calculated, well-executed step forward into a larger virtual world."
Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal concludes that the Oculus Rift "isn't ready for the mainstream", calling the headset "pricey, awkward and isolating". The publication suggests that the Samsung Gear VR offers a more hassle-free virtual reality experience at a fraction of the cost and concludes that potential buyers should allow the market to mature before plunging in head-first.
"I believe the Oculus experience will make quantum leaps in fun and usefulness in the years ahead, especially with the arrival of the Touch controllers. But I don't believe that this particular Rift hardware will last. New capabilities will require more powerful processors and higher resolution headsets—someday hopefully ones that work without wires. If you buy a Rift today, chances are you'll be replacing it in the near future."
Wired is another to suggest that tempted buyers should hold out a while longer - for better games and the arrival of Oculus's Touch controllers - before deciding to part with their cash. However, it credits the Oculus Rift for its comfortable design, easy set-up time and the sense of immersion it brings to gaming.
"This is an astonishingly well-made device. It delivers rock-solid, comfortable VR, and it does so easily. You'll be able to put this thing on anyone and show them the magic. You'll have friends coming over just to go through the Dreamdeck. (Seriously, you will.) But you'll have to make your peace with the idea that your $600—or realistically, $1,500 or more, if you need a PC to go with it—is an investment. It's an investment in the things you'll be able to do in the Rift, the places you'll be able to go."
Road to VR
Road to VR also draws attention to the lack of bundled motion controllers with the Oculus Rift, which it calls a "significant missing piece". Nevertheless, it calls the headset's launch line-up "impressive" and says Oculus VR has managed to live up to lofty expectations around its inaugural headset.
"The Rift feels like a near-perfect execution of the device Oculus promised they would make back during their 2012 Kickstarter. It's a VR headset that lets us "step into the game" in a powerfully immersive way that's unlike anything you've seen before (assuming you've never tried VR). The user-experience so far is exceptional, which is especially impressive given the scope of today's launch (the product, drivers, the Oculus Home platform for desktop, 30 launch titles, etc).
"But a lot has happened in the world of VR since that 2012 vision—most notably the introduction of high performance motion input controllers which radically enhance the level of interactivity (and in many ways immersion) of virtual reality."
Gizmodo seems particularly impressed with the Oculus Rift. It says the Oculus Rift "shines" as a gaming device and is "miraculously easy to install and use", while also echoing other reviewers in their praise of the headset's design, comfort and 'immersiveness'. Gizmodo is far less enthusiastic about the price, which it suggests will exclude all but the most hardcore of gamers.
"What Oculus has accomplished is remarkable. There's plenty that even the completely uninitiated user can enjoy. More importantly, the Rift is truly immersive in most cases. The image quality is mostly excellent, and the head-tracking is nearly flawless. Indeed, perhaps what's most significant is that there are moments when I can say unreservedly and without caveats that I am enjoying the Rift right in the moment—not as a device indicative of some desirable future, but as a device to own right now.
"I still can't afford the future of virtual reality, but for the first time, I actually want to."
IBTimes UK will be publishing our own review of Oculus Rift - and the upcoming HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets - soon.