Oculus Rift Reviewers Weigh In: There's "Little Reason to Own" One So Far

Oculus-Rift-2-H 2016
Courtesy of Oculus

While getting praised for "serious gamers," $600 virtual reality headset is getting mixed early reviews.

The future is here in the form of virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. But reviewers almost unanimously agreed that they’re still waiting for more.

The $600 device from Facebook-owned Oculus, which offers up 360-degree games and videos, was four years in the making, and on Monday began shipping to consumers. The first, and most high-profile of the VR headsets to launch in the coming months, its ship date has been circled on calendars as the moment that VR will finally make its way into the mainstream.

But while reviewers were generally impressed by the design and quality of the device, they aren't expecting it to become a household must-have just yet. That's because the Rift, originally designed for gaming, is still an expensive product lacking in high-quality, immersive content to draw anyone other than hardcore gamers.

"The first batch of apps and games added up to a confusing, disjointed virtual reality landscape," writes The New York Times' Brian X. Chen. "In my tests, my reaction was more often, 'Why would I want to be here?' or 'Why is this in virtual reality?' rather than 'Wow.'"

The Wall Street Journal's Geoffrey A. Fowler puts it simply when he writes that there's "little reason to own one unless you're a serious gamer."

The design of the device is where the Rift shines. The one-and-a-half-pound headset seemed to fit most reviewers comfortably with a design that The Verge's Adi Robertson describes as "understated" while also being "lighter and more comfortable than most of its competition."

Critics also praised Oculus for the Rift's simple setup, despite its many parts and need for a high-powered computer system. Several referred to the set up as "a breeze," even as they noted that it could take more than an hour from unboxing to immersing themselves in 360 degrees due to the time it takes to download content.

Opinions varied once critics got the Rift up and running. Chen notes that the game EVE: Valkyrie "was impressive and stimulating, and dying was appropriately stressful," and Gizmodo's Mario Aguilar says he lost track of time because he was so engaged in Lucky's Tale, a game that comes preloaded on every device.

But several reviewers noted that some games don’t feel unique to their virtual reality environment. Robertson writes that the games feel like "an addition, not a transformation."

But Fowler notes that enclosing oneself into the world of VR has its downsides. "Unless we start building adult playpens, teeth will be lost on the sides of coffee tables," he writes. Robertson, meanwhile, explains that unlike other gaming, which can encourage players to get up and move around or interact with friends, the Rift is very closed off and "feels as close to being a brain in a jar as humanly possible."

And nearly all of them suggest that VR is best consumed in small doses, at least for now. Wired's Peter Rubin notes that after a prolonged VR experience, one can emerge with "VR face" which includes marks around the nose from where the headset sits on a person’s head.  

Then there's the price. The Rift retails for $600 but requires a PC with powerful computing, which can cost another $950 to $1,000. As Aguilar puts it, "It's a shitload of money."

Other reviewers point out that at that price point, the Oculus will remain a product for hard-core gamers and tech elite. "It's hard to champion the Rift completely when few people can afford it," writes Engadget’s Devindra Hardawar. "It's the very definition of elite technology."

But despite its flaws, the Oculus represents a huge step forward for virtual reality technology. And nearly everyone who tested the device agrees that it promises big things for the future of VR. "It's Day One for the Rift," closes Fowler, "and I'm already ready for Version Two."