Oculus announced some big news about the retail Oculus Rift, but the details we wanted — including a set release date and price — were left unsaid. Still, there's much to unpack from the press conference.
The final device looks good, and Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe noted that it would work well for people with glasses. It also seemed light while being held with one hand on the video, although we'll have to wait for the hands-on to know for sure. The built-in headphones will be easy to remove if you want to use another pair of headphones.
The sensor, which is designed to be "invisible" once hooked up, looks cute and inviting, and will be able to track the headset as well as the just-announced and very strange-looking Oculus Touch controllers. This is all interesting stuff, but again ... how much will it cost? The system is going to launch with an Xbox One wireless controller included, so how many people will decide to also pick up the Touch controllers?
This is important; the controllers will be released after the retail Rift. The Rift is slated for the first-quarter of 2016, the Touch controllers sometime in the first half of the year. You'll have to pay extra. The user base has already been fragmented.
Oculus Touch will be shipping H1 2016 - Preorders will open alongside the Rift.— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) June 11, 2015
It's possible pricing and firm release dates will be announced at E3, but with a first-quarter 2016 release date it could be until Oculus Connect 2 in September that we find this stuff out.
The Microsoft connection
So now we know Microsoft's VR strategy, and it's a good one. The Oculus Rift will come with a wireless Xbox One controller and PC dongle, which is the controller Oculus has been using to demo the hardware for years anyway, albeit with a cable. That controller is also only compatible with Windows 10 as well, just in case you needed another excuse to update. Very clever, Microsoft. Very clever indeed.
The other big news is that you'll be able to stream Xbox One games to a sort of home theater environment on the Rift. This has already earned some snickering on social media, but being able to use your own virtual giant-screen television when the kids are on the regular television is a cool feature. Anyone who shares space and buys a Rift now has an extra display for their Xbox One games, as well as that "free" controller, and that's pretty cool.
Also, keep in mind what Oculus's Mitchell has said in the past. "We've talked to everyone, there are a lot of people right now interested in the VR space, and we said many times that we're interested in bringing the Rift to as many consoles or platforms as possible," Mitchell said during a recent event. "Ultimately we haven't announced any partnerships to date, but it's something we're always exploring."
There is nothing keeping Microsoft from grabbing the Oculus Rift and turning it into an Xbox One accessory, especially now that the companies are working so closely together. It would be mostly a software issue and a matter of gaining developer support, as Xbox One-ready virtual reality games would likely require a bit of optimization.
But we know the PlayStation 4 handles VR very well, as do a few cell phones. The Xbox One is ready, Microsoft is already working with Oculus, it could be Microsoft is simply waiting to see if there's a market for such a thing. If Sony's Project Morpheus takes off? Expect an announcement very quickly.
As a VR enthusiast there was a lot of content showed off today that looked great to me, and it's very hard to describe how good Eve: Valkyrie is when I know there's no way for most readers to try it at the moment. It's what you've dreamed of; you feel as though you're a hot-shot pilot in deep space. It delivers the illusion of piloting your own fighter against other players, and it's incredible.
But you have to sit down, put on the headset and try it before those words feel true and not like a ton of marketing buzz. There is, so far, no one big game that people are going to rush to play. The experience is what's being sold here, not any game with huge name recognition.
Even if you're in the industry the wait just to try these games can take up most of the day at events. I'm not sure the games on display today moved anyone one way or the other.
The $10 million investment in independent and smaller games is very exciting, but the fruits of that investment are likely months, if not years, in the future. It doesn't mean much for people reading this story, but the pay off in interesting and experimental games could be vast.
This is a technology you have to see for yourself, and there's no way to do so at the moment for most people. We don't know how much it will cost, nor do we know what we will, or won't, be buying with it.
The updated hardware is a marked step up from what we've been using previously, but it's unknown how many people have a system powerful enough to take advantage of it, or are willing to buy one.
No one knows how big the market for virtual reality is, or how large it will become. Oculus has no way of knowing how many people are willing to actually get money out, nor do they have any way to do so yet. This was a stutter-step towards E3, and ultimately proved more frustrating than enlightening.