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The Oculus Rift was supposed to be cheaper — so what happened?

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This is what it costs to be the best, according to Palmer Luckey

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey seems to be having a pretty good day so far. "We sold through a lot faster than we expected," he told Polygon. "I can’t talk about numbers, but we sold through in 10 minutes what I thought we were going to sell through in a few hours, which is one of the reasons the site was beginning to buckle."

The consumer version of the Oculus Rift is now available for pre-order at $599, a price that seems to have caught many people off guard. Luckey himself used to tell people that the final cost of the hardware would be in the $300 to $400 range. So what changed?

"A lot of things changed," he began.

Oculus' original plan was to sell an updated version of the Development Kit 2 as the consumer version, although they were unhappy with some aspects of the design. "The problem is the frame rate is low enough that a lot of people perceive flicker," Luckey said. "The resolution is not what we would like it to be. We couldn't do things we wanted to do with optics while it was one display."

The company is constantly working on internal prototypes with an eye to the future, and the acquisition by Facebook created many new possibilities.

"The Facebook resources allowed us to do that, to say we want to make custom panels. What would a made-for-virtual-reality panel look like?" he asked. "How high can we push the refresh rate on these panels, how low can we push the persistence, how high fill can we get on these? What can we do with multiple displays with optics that are a sealed package and move to adjust [interpupillary distance]?"

Oculus began to experiment with what was possible, and became much more ambitious with what could be done in a consumer virtual reality headset. "What came out of that were the prototypes that became Crescent Bay [a prototype for the retail version of the hardware], and when we compared what we had to what we were making internally, it was such a huge difference," Luckey said. "It was hard to look at what we had made before and say, 'Yeah, this is consumer-ready, this is what everyone is going to want.' "

This, of course, caused the price to go up. "Building the best VR headset costs a lot more than just making a good headset," he explained. Oculus wanted to create a product that would make more people want VR, something that made the technology aspirational rather than initially inexpensive.

"We decided, in the end, to optimize quality over cost."