VR becomes reality as first Oculus Rift headsets ship

25 Mar 2016

The first Oculus Rift headsets ship today, making good on a promise that began with a Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Today, the VR revolution takes off

We are firmly in the age of VR and one of the proponents of the VR revolution, Facebook-owned Oculus VR, has finally begun shipment of its Rift VR headsets. It all began with a Kickstarter campaign in 2012.

From the Lawnmower Man movie to the Matrix trilogy, the idea of virtual reality was always a bit out there, a bit far off. We craved the notion of it but, yeah, maybe someday.

All that is changing in 2016

Today Oculus VR, the company Facebook acquired two years ago for $2bn, will start shipping its first Oculus Rift headsets with the first deliveries arriving on Monday 28 March.

This is a proud moment for the company which began as a Kickstarter project in 2012 that raised $2.4m, promising it will be “the first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games”.

Well, believe it or not, Oculus VR is very close to delivering on that promise, insofar that it is the first out of the blocks from a range of VR headset makers that will launch in 2016, including HTC, Sony, Microsoft and others. Samsung has pretty much stolen a march on everyone with its Gear VR mobile-based headset, incidentally developed in collaboration with Oculus. And don’t forget Google has been peddling its low-cost VR headsets called Cardboard that you can buy for as little as €20 or make yourself.

There are effectively three kinds of VR experiences that can run on three platforms – mobile (Samsung, HTC, Google Cardboard), PC (Oculus Rift, Microsoft) and console (PlayStation). No doubt there are many other companies from Dell and Huawai to Apple and Intel just itching to make their mark on the VR world and all of this will unfold in good time.

The Oculus VR headsets that will ship today are going out to people who pre-ordered back in January. Everyone else will have to wait until July for the next tranche of orders to be shipped.

The Rift headset bundle will ship with games like EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale for $599.

Oculus has revealed the first Oculus-ready PCs capable of handling virtual reality (VR) applications from Alienware, Dell and ASUS at prices ranging from $1,499 up to $3,000.

Interestingly, just 13m PCs in the world today will have the graphics capabilities to run VR applications smoothly when the first Rift headsets arrive, according to hardware maker Nvidia. According to Gartner, these PCs will need the right computer graphics chips to deliver authentic experiences. However, less than 1pc of the 1.43bn PCs expected to be in use globally in 2016 have these capabilities.

The VR battlespace in 2016 – strap them goggles on and hold tight

2016 will no doubt be a seminal year for VR but it is going to be a slow burn before VR gaming becomes as common as mobile or console gaming.

TrendForce estimates that VR headset shipments will jump from 14m in 2016 to 38m by 2020. Considering there are up to 500m smartphones sold every year, it will be a long time before VR is mainstream.

But the battle lines are being drawn.

This week, Visionary VR, an LA-based VR story creation software start-up raised $6m in a Series A funding round led by DFJ Ventures.

At Mobile World Congress 2016, HTC revealed that the Vive VR gaming system, which it developed in partnership with Valve, will cost $799 and will start shipping from early April with a headset and two wireless VR controllers.

Virtual reality (VR) fans and PlayStation 4 owners looking to get their hands on the much-anticipated PlayStation VR can relax a little bit knowing that Sony has given us a release month of October and a price of €399.

Sony will undercut the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive by some distance, with those being priced by their companies at $599 and $799, respectively. This, of course, doesn’t take into account that these headsets will not be playable on the PS4, which so far has sold more than 35m units worldwide, with Sony’s expectations being that 1.6m will be sold before the end of 2017.

Gear VR is Samsung’s collaboration with Facebook-owned Oculus to bring Oculus’s VR technology to the mobile sphere. Irish smartphone buyers who pre-ordered the new Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone received a free Gear VR headset.

Currently, the Samsung Gear VR costs €249 at Carphone Warehouse.

Microsoft has revealed that the dev kit for its forthcoming HoloLens VR and AR platform will be available for pre-order 30 March at an eye-watering price of $3,000. Microsoft has revealed partners such as Volvo, Autodesk Fusion 360, NASA and the Cleveland Clinic.

A dark horse from sunny California will soon enter the VR race

But one company that has been notably quiet about its VR plans has been Apple, which could dominate the VR headset space with ease.

Apple’s VR pursuit has been hidden in plain sight for a while now, with the company snapping up AI and VR companies to help add to its armoury.

Back in March, Apple acquired Metaio, a company that is an offshoot of an R&D project at Volkswagen. Metaio’s technology – which has been used by BMW, Macy’s, Ferrari and Ikea – enables brands to provide consumers with realistic experiences of products they may be considering purchasing.

A recent Apple patent indicates how the company plans entering the headset, virtual-reality world. The “head-mounted display apparatus” can support your iPhone, physically, with the patent, originally lodged in 2008, now approved.

Apple revealed some of its VR work to the masses, after years of behind the scenes projects, with U2’s Song for Someone as Apple’s ‘Experience Bus’ travelled with the band’s world tour.

On board, people could browse through different bits and pieces, including a new VR video for the Songs of Innocence track, which is available on the Vrse app (Android, iOS) although, as it is VR, not all phones are compatible.

When Apple enters the fray, then we will know that VR is mainstream. And, as usual, Apple will convince everyone that it virtually invented VR.

Main image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years