Virtual reality is spectacular, and has the potential to revolutionize how we engage with entertainment in the way the radio, the television, and the smartphone have in the past. But today, as you consider investing hundreds of dollars in one of the new headsets, there are reasons to consider holding off. Following the smartphone comparison, virtual reality is like the first iPhone, and it could be awhile before it feels as polished, inclusive, and comparably affordable as say, the iPhone 5C.
Here are six reasons to consider holding off on virtual reality — for now:
The resolution of Oculus Rift’s earliest prototypes was so low, that its view of virtual reality appeared to be obstructed by a screen door. Both the commercial Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headset make positive strides, but the visual fidelity of VR still gets the runner-up prize to standard HDTVs, let alone a 4K displays. While the actual screens inside the headset are high-resolution, having your eyeballs within an inch from their surface allows you to spot individual pixels. The limits of the resolution are especially noticeable when watching video, which is soft and blurry. While small text, like the folder names on your desktop, is nearly impossible to read. VR needs ultra-high-resolution screens and the appropriate computing power, neither of which come cheap in 2016.
The games, or lack thereof
The used game bins at GameStop are lined with the launch titles of old games consoles. Launch games double as learning exercises for developers, a chance to understand how to design for new hardware. In retrospect, launch games often feel undercooked. The initial crop of VR launch games, while impressive as technical demos, lack the depth and confidence of their competition, both from indie studios and flush publishers. For people who like shaggy and experimental video games — games that are often works-in-progress — virtual reality platforms have plenty to offer. But for others who rather not sink $600+ on demos and works-in-progress, there are few rock-solid games that warrant an investment in VR today — especially when a new, good non-VR game is seemingly released on PC each week.
The delayed launch
Shipments for both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have been delayed, leaving many people who preordered the hardware within days, if not hours, of availability without hardware. Worse, Oculus Rift’s touch controls won’t ship until later in the year. HTC Vive, which has motion controls and a second camera that allows an entire room to become a walkable VR chamber, has a big advantage, but lacks the exclusive games on Oculus Rift — unless you want to hack them.
This is a nitpick, maybe, but being tethered to a $1,000+ computer, while you are effectively blinded and deafened to the outside world is a crazy thing to ask of anyone. The wires must go away, ideally sooner rather than later. If the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive don’t scrap the wires, more practical options, like Samsung’s GearVR will welcome newcomers — who can pay less for a far more inviting experience.
The threat of newer, better headsets coming soon
We’ve heard very little about games currently in development for virtual reality, let alone how publishers plan to invest in it. Furthermore, game development takes many months at best, and years on average. For that reason, we may not see meatier VR releases until 2017 or even 2018. This year may mark the official release of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, but it may as well be a move from alpha beta for the average person. Over the next few years, both game developers and hardware designers will experiment and improve upon virtual reality at a rapid clip, and we’ll see the fruits of the progress over the coming years. In an interview with The Verge, Shuhei Yoshida, Sony’s president of worldwide studios, said this about the upgrade cycle: "In terms of tech, VR is just starting, consumer VR is just starting, and there are also areas where R&D is being done; the resolution gets better, the interface, all of these kinds of things. So even though we are approaching PSVR on PS4 like a console — meaning that anyone can buy it without any technical knowledge — because this field is so new, and advancements will be everywhere as we continue to work on R&D, I cannot say that the PSVR will have the same kind of cycle as a traditional console."
Because of the aforementioned delays, orders made today for the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift are unlikely to ship for months. If you have a bottomless bank account or enjoy the looming shadow of debt, you could spend over a thousand dollars to get a headset this week, in which case, refer to reasons one through five.