Oculus is cutting the price of its Rift headset and Touch motion controllers by $100 each, dropping the cost of a complete system to $598. The change was announced today at GDC, alongside a slate of new games that will be released throughout the year. It makes the Oculus Rift significantly cheaper than its main competitor, the HTC Vive, and only $100 more than the current “budget” headset, the PlayStation VR. There’s no retroactive discount for recent Rift or Touch buyers, but people who purchased Touch at full price in the last 30 days will get a $50 Oculus Store credit.
At launch, the Oculus Rift headset alone cost $599, and Touch — a technically optional but very important component — cost $199. The setup also required a gaming PC that cost $1,000 or more. Last year, though, the Rift started officially supporting cheaper PCs, including a $499 Oculus-certified Cyberpower machine. Combined with the price drop, Oculus head of desktop VR (and former CEO) Brendan Iribe boasts that the whole package now costs a little over $1,000. That’s still a lot of money, but it’s getting closer to the amount people might spend on a gaming console and flatscreen TV.
There are still other barriers to adoption, though. One is the Rift’s tracking system, which involves multiple USB cameras set up around a dedicated VR room. “At this point we are looking at the future, next-gen versions of VR being a lot more wireless-oriented. We’re very excited about the future of wireless tracking,” says Iribe. “A large part will be inside-out so you don’t have any sensors anywhere.” An all-in-one prototype called Santa Cruz appeared at last year’s Oculus Connect event, but Iribe says it’s not yet ready for commercial production. When it is, its release will be coordinated by Oculus’ lower-end mobile division, headed by Jon Thomason.
For now, Iribe says that the most robust Rift tracking setup, which includes three cameras, has been “more popular than we initially expected.” (Third cameras, which are sold separately, are dropping from $79 to $59 in price.) He also says that Oculus is putting a major focus on bundling the Rift with Touch. “We suspect the majority of people getting in now are getting in on Rift plus Touch,” he says.
While it might be celebrating a variety of upcoming games at GDC, Oculus is recovering from its share of bad press. Publisher ZeniMax recently won $500 million in a lawsuit against the company, which it claimed stole ZeniMax code to develop the Rift, and it’s now facing an injunction to stop selling Rift headsets. (Iribe declined to comment on the litigation.) Oculus’ once-ubiquitous founder Palmer Luckey has also withdrawn from the public eye since a news report revealed a controversial political donation last year. Iribe confirmed that Luckey was “still working in an active capacity” on Iribe’s high-end VR team, but declined to talk about his current role at the company.
One of the things we’ve seen most recently from Oculus’ experimental labs is a glove controller prototype, which Iribe says was created in order to test how precise individual finger tracking could get. From there, Oculus can figure out what control systems could deliver similar results as commercial products. “[When] you start getting into gloves, you start getting into size, and fits — there are a lot of challenges there,” he says. “In the future, we’re trying to pioneer natural hand gestures without gloves.”
In general, that team is currently working on next-generation high-end virtual reality, but it’s apparently still in the early process of development. “Everything we’re doing is still research-oriented,” says Iribe. “The future of VR, the [generation] of VR that we call second-gen, is going to be a very big leap from where we are today.” So potential Rift buyers will get “at least the next two years” before their headset is superseded by something new. “I think you’ll see even beyond that, a lot of people will be using this first [generation],” he says.