3 reasons the first VR headsets will suck … but I’m buying one anyway

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe shows off the latest Oculus Rift consumer version.
Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe shows off the latest Oculus Rift consumer version.
E3 2015 was arguably among the most exciting iteration of the event to not include an announcement of new console hardware. Games deserve some of the credit. Fallout 4 looks set to exceed all expectations, new franchises like Horizon Zero Dawn surprised the most jaded gamers, and old projects like The Last Guardian returned to tease and excite.

Still, much of the hype was about new virtual-reality hardware. The Oculus Rift is slated for an early 2016 release, which means consumer-ready VR is less than a year away. Our own Brad Bourque had a chance to sit down with the device and came away from it stunned. Despite months of anticipation, his expectations were exceeded.

But I remain skeptical. The consumer Rift’s release means we’re on the cusp of everyday users spending serious coin on a VR headset, and I’m not sure it’s ready despite several years of development. Here’s why.

The price

Virtual reality won’t be cheap.

While the consumer version of the Rift has been revealed, the company hasn’t provided any pricing details. All we know is that Oculus plans a price south of $400. Whether or not the price will include the recently revealed motion controllers is unknown.

Convincing the masses to spend $400 for a more immersive version of games they already enjoy will not be easy

Frankly, it doesn’t matter. While Oculus’ parent, Facebook, could afford to give the Rift away for free, that’s little more than a prayer. At the least the Rift will be a couple hundred bucks — at the most, it’ll press the very edge of its $400 goal. In either case it’ll be among the most expensive gaming peripherals on the market.

That’s not good. Time and time again gamers have refused to buy expensive peripherals, no matter how good they are. The market for racing wheels and joysticks is relatively small compared to its glory days in the late 90s. Then there’s Kinect, the infamous add-on that damaged the Xbox One’s reception when it was announced as mandatory – alongside a price tag $100 north of the PlayStation 4.

Most people don’t want to spend more money using a device they already have, and if they must spend anything at all, it should be as little as possible. Convincing the masses to spend $400 for a more immersive version of games they already enjoy will not be easy. The fact that VR’s benefits are impossible to appreciate outside a tightly controlled, in-person, hands-on experience adds to the problem.

The performance

Spending a few hundred dollars on a VR headset is only the beginning. You also need the hardware to run it.

A few entries into the VR space, like Sony’s Project Morpheus and Google’s Cardboard, side-step this issue by using relatively affordable devices (a console or a smartphone, respectively) and dealing with the resulting limitations. VR headsets for the PC, however, pursue a high level of visual fidelity. That means you’ll need an expensive video card and a fast processor.

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey holds up Oculus Touch prototype controllers.
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey holds up Oculus Touch prototype controllers. eVRydayVR

AMD and Nvidia are using VR as an opportunity to promote extreme enthusiasts cards like the GTX 980 Ti and the AMD Fury X. Virtual reality could finally give gamers a reason to buy the most expensive card instead of a modest, mid-range model — or so they say.

They’re putting the cart before the horse. Gamers who’ve just bought a Rift won’t gleefully spend hundreds more on a new video card. Savvy players will realize the full costs of investing in VR and choose to keep their money in their wallets.

Unfortunate as that seems, it’s the best-case scenario. What should be feared is the mass of gamers who think they understand hardware requirements, but don’t. PC gamers constantly exaggerate the capabilities of their rigs. Comparing computers online always adds 10 or 15 frames per second to the performance of every system involved.

That’s OK if you’re using a monitor. If you think you’re managing a solid 60 frames per second, but are actually seeing 45, it’s not the end of the world. But the increased immersion of virtual reality makes every stutter and hiccup more noticeable. A lot of people with barely adequate hardware will buy a Rift, and they won’t be happy. This, too, is a traditional problem of complex peripherals — they rarely work seamlessly, because their creators lack full control of the experience.

The software

Even if you can afford the Rift, and the hardware needed to use it, one problem remains.

What will you play?

evevalkyrie

I think it’s telling we’ve seen certain demos repeat themselves time and time again. Eve: Valkyrie is a good example. It looks beautiful, but will it be a good game? There’s reason to be skeptical. Its developer, CCP, has no experience in the genre of space dog-fighting titles, and its recent efforts to branch out beyond its niche MMO, Eve, have ended in failure. The fact Valkyrie has become VR’s champion is a bit worrying.

What else might be ready? Racing games. Survival horror games. Maybe some unique first-person puzzle games. A of the titles shown could be great, but they’re not games that sell hardware. If you step into a crowd and tell them you’ve bought a Rift for that new Eve game, or Edge of Nowhere, they’re going to say “huh, that seems cool,” and then carry on talking about the next Mass Effect or Microsoft’s Minecraft holographic demo.

Many hardcore PC gamers have little reason to love VR.

It’s not just fickle casual gamers who are an issue. Many hardcore PC gamers have little reason to love VR. Take a look at the top games placed on PC, using either Steam data or Raptr, and you’ll see many titles that are completely unsuited for virtual reality. Third-person online games. Overhead-view action-RPGs. MOBAs. Strategy games. All of them have no place in VR’s future, yet they are absolutely core to gaming culture.

There’s a control problem, too. Oculus’ new motion control device looks awesome, but it also means that games built for the Rift specifically will only work best with the device, limiting their audience. And that means a lot of developers won’t bother. The decision to include an Xbox One gamepad with every Rift wasn’t a sell-out to Microsoft. Oculus needs that controller to reduce the barriers surrounding Rift development.

Don’t buy it, yet

I’ll admit I’m going to buy a Rift. Of course I will. I’m exactly the target demographic — a hardcore PC gamer with access to hardware powerful enough to deliver the ideal experience.

That doesn’t mean you should buy it. I recommend you don’t. While it has been in development for several years, it’s going to suffer from all the usual problems that plague early versions of hardware. It will lack a compelling software library. It’ll be expensive. And it’ll quickly become obsolete when new versions appear.

As dark as my outlook may seem, I don’t think VR will entirely flop. There’s enough money behind the movement to keep it on life support for years even if initial sales figures are appallingly bad. We’ll see improvements, and we’ll see attempts to tackle the issues above. But success is not guaranteed, and the wise gamer will wait to see how the revolution turns out before picking a side.

Product Review

It's so fast it has a clip-on fan. But the Asus ROG phone isn't just for gamers

Is a gaming smartphone only something a mobile gamer should consider buying? In the case of the Asus ROG Phone, the good news is the device is so capable, and a genuinely impressive all-rounder, that everyone should take a closer look…
Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Virtual Reality

Is the Vive Pro better than the original Vive? Our answer might surprise you

HTC Vive vs. Vive Pro, which comes out on top? That's the subject of our latest comparison, which looks at everything from tracking solutions, to controllers, and the brand new headset that could set a new standard for VR.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Computing

After a month of bugs, the Windows 10 October 2018 Update is finally here

After more thoroughly investigating and resolving all bugs and related issues, Microsoft is announcing the Windows 10 October 2018 is again rolling out to consumers starting today, November 13. 
Computing

Changing file associations in Windows 10 is quick and easy with these steps

Learning how to change file associations can make editing certain file types much quicker than manually selecting your preferred application every time you open them. Just follow these short steps and you'll be on your way in no time.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Computing

A dead pixel doesn't mean a dead display. Here's how to repair it

Dead pixel got you down? We don't blame you. Check out our guide on how to fix a dead pixel and save yourself that costly screen replacement, or an unwanted trip to your local repair shop.
Computing

Great PC speakers don't need to break the bank. These are our favorites

Not sure which PC speakers work best with your computer? Here are the best computer speakers on the market, whether you're working with a tight budget or looking to rattle your workstation with top-of-the-line audio components.
Computing

Printing to PDF in Windows is easy, no matter which method you use

Microsoft's latest operating system makes it easier than ever to print to PDF in Windows, but there are alternative methods for doing so, even if you want to forgo Adobe Acrobat. Here's how.
Computing

These are the 5 best free antivirus apps to protect your MacBook

Malware protection is more important than ever, even if you eschew Windows in favor of Apple's desktop platform. Thankfully, protecting your machine is as easy as picking from the best free antivirus apps for Mac suites.
Computing

These laptop bags will keep your notebook secure wherever you go

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Computing

These Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts will update your OG Windows skills

Windows 10 has many new features, and they come flanked with useful new keyboard shortcuts. Check out some of the new Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts to improve your user experience.
Computing

Protecting your PDF with a password isn't difficult. Just follow these steps

If you need to learn how to password protect a PDF, you have come to the right place. This guide will walk you through the process of protecting your documents step-by-step, whether you're running a MacOS or Windows machine.