Did you know the idea of virtual reality has been around for over a century? Well, that’s if you count stereoscopic photos and viewers. Do you remember the promise of VR back in the 90’s? It was going to be the next big thing. We had things come out like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, and even SEGA attempted to take a crack at it with their SEGA VR Headset (which never left the prototype phase).
We were all so ready for the future. Well, now that future is here; systems like the HTC Vive, PSVR, and Oculus Rift have been available to the public for a couple years now, and, spoiler alert, they’re incredible! I actually purchased my own Oculus Rift just over a year ago. So now with a year of use under my belt, let me tell you why the Oculus Rift is just as good as it sounds, if not better.
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As of this writing, the Oculus Rift retails for $399 USD. That’s not bad considering back in the day, the Virtual Boy retailed at $180, and the Rift is absolutely 2.22 times better (trust me, I did the math). I even got mine during the “Summer of Oculus,” which dropped the price permanently to where it’s at now.
Just make sure your PC is up to par, or else it won’t even run. I don’t mean that it’ll look bad graphically or just have a terrible frame-rate, I mean you won’t even be able to install it. I know this for a fact as I tried to install it on an older PC of mine while waiting for my new rig to come in (which ended up costing about $1400). You might consider that a “hidden” cost, IF you have to upgrade, but who knows – maybe your PC is already up to snuff, and you’re ready to go. Thankfully the people at Oculus have developed a compatibility check tool.
What’s in the Box?
When you get your Rift, it comes in a very nice box (that you can absolutely use as a carrying case when you inevitably want to show it off to friends and family that may not live in-town). In it is the headset itself, two touch controllers, and two sensors. Let’s go over these individually.
The Rift sensors are basically “camera-like” devices on stands. They aren’t cameras in the traditional sense though. They’re used to tell your computer where your headset and controllers are in the virtual space. Though it only comes with two, you can purchase extra to allow for what’s called Room Scale. Room Scale allows for you to have a full 360° area of play, whereas two just allow for 180°. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t turn around, but if you do, the sensors will have a much harder time sensing the controllers and headset, and you may lose some tracking.
These are called Touch Controllers. Not only do they have your normal buttons, but also the face of the controller is touch sensitive. It knows when your thumb is resting on it. These are your “guide” to the virtual world. Sure, you CAN use an Xbox controller, but it’s not the same. These give you virtual hands you can use to manipulate the virtual world.
Now, I personally find these way more comfortable than the Vive controllers, and I much prefer the physical analog sticks over the touch pads. The only issue I can think of is actually a positive and negative at the same time. The controllers run on batteries (1 AA each). I love that because if one dies, I can swap it out instead of having to plug them in, charge them, and wait.
However, the battery compartment covers are magnetically held on, which again, great…except for sometimes, they become hard to move, as you have to slide them off, and if you’re hands are slippery from sweat or whatnot, you’re not removing them.
And just a note of caution…USE THE STRAPS! There have been too many people who’ve flung their controllers into their TVs.
I have saved the best piece of the set, and most obvious, for last. The Rift headset is super comfortable. It comes with a foam padding that rests on your face and blocks out most light. You can see a little bit if you look down your nose, but I think that allows you to see out without having to totally remove the headset, and once you start playing, you don’t even notice it since you’ll be pretty immersed.
The faceplate can be swapped out for aftermarket ones. I highly recommend you do this, one, because it allows you to use the material you find most comfortable, and two, because the foam does a wonderful job soaking up your sweat and if you’re playing with friends, no one wants to use your sweat drenched face plate, so it’s more sanitary.
As for the view itself, there can be some god rays, but those never really bothered me, and the graphics really depend on what graphics card your running. Mine isn’t the top of the line, but again, the immersion really just let’s you forget about all of that. (I still don’t think my mom forgives me for accidentally punching her fan when trying to jump up to grab a gun in Robo Recall.)
On top of all that, it comes with built in headphones unlike the Vive and PSVR where you need your own (say hello to more cords). Are they the greatest in the world? No. But they’re pretty damn good, and not having to buy/add your own is a huge bonus in my eyes. Plus, they’re detachable if you really feel inclined to use your own set.
The Oculus wouldn’t be what is it without the games, and oh, boy, are there ever games! The currently Oculus library has hundreds of games; games of practically every genre. Want to play chess? Go for it. Want to rock climb? You can! Want to boldly go where no one has gone before with up to three buddies? Scotty will totally beam you up.
I own 57 games/apps/experiences. What’s an experience, you may be asking? Well, it’s more of an interactive (kind of) story than an actual game. More like a virtual video or tour, to really show off what VR is like than to actually play. There hasn’t been a game I’ve played that I didn’t enjoy (except for Subnautica, but I’ll get into that later). It’s just breathtaking. I would say go watch gameplay on YouTube or Twitch of Star Trek Bridge Crew, Beat Saber, The Climb, or Robo Recall, etc. but it just wouldn’t do them any justice. Oh, still go and watch them because the games are amazing. But just know you won’t be fully able to grasp the experience of actually BEING in those worlds.
Yes, SOME people will not be able to handle VR and get motion sick. It does create a slight disconnect with your body and senses. Your eyes and ears are telling you one thing, while your brain and body knows that’s not true. For me, I can handle it. The only time I couldn’t was when I was playing Subnautica.
The problem occurred when my friends discovered they could use an Xbox control to ALSO control my movements. So, there I am, trying to use the touch controls to move around the ocean while suddenly I’m moving in different directions and fighting for control. I got pretty nauseous, pretty quickly.
Look, I love the Oculus Rift, but I realize it all comes down to personal preference; my cousin loves his Vive, and my friend Briana loves her PSVR. I’ve tried all of them, and the Oculus was the one for me. So no matter what I say, how much I praise this completely awesome future tech machine, it’s all up to you. So, I’ll tell you what to do.
I know most Microsoft Stores have the Vive demo and Best Buy has the Oculus demo (usually on weekends only). Call your local stores, see if they’re demoing them, and try them out. (This will also help you figure out if you get motion sick or not.) That’s exactly what made me know I wanted to purchase VR, when Tristan and I stumbled into the Microsoft Store at the Florida Mall in Orlando, and we both tried the Vive. So, go out, try one, and get one for yourself.
Oh, and tweet some pictures at us when you do @List25 or @MichaelBEstrin. Maybe we can even game together!