For most of the mainstream market, the entry-level cost to get into PC-based virtual reality goes well beyond the $599 Oculus is charging for its first consumer Rift headset. Factor in the cost of a high-end gaming PC needed to power the Rift, and the “all-in” price for most consumers soars to at least $1,500.
But Oculus founder Palmer Luckey says he sees VR headsets like the Rift driving demand for that kind of high-end PC hardware, driving down overall costs in the process. “Most people have not had a reason to own a high-end PC for a long time,” Luckey said in a wide-ranging AMA” conversation with the “Glorious PC Master Race” subreddit yesterday. “Your crappy PC is the biggest barrier to adoption [for high-end VR]…”
That won’t be true for long, according to Luckey, as demand for VR drives adoption of high-end graphics hardware “much like video-related stuff drove high-end CPU adoption.” In the near future, that demand will push PC technology to the point where even that “crappy PC” that most people have will be able to power a convincing virtual reality experience, Luckey said. “If ‘normal’ PCs get good enough to run VR, then the majority of people will be able to buy a relatively cheap headset and just use whatever computer they already own to drive it.”
To that end, Luckey says Oculus has been “working with all the major hardware vendors to optimize for VR… We have been working with Nvidia, AMD, and Intel since basically the start of Oculus—they know that virtual reality is going to demand better and better hardware, and drive demand for powerful GPUs and CPUs beyond the existing gaming and enterprise market.”
Nvidia estimates that there will be about 13 million PCs capable of running the Oculus Rift in consumers’ homes this year. That’s a pretty small potential market for a new gaming-focused peripheral, but Luckey said that it’s more important to provide a great VR experience to early adopters than a cheap experience that could hit a larger market right out of the gate.
“As I have said before, VR needs to become something everyone wants before it can become something everyone can afford,” he said. “I totally understand people who don’t want to spend that much on VR, but this is the current cost of making a really good headset. Much like smartphones, the cost of that quality is going to come down over time – you can buy unsubsidized phones for less than $100 that blow away the best $600 phones from just five years ago, that is what time does to the cost of technology.”
Luckey compared Oculus’ VR rollout plan to Tesla’s work convincing the public that electric cars are viable. “If Tesla had tried to make a $35,000 mass-market electric car back in 2008, they would have accomplished little. Instead, they made the [more expensive] Roadster and Model S, proved that electric cars could be awesome, invested heavily in RD, and now have a clear path towards their ever-present long-term goal, making electric cars mainstream.”
Luckey’s comments mirror those of some VR game developers, who told Ars last week they were prepared to wait until well after the Rift’s launch for VR to become cheap enough to be truly mainstream. “[Price reduction] will surely happen as unit numbers and competition ramp up over the next two years,” Denny Unger, CEO and creative director of Cloudhead Games (The Gallery: Six Elements) told Ars. “[Then] those masses will come and it won’t take that long for us to reach that stage of VR’s lifecycle… As along as the consumer price doesn’t stop the market in its tracks, we are happy. So at present, we are happy.”
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