For most of the mainstream market, the entry cost to access PC-based virtual reality goes well beyond the $599 Oculus is charging for its first consumer Rift headset. Add to that the cost of a high-end gaming PC needed to power the Rift, and the “all-in” price rises to at least $1,500 for most consumers.
But Oculus founder Palmer Luckey says he sees VR headsets like the Rift driving demand for that kind of high-performance PC hardware, reducing overall costs in the process. “Most people haven’t had a reason to own a high-end PC for a long time,” Luckey said in an extended AMA talk yesterday with the “Glorious PC Master Race” subreddit. Your crappy PC is the biggest barrier to adoption [for high-end VR]…”
That won’t be the case for long, according to Luckey, as the demand for VR drives the adoption of high-end graphics hardware “just like video-related stuff drove the adoption of high-end CPUs.” In the near future, that demand will push PC technology to the point where even that “crappy PC” most people have will be able to power a compelling virtual reality experience, Luckey said. “If ‘regular’ PCs get good enough to run VR, then the majority of people will be able to buy a relatively cheap headset and just use the computer they already own to drive it.”
To that end, Luckey says that Oculus “works with all major hardware vendors to optimize for VR… We’ve been working with Nvidia, AMD and Intel since the beginning of Oculus – they know that virtual reality demands ever-better hardware and drives demand for powerful GPUs and CPUs beyond the existing gaming and business market.”
Nvidia estimates that about 13 million PCs will be able to run the Oculus Rift in consumers’ homes this year. That’s a fairly small potential market for a new gaming-focused peripheral, but Luckey said it’s more important to provide early adopters with a great VR experience than a cheap experience that could instantly reach a larger market.
“As I’ve 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. As with smartphones, the cost of that quality will come down over time – you can’t buy subsidized phones for under $100 that blow away the best $600 phones from just five years ago, that’s what time does to the cost of technology.
Luckey compared Oculus’ VR rollout plan to Tesla’s work in convincing the public that electric cars are viable. “If Tesla had tried to make a $35,000 mass-market electric car in 2008, they would have achieved little. [more expensive] Roadster and Model S have proven that EVs can be great, have invested heavily in R&D and now have a clear path to their ever-present long-term goal of taking EVs mainstream.”
Luckey’s comments mirror those of some VR game developers, who told Ars last week that they were willing to wait well past the Rift’s launch for VR to get cheap enough to really go mainstream. “[Price reduction] will certainly happen as unit numbers and competition increase over the next two years,” said Denny Unger, CEO and creative director of Cloudhead Games (The gallery: six elements) told Ars. “[Then] those masses will come and it won’t be long before we get to that stage of the VR lifecycle… As long as consumer price doesn’t hold back the market, we’re happy. So at the moment we are happy.”