I've tried to avoid the direct comparison as long as I could, but at this point in the review, I just need to come out and say it: Oculus is a smart, if at times somewhat gimmicky, introduction to virtual reality ... but it's not the best headset on the market.
Even though it pioneered the space, invested millions in developers and development and has a partnership with one of the foremost companies in the world, Oculus can't hold a candle to the HTC Vive, a system that not only has touch controllers in the box, but also sensors capable of room-scale VR that allow you walk around to naturally explore your virtual space in there too.
But, if you're deadset on Oculus, the Rift has similar technology if you're willing to pay a bit extra. The second Oculus Sensor will give you the ability to get up off of your chair and use your legs as well as your arms and developers will use the new technology to create a slew of more interesting and immersive titles. The Touch Controllers, as we've said in their own dedicated review, are nothing short of fantastic. They feel great in the hand, and improve gameplay tenfold.
That said, even though it's not the absolute best headset on the market, the story of Oculus is and always will be an awe-inspiring one. Oculus has stuck to its vision, even when those early prototypes were questionable and the demos nearly too laggy to bear. In myriad ways, it was wrought from pure imagination, created an entirely new industry from scratch and built out a platform that could one day fulfill the promises sci-fi films and novels made us when they showed us the Holodeck in its various forms for the first time.
The consumer-ready Rift is a lovely piece of hardware. But it's more than just a pretty headset: Oculus has built a whole ecosystem for its baby, from the sound of the built-in headphones to the games to the proprietary Touch Controllers.
As soon as you put on the Rift, you are transported to a whole new world. Touch Controllers, though limited in some ways, will bring the rest of your body along for the ride.
The problem, of course, is everything that's not the Rift, its promises or its current set of games. The price of the whole package is going to be prohibitive for what you're getting, and it will likely keep many from jumping to Rift right away.
When Touch controllers come included in the box and Rift, one day, drops a few dollars, it may transform how we play games, do work and interact with one another. Oculus has taken the Rift this far, this fast, so I don't think it's going to be much longer before that comes true, too.
The Oculus Rift is an immersive window into dozens of new worlds, and one day it will play host to hundreds, maybe thousands, of such experiences. The games that are there now are absolutely great. Some might induce a bit of nausea for first-time VR adventurers – I'm looking in your direction, ADR1FT – but some will offer an untold amount of happiness.
Seen simply as a game console, the Rift has a lot to offer. Gameplay is fun in short bursts, and the headset is comfortable to wear, even if it hugs you a little too tight sometimes. What Oculus completely understands, however, is that the Rift is more than just a gaming headset. There's already ways to watch 360-degree movies through Facebook, Vimeo and Twitch, and it's not hard to imagine a future where the Oculus Store is brimming with media content.
Similar to that used car you've had your eye on, everything on the Oculus Rift comes with a caveat. It's immersive virtual reality … but you need to buy a costly gaming rig in order to enjoy it. It comes with a pack-in Xbox One controller, but that's only because the real gamepads – the Oculus Touch Controllers that allow you to actually use your hands in VR – are optional and expensive accessories.
Not to beat the proverbial horse here, but only a small handful of gamers will get to own the Oculus Rift – not because others don't want to, but because it's just out of their price range. Remember, that's after you buy a gaming rig that costs at least $500 to run the Rift.
Finally, while it's not necessarily a negative, the onus now is on developers to leverage the technology and push VR forward.
Oculus has created a realm of new possibilities, but what scares me is that all this technology may fall victim to novelty that will wear off in six months should developers decide that designing AAA titles in virtual reality isn't worth their time, effort and money. Without more interesting, eye-catching content, the Oculus Rift is fated for a one-way trip to the cabinet, where it will take up permanent residence next to the Wii and PlayStation Vita.
If it didn't have any competition, the Oculus Rift would be an easy recommendation. Virtual reality is a magical experience, and something that I think everyone who loves technology needs to try at some point.
I see huge potential for Oculus down the road – just imagine how cool it will be to see places like the Louvre or the Pyramids at Giza in real time in first-person. As it stands, though, virtual reality is a nascent medium and therefore suffers from many of the same problems others faced when they were starting out.
The first films weren't Gladiator or The Shawshank Redemption. Art didn't begin with DaVinci or Tiziano. The first songs ever crafted weren't Johann Sebastian Bach sonatas. Similarly, I think Lucky's Tale isn't the end-all, be-all of virtual reality.
One day, Oculus (or one of its competitors) will be a must-own piece of technology – it could very easily be the next personal computer – but right now it feels more like a novelty than a tried-and-true necessity. The games are immersive, but not likely to hold you for hours on end. The entertainment is quirky and fun, but also ephemeral.
If you can live with that, the Oculus Rift will make for a fun experiment, one that will only improve over time. But, if you have reservations about committing the monetary resources for the headset and (what I'd consider) the requisite Touch Controllers, it's probably best to hold off on virtual reality for just a few more months until the novelty wears off.