Oculus Rift virtual reality headset can be pre-booked online from Wednesday as founder says tech will make photos obsolete

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 7:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 7:56pm

Oculus, the force behind the eagerly awaited Rift, will start making its virtual reality headset available for pre-booking online from Wednesday at 8am (Pacific time), six months after it showcased a consumer version of the device in June.

Due to the time difference, online shoppers in Hong Kong and China will be able to reserve theirs at the very end of the day, when the clock strikes 12.

Such headsets insert gamers and movie watchers into a simulated, lifelike environment - which could be in a foreign country, underwater, or even on another planet – and the Rift will be one of the first of these innovative gadgets to hit the shelves or online sites.

Initial reviews by tech experts have generally been positive.

READ MORE: ‘The dawn of the virtual reality era’: Oculus Rift headset heralds brave new world of entertainment

While Oculus did not reveal prices for the Rift or specific shipping dates, founder Palmer Luckey tweeted that the devices will ship in the first quarter of 2016 and will be available globally in 20 countries.

Analysts estimate the device will cost around US$1,500 due to its high specifications.

In a blog post, Oculus said each Rift would come bundled with two games – Lucky’s Tale, an adventure game that revolves around a fox, and EVE: Valkyrie, a first-person shooter game in space.

The Rift was first introduced in 2012 by then 21-year-old Luckey as part of a Kickstarter crowdfunding project that amassed over US$2.5 million in pledges from backers. The company was acquired by Facebook for US$2 billion in July 2014.

Since its inception, Oculus has put out two Rift developer kits for game developers who are keen to develop games or software compatible with the headset.

Luckey is optimistic about the virtual reality industry. He said in an interview with CNN last November that the technology could make photographs obsolete by “[capturing] most things as full, virtual reality scene … that can be played back years or decades later.”

Other uses of virtual reality could include medical applications allowing medical students to be “present” at surgeries and even field trips that can “take people to the moon”, said Luckey.

READ MORE: Six consumer tech trends coming in 2016: drones that follow you, robots, virtual reality (again) and self-driving cars

While many pundits have predicted the virtual reality market will take off in 2016, with market research firm Tractica estimating that US$21.8 billion could be generated in consumer revenue for virtual reality hardware and software by 2020, the industry has also met with scepticism.

Neil Young, CEO of US mobile games company N3twork, expressed concerns of a “VR collapse” as developers rush to make games for virtual reality.

He said at a conference last July that virtual reality would need another five years to really take off, and predicted that such devices would not reach “meaningful scale” for at least the next three years.

“When virtual reality is done right, it can create incredible results, immersing users in a film, a game or even another location,” said Alexandre Pelletier, head of innovation at Tata Communications.

However, Pelletier said that more robust and advanced networks will be needed to support connectivity for a better user experience in virtual reality live-streaming activities and the inevitable shift of the industry to mobile.

US chipmaker Nvidia also said this week that consumer PCs today are not powerful enough to run virtual reality games. The company estimates that only 13 million PCs, or less than 1 per cent of total computers, will have enough computing power to run games with virtual reality graphics by 2016.

But computing requirements and dire predictions have not deterred technology companies. Facebook aside, companies such as Samsung, Sony and HTC are also investing heavily in virtual reality technology.

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HTC is expected to unveil its HTC Vive virtual reality headset this week at the CES 2016 show in Las Vegas. The company announced in a blog post in December 2015 that the headset would be commercially available in April.

Sony is also slated to launch its high-spec headset for PCs, the Playstation VR, in the first half of 2016. No prices or launch dates have been fixed.

Samsung partnered with Oculus to release its Samsung Gear VR headset, which was made available in November 2015. The headset requires a compatible Samsung smartphone to display games or compatible applications in virtual reality, and is priced at an affordable US$99.99 due to its lower specifications.

China has also seen its fair share of companies investing in virtual reality, with Chinese start-ups such as ANTVR and VIR Glass manufacturing their own low-cost headsets for consumers. Prices start as low as 99 yuan and the gadgets work mostly with smartphones to provide the VR display.