It’s crazy but true: Virtual reality will be a real thing in people’s homes by this time next year.
A couple of months after Sony and Valve/HTC announced release windows for their virtual reality headsets, Facebook-owned Oculus on Wednesday announced the first consumer version of the long-awaited Rift headset will begin shipping early next year, with pre-orders beginning as early as this year.
With this announcement, here’s the rundown of VR headset launches:
- Valve and HTC’s Vive headset will arrive later this year.
- Sony’s Morpheus headset for PlayStation 4 will arrive in the first half of next year.
- Oculus Rift headset will start shipping in “Q1 2016.”
Each of these headsets has its own strengths. Let’s look at each one in more detail.
The Oculus Rift started as an independent project from Palmer Luckey, a gaming enthusiast who thought he could build a better virtual reality experience that was also affordable.
In August 2012, Luckey launched a Kickstarter campaign to start mass producing the Oculus Rift for developers, and eventually consumers. The Kickstarter video included testimonies from nearly every single big name in gaming, from Valve’s Gabe Newell to “Doom” creator John Carmack. The campaign surpassed its goal in less than 24 hours on its way to raising over $2.4 million.
By 2014, seeing Luckey’s success, other companies started to dabble in virtual reality — so Oculus doubled down and accepted help from Facebook, which acquired the company for $2 billion in March of that year.
Oculus has built three official development kits for the Rift headset, but the company announced Wednesday that the first official consumer version will be ready to ship by early 2016, with pre-orders starting later this year.
Little else is known about the Rift. We don’t know about how pricing will work; what we do know is that leaders in the gaming community are extremely confident in Palmer Luckey’s ability to pull off this invention, and Facebook’s influence should help the devices and the software get the distribution they need. Plus, Oculus has apparently been building its own games for some time under the radar.
Sony’s Project Morpheus
Sony first unveiled its virtual reality headset “Project Morpheus” in March 2014. One year later, the company announced the device will be ready to ship next year.
Sony has one major advantage over Oculus and HTC/Valve: Millions of people already own the company’s PlayStation 4, which provides a giant audience for any new content coming to the Morpheus headset.
Of course, that’s a double-edged sword: Since the headset will require a PlayStation 4 to work, Project Morpheus is also confined by the PlayStation 4’s technical limitations.
We’ve heard really good things about the Project Morpheus experience: Critics say it’s extremely lightweight and it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing goggles.
The HTC Vive was born out of a partnership with Valve, the giant gaming company that runs the world’s most popular store for distributing digital games, Steam.
The Vive debuted in March, and critics’ consensus was overwhelmingly positive: They called it “astonishing,” a device that “cracked the VR code” and “made me believe in VR.”
Business Insider’s Steve Kovach got to try the HTC Vive for himself — he said it was f——- awesome.”
Unlike the other VR headsets on this list, the Vive works thanks to sensors in the headset and two controllers you hold in your hands — HTC built a tracking system that emits a laser array in your living room so it can sense the walls, the headset and the hand controllers, which will allow you to move freely around the room as you do so in the game.
Also unlike the other two headsets, HTC’s headset will begin shipping later this year, not next year. So unless another competitor pops up between now and then, the Vive will have a major head start on the drive to get virtual reality into people’s living rooms.
The bottom line: Virtual reality is getting real
It’s not clear which of these headsets is the “best” — there’s still so much we don’t know, like pricing, content, developer support, and more. But what’s important is that most people will finally understand why major tech companies like Facebook, Samsung, and others are pouring billions of dollars into this technology.
The majority of early content will likely center around games, but that makes sense. In the same way games like “Spacewar” made computers approachable back in the 1960s, games will help people understand the benefits of virtual reality: Deep immersion, and the ability to do impossible things, and see places you couldn’t otherwise visit, are an obvious application for games.
But at some point very soon, these devices will be known for other experiences besides gaming: You’ll be able to sculpt without buying clay, or experience skydiving without needing to jump out of an airplane, or visit far-off places like the Andes without needing to leave the country — or our own living rooms, for that matter.
There’s still a long way to go for virtual reality — rendering and graphics architectures will continue to improve, and input solutions will arise — but we’re finally going to see the starting point for these major products. And that’s both incredibly exciting and profound; reality will never be the same.