If you’re into video games, you’ve surely heard some of the hype around the Oculus Rift — with the upcoming retail version just called The Rift — and maybe in turn Project Morpheus, Microsoft’s HoloLens, and HTC Vive VR. Or maybe you only recall those old-school virtual reality devices. Soon all the hubbub should be nearing its boiling point, as Oculus has confirmed a first-quarter retail release for 2016. Compared to the wait for Half-Life 3, Oculus is right around the corner. But the real question is whether any of us will be ready for it, and whether our wallets will be able to cope.
According to Oculus, a computer should have the following in order to best support the VR headset:
- NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
- Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
- 8GB+ RAM
- Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
- 2x USB 3.0 ports
- Windows 7 SP1 or newer
Some of you might be thinking, “No biggie, I’ve had the GTX 970 since last fall and my CPU is crushin’ it,” but not all of us are running an up-to-date, high-end gaming rig right now. The prospect of a $300+ video card and a $190+ CPU might alone be enough to put a damper on any gamer’s excitement. Not to mention the potential need to get more RAM, and potentially get a lot more hardware if USB 3.0 isn’t already on our computers. Never mind the fact that just about any of us with a gaming laptop will have to start from scratch with an entirely different rig to start playing games on Oculus.
For those of us with particularly outdated machines that can’t support a substantial upgrade to the CPU or GPU, we might be out of luck. Laptop gamers, get ready to fork out money for a new machine. And then of course there will be the price of the Oculus headset itself, which remains unknown currently. But this isn’t the end of the story. We’re not all out of luck yet.
The hardware necessary to play games on Oculus might be expensive now, but none of us need them now. As mentioned, the Oculus headset doesn’t come out until early 2016, and in the world of technology, waiting around usually means saving money. The recommended CPU and GPU might be expensive right now, but those GTX 970 prices shouldn’t hold steady for long, and the same goes for CPU prices. The upgrade cycles for CPUs and GPUs are quick, and better ones are always coming out and driving down the prices of older models.
Looking at the CPU, we’re sadly stuck around the $190 price point for now, as PassMark hasn’t noted great price volatility. But there are stronger CPUs out there with higher benchmark score that already cost less and are getting cheaper. The AMD FX-8320 Eight-Core boasts a higher benchmark than the recommended Intel chip and can be had for $147, and it’s almost guaranteed to be even cheap by the time Oculus launches.
On the GPU end, things look even more promising. Though the recommended video card is more expensive than the CPU, it’d be no surprise if it turned out to be the cheaper of the two components in a year. According to PassMark, the GTX 970 video card was $369 in September 2014, but in April 2015, it dropped as low as $245. It’s bounced back up since then, but should continue to slide downward until it’s much more affordable come Rift time. The AMD route is even better in terms of price drop. PassMark initially spotted the R9 290 at $499 in January 2014, but in April 2015 it fell as low as $183. It was as low as $239 in May, but will surely be even cheaper next year. It’s useful to note that a lot of brief, but deep, price dips showed up in PassMark’s data for April 2015; if a similar dip happens next year, it’d be an opportune moment to snag a video card whether or not you want to game on Rift.
So, for those of us who don’t already have a high-end gaming machine, time is definitely on our (and our wallets’) side. All of the parts necessary to power the Oculus Rift experience should get cheaper by the time it comes out. And then there’s the fact that you don’t have to be an early adopter.
We can think of Rift like we think of 4K displays. 4K displays are still relatively new, and not everyone is buying them yet. Gamers, especially, have a hard decision to make when it comes to buying a 4K display because the components needed to power a game at that new resolution will be more expensive than those needed to run the same game at 1080p. There may be more going on with the Rift, but just like a 4K screen, it’s essentially a more demanding monitor, as it has over 1080p resolution and a fast refresh rate.
If you have to be an early adopter because you don’t know how to live otherwise, keep that potential April price drop in mind. If you’re not compelled to have the Rift early on, enjoy the wait, as the components needed will sink into your price range, and all the initial bugs will be suffered by everyone else while you wait to buy into a patched platform later on. Just be sure you don’t try to skimp too much on hardware by going below the system recommendations. Virtual reality is a different experience from computer screens, and low performance in VR could leave you feeling nauseated every time you play. We may all want to save money, but let’s think about our physical well-being first.
Follow Mark on Twitter at @WallStMarkSheet