First Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets shipped to Kickstarter backers

The release of the headsets is a major milestone for virtual reality and a big day for the tech world, but it could be a while before they really take off

Oculus today has shipped its first consumer virtual reality headsets, setting a major milestone for the industry.

The groundbreaking headsets, retailing for $599 and now backordered until at least July, allow high-quality, super immersive virtual reality viewing in a small package – a remarkable innovation those in the space have been holding out hope for for years.

However, mass adoption of the technology may still be a ways off: consumers need a powerful (and expensive) gaming PC to operate the headset, and the founder of Oculus said he has no immediate plans to make the headset compatible with Apple’s Macs.

“If they ever release a good computer, we will do it,” Palmer Luckey said in an interview.

During the development of the Oculus headset, cheaper virtual reality sets that work with cellphones – such as Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard – have come on the market. However, critics say they are not quite sophisticated enough to be a relaxing viewing experience beyond enjoying the novelty of the medium. Watching a video, such as the New York Times epic package on refugees, is cool but jolty, out of focus and a little nauseating – especially for women. And there’s still not enough content, either games or movies, a problem Oculus is working to fix with their Story Studio.

All these caveats aside, it’s a big day for the tech world, as one of the long-promised futuristic gadgets hits the market. Those who in 2013 backed Oculus on crowdfunding site Kickstarter – raising $2.4m – get the first ones. (Though of course no cut of the $2bn Facebook paid to buy Oculus the next year.)

Like self-driving cars, virtual reality has always been on the verge of reality. Many critics say VR is like 3D TV – an overblown fad that will fade with time. Or that they will be like Google Glass – so socially awkward that users will be shamed for wearing them. But if the porn industry is any indication (which it always is), virtual reality is going to be big. It will happen – it’s just a matter of time, but we’ll all probably have one in the next two years.

Luckey delivered the first one to the first backer in Alaska.

“I said, hey guys, I’ve been working on this since 2009, we’ve been working on Oculus since 2012, I’ll be damned if some random delivery guy is going to get the satisfaction of delivering the first Rift. That’s mine,” Luckey told the tech blog Polygon. “So I could figure I could take a day out of the launch process and take a quick vacation in Alaska.”


Nellie Bowles in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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