I, like hundreds (if not thousands) of others, have finally acquired a VR system for personal use, thanks entirely to the Oculus Rift + Touch going on sale for $399. While I have only used it for a few evenings over the last week or so since it arrived, I can definitely say nearly of my previous concerns with today’s VR were unwarranted.

An Actual Virtual Reality Experience

Living in Wyoming, there’s a certain lack of… local electronic entertainment presence. So my only previous experience with Virtual Reality was through the Samsung Gear VR, which was free after submitting an online form when I bought my Galaxy S7. I had tried watching a 3D movie, which wasn’t a bad experience, but I didn’t think it was any better than watching an HD movie on a large HDTV with a good sound system. I also bought one of the “premium” games, but, considering there was no controller for it at the time (there’s a touch pad on the side of the headset), it was a truly dissapointing experience. All that is to say I simply didn’t believe the VR hype, nor did I think it was worth more than maybe $150 USD (like the Rock Band bundles of previous console generations).

After experiencing proper VR with the Touch controllers, I struggle to even justify calling the Gear VR a Virtual Reality experience. The Oculus Rift is far more immersive (even just visually), and the content (at least the bundled games) are fantastic. Even the introduction demo for the Touch controllers immediately pulls you in; I had forgotten I was in my computer room with a headset strapped to my face in 5 seconds.

So if you have never experienced VR firsthand via either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, you are doing yourself a tragic disservice if you write it off completely without trying it yourself.

Cost of Entry

Despite my glowing recommendation for VR, particularly with motion tracking controllers, I do think the cost (at least prior to the sale) was still unjustifiable. Considering you will need a moderately powerful PC, which will probably run you $1000, there’s no way I could recommend anyone spend more than $500 on the headset and core peripherals (sensors and motion controllers). On top of the PC, the headset, the sensors, and the controllers, there’s still a few more things you will strongly want (if not need) to buy.

  1. The content. While the Rift + Touch bundles do include a few games, several of which are genuinely amazing, most games cost between $25 and $50. Depending on you determine a game’s value (length, replayability, multiplayer, etc.), that may or may not be a tough pill to swallow. So far, I think the games are reasonably priced, but I usually buy my normal PC/Xbox games right at launch (or shortly thereafter) for full retail price ($60). I know some people religiously wait for games to go on sale for 50%-75% off, which I don’t think will be commonplace for VR games for a few years yet.
  2. Extension cables. For anything more than seated VR, I have already found the cable on the Oculus Rift headset to be just barely long enough for comfort. My current space is very small, just barely meeting the front-back distance requirements for full-motion controls (NOT room-scale), but even so, the cable could use a couple more feet of slack. Thankfully extension USB and HDMI cables are less than $10, even for long ones.
  3. Sensor mounts. These are probably lower priority than the above items, but to properly place the sensors in a large area, you want them up at eye level or higher (pointed down), so mounting them on the wall or ceiling becomes quite logical. Thankfully, the Oculus Rift sensors use a common 1/4” x 20 thread receiver, which is widely used for CCTV mounts.
  4. Washable covers. Again, these are not really necessary, but I found myself sweating after VR sessions, especially when playing games that utilize motion controls. However, the “cover” (the part that presses against your face) for the Oculus Rift headset, it not washable (though it is removable, by design). There are several after market versions that replace the original one and are machine washable, so if you plan on letting your friends and family try out VR for themselves, you should probably invest in something like VR Cover’s Oculus Rift Facial Interface & Foam Replacement Basic Set or WIDMOvr’s Oculus Rift Cover.

Play Area Requirements

Much like the Xbox Kinect, the full VR experience all but requires a large play area. I can count on one finger the number of houses I have been in where the rooms that would be most suitable for an entertainment room (or a computer room) are actually big enough to comfortably use a motion tracking system. I guess the developers of those systems expect people to have massive homes, or maybe average sized homes without any furniture…

Regardless, do not underestimate the amount of space you will want/need, even just for “stand-in-place” VR with motion tracked controllers. For the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers, you are recommended to have a play area of 7 feet by 5 feet (2 meters by 1.5 meters). My space is about 3 feet deep (from the PC screen, which is the “front” of the space) by 5 feet wide, which meets the minimum space requirements, but I can assure you that having another 2 feet of front-back space would be immensely useful (not to mention it would greatly reduce my worry of obliterating my PC monitor while swinging my hands around).

So far the only 3rd party tool I have found to be significantly useful is the Guardian Boundary Editor, which lets you easily edit the boundaries you create when first setting up your Touch controllers. I used it to straighten out the edges and add a notch in the front edge so I can quickly reorient myself.

On that note, the Oculus and Vive subreddits seem to be the best places to find VR information (news, tools, tips, etc.).