Oculus Rift review roundup: the future is here, but it'll cost you

The time has finally come. The Oculus Rift is shipping to consumers, and tech news sites have begun issuing verdicts on the VR headset. The Verge, Ars Technica, Gizmodo and Engadget all got their hands on review units, as did some general-interest publications like the Wall Street Journal. Considering that the Rift is a wildly-hyped, first-generation product, it's heartening to see the reviews so far are all fairly positive.

Each of the reviews we surveyed suggests the Rift really does herald the arrival of a high-quality VR gaming experience. According to Kyle Orland of Ars Technica, the "screen door effect" caused by visible pixels is largely resolved by the final Rift's 2160x1200 display, though The Verge's Adi Robertson says she still noticed a bit of graininess. Critically, Robertson said she noticed no visible latency when wearing the Rift, and she found that the Rift's head-tracking camera was always able to figure out which way she was facing so long as she remained in its line of sight.

The Rift is nothing without software titles to run, and most reviewers found a handful of favorite titles that they felt showed off what the Rift can do. Polygon's Ben Kuchera calls Eve: Valkyrie "one of the most graphically impressive games in virtual reality," while The Verge's Robertson was especially taken with fantasy title Chronos. Kuchera sums up the feelings of many reviewers when he notes that the Rift "takes you into the game, and often heightens the emotional reactions." Even so, he thinks the current selection of games available for the hardware "communicates the vast potential of the platform going forward" more than it exposes any one killer app.

Reviewers also think the Rift is comfortable to wear for long periods. Ars' Orland reported that he wore the device for hours without breaks while writing his review, and he says he didn't experience any nausea or a need to let his face breathe from time to time. Robertson thinks the headset is "lighter and more comfortable than most of its competition." Reviewers with glasses found the Rift hard to put on and remove without disturbing those corrective optics, though.

Ars tempers its praise for the platform with complaints about the use of the Xbox One controller as the Rift's primary input device, a common thread among many of the reviewers we surveyed. Those who spent time with the Rift think the Oculus Touch controllers should make for a more natural and immersive way of interacting with VR, but those controllers won't be released until later this year. On the other hand, the included headphones won praise from Engadget's Devindra Hardawar. The headphones are removable and use an over-the-ear design rather than an around-the-ear design. Still, none of the reviewers felt the need to replace them. Hardawar even went as far as to call the headphones one of his favorite features of the headset.

Reviewers all cite cost as a major concern for the Rift. The Wall Street Journal says the expense of the headset is the primary reason it thinks the Rift isn't ready for mainstream consumers. Even enthusiast-oriented tech sites feel the total cost for a Rift-ready PC and the headset —about $1800—is too much to swallow. Hardawar thinks it's "hard to champion the Rift completely when few people can afford it. It's the very definition of elite technology."

Another major complaint is the quality of the device's included software. The Oculus app's interface is Spartan, and lacking in basic features like chat functions.  Worse, the install directory is restricted to the same drive as the user's Windows installation, which means users who want to move their Rift apps off their boot drive are out of luck. According to Ars, Oculus has promised a fix for the restricted install directory in the next "2-3 weeks."

Although The Tech Report didn't get an advance look at the Rift, we were up bright and early on the day pre-orders for the headset went live. With any luck, our unit will ship this week, and we'll hopefully be able to say how the device performs for ourselves soon. Stay tuned.

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