It's judgement day for virtual reality: Facebook-owned Oculus started to ship its first Rift VR headsets to consumers this week. And while it may take a few days for consumers to make up their minds about the device, gadget reviewers from major newspapers and tech websites already chimed in on Monday.
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey hand-delivered the first Rift to software developer Ross Martin in Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday, kicking off a new era in virtual reality by putting the most powerful VR device yet into a consumer's hands.
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Martin, who had never tried VR before, spent a few hours on the Rift Monday morning. He watched a short movie, played a game and explored a virtual environment that included an up-close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
"I couldn't stop saying, 'Wow,"' Martin, a 33-year-old web developer, said in an interview. But he said that he felt a touch of nausea at times and that the resolution could be better.
"If you're a gamer, this is right up your alley," he said. "You're going to be able to forgive that."
Oculus has said it's sending the Rift to its first Kickstarter backers first, followed by those who ordered one in January for $600 US, or at least $1,500 with a high-end personal computer included. Oculus, which began crowd-funding through Kickstarter in August 2012, was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014 and has shipped two developer versions so far.
Cautious optimism from critics
So what are the critics thinking about the Oculus Rift? Many seem pleased by the device itself, praising the build quality and optics, but underwhelmed by the first few games and experiences.
Take the Wall Street Journal, for example, whose Geoffrey A. Fowler had this to say about the Rift: "Oculus Rift is the 2016 product you hope your neighbor buys. You'll definitely want to try it, but there's little reason to own one unless you're a serious gamer."
That sentiment was echoed by Cnet, whose critic Sean Hollister wrote: "You simply must try the Oculus Rift. It's breathtaking. I just wouldn't buy one right now — and there's no reason you should feel the need to, either."
The Verge's Adi Robertson seemed to be more upbeat about the device: "The Rift is something I'd be happy to have in my living room. (...) The headset you can buy today is not Oculus' most ambitious vision for virtual reality — but it's a vision that Oculus has successfully delivered on."
And Wired's Peter Rubin praised the Rift hardware: "This is an astonishingly well-made device. It delivers rock-solid, comfortable VR, and it does so easily. You'll be able to put this thing on anyone and show them the magic."
Rift launches with 30 titles, more coming soon
Other reviewers seemed more turned off by the current experience, including New York Times critic Brian X. Chen: "The first batch of apps and games added up to a confusing, disjointed virtual reality landscape. In my tests, my reaction was more often 'Why would I want to be here?' or 'Why is this in virtual reality?' rather than 'Wow.'"
The good news for Oculus is that many of the points that critics took issue with can be solved over time. The Rift launched with 30 titles, but many more are expected to be available in the coming months. Oculus also won't release its Touch controllers until later this year, which will not only improve the experience with existing games, but also enable a whole range of new games and experiences.
So the company may not have to be too concerned about reviews that suggest to wait a few months. After all, the Rift is currently sold out, and a new batch isn't expected to be available until July.