Getting started with virtual reality (VR) costs a lot. Fortunately, the VR headset Oculus Rift (and its Touch controllers) just dropped $200 down to $399 (BestBuy, Newegg). It could be a great time to get started with VR.
Among the best VR systems, the Oculus Rift is a top-tier headset. However, since its inception, many affordable VR headsets exist. Find out if the $400 Oculus Rift bundle is worth buying and which alternatives you should consider!
A Brief History of Virtual Reality
While VR may appear a new phenomenon, the first instances of attempts at VR date back to the 1800s. In 1838, Charles Wheatstone experimented with the brain’s processing of two-dimensional images. During the 1800s, the stereoscope and lenticular stereoscope paved the way for the View-Master in 1939. Yes, that red plastic toy which pretty much anyone growing up in the 80s and 90s had is a rudimentary form of VR.
Science fiction has a strange way of influencing real-world technology. As the Virtual Reality Society reports, sci-fi writer Stanley G. Weinbaum concocted a story that featured a pair of holographic goggles. But it wasn’t until the 60s that VR headsets launched, replete with motion tracking.
As virtual reality technology continued to evolve, the public’s fascination with VR grew as well. Headsets soon permeated pop culture through movies like The Lawnmower Man and Brainstorm, as well as Sega VR glasses and the ill-fated Virtual Boy. But it wasn’t until the 21st century that virtual reality came into its own with offerings like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and even Google Cardboard. Further, devices like the Oculus exhibit the future of VR.
Is the $400 Oculus Rift Bundle Worth Buying?
Facebook dropped the price of its Oculus Rift to $400. Though the tech giant is best known for its massive social media site, it also dabbles in open-source servers like the Big Sur and its VR headset Oculus Rift. Mind-blowing demos truly show the power of the Oculus Rift. As VR continues to thrive, the library of games keeps growing with inclusions like Minecraft and ARK: Survival Evolved. Just because there are tons of games for the Oculus Rift though doesn’t mean it’s solely for gaming. On the contrary, it’s a robust and versatile headset.
The $400 Oculus Rift and Touch bundle comes at a whopping $200 discount. That’s pretty massive. Not only does the $400 Oculus Rift bundle include the headset, but two sensors, and two Touch controllers. It’s a limited time offer, only available for six weeks.
If you’ve been debating an Oculus Rift, this is the time to buy. The next closest system to the Oculus Rift is the HTC Vive. But the Vive clocks in at $800, twice the price of the Rift. As such, the Oculus Rift $400 bundle dominates at offering a premium VR headset at a low cost — low for a full-fledged VR headset, anyway.
A Bargain With a Catch
While the Oculus Rift plus Touch $400 bundle is an amazing deal, consider the startup costs. You’ll need a fairly beefy rig for VR. Therefore, if you’ve got a PC with a VR-capable graphics processing unit (GPU), then the Oculus Rift is an excellent investment. If you don’t have a VR-ready machine, prepare to sink around $800 or more. You can snag certain virtual reality compatible computers in the sub-$1,000 range. However, many are high in price thanks to Ethereum miners (best computer to mine Ethereum).
Additionally, there’s more to VR than a headset and PC. You’ll also need games. Chances are you may have a few of these already. Steam users benefit from tags on games in the Steam store and libraries of purchased titles. Out of my embarrassingly large Steam library (thanks, Steam sales), only one title is VR-capable: Knee Deep. However, there’s a way to play Half-Life 2 in VR as well.
With these considerations, the Oculus Rift $400 bundle is a fantastic standalone deal. Yet if you don’t have a VR-ready machine or any games, you’ll likely pay anywhere from $1,500 and up for the Oculus Rift, a PC, and virtual reality games.
7 Oculus Rift Alternatives
Luckily, there are loads of Oculus Rift alternatives. Which option you pick depends on your needs and interest in VR. Thinking of setting up the perfect VR room? Learn what components go into the ideal VR space.
1. Google Cardboard ($15)
It’s tough to compare the Google Cardboard with an Oculus Rift. Whereas the Rift headset sets you back hundreds, Cardboard costs very little — and it can make an awesome do-it-yourself (DIY) project. More or less, Google Cardboard is an excellent choice for anyone curious about virtual reality but unsure about making a major investment. Using the Google Cardboard is an awesome means to try VR for less than $30.
Since it’s super inexpensive (or even free if you’ve got the materials), Google Cardboard is the ideal foray into VR for the casual and curious virtual reality enthusiast. Moreover, it’s likely you already have the hardware with your phone. Don’t invest hundreds (or thousands) of dollars without at least a taste of VR. If you choose Google Cardboard, these are the 20 best Cardboard apps around.
Best for: The casual VR enthusiast.
2. Daydream ($80)
Google’s Cardboard VR headset targets the casual virtual reality fan. But its Daydream Google VR offers a premium virtual reality experience by tapping into the full power of mobile devices.
Daydream offers its Daydream View headset for compatible phones. This arrives at a reasonable $80. Additionally, HTC promises its standalone VR headset as does Lenovo. Therefore, Daydream comes with tons of setup choices, ranging from a phone-based Daydream View to no-phone required headsets. A major plus for Daydream is its growing compatibility. Google plans to roll out support for a bevy of devices including the Samsung Galaxy S8. I’ve used the Daydream View to play the fantastic Sparklepoo game Unicorn Happy Place and was quite impressed with the Daydream’s VR capabilities as well as the game itself. There’s not a ton of content for Daydream, but games like the aforementioned Unicorn Happy Place are increasingly common.
Best for: The moderate to casual VR fan.
3. Samsung Gear VR ($40 to $115/C$170/£118)
Like the Daydream, the Samsung Gear VR presents a reasonably-priced entry to virtual reality. The Daydream and Samsung Gear VR serve as a bridge between the cheapo Cardboard and full-on headsets like the Oculus and Vive. The Gear VR ranges from around $40 to $115 depending on the model and its bundled accessories. Gear VR devices benefit from support from the likes of Oculus. PhoneCast, for instance, is only compatible with the Gear VR. With it, users can stream content from the likes of YouTube, Vudu, Epix, and even Plex in VR. Note, however, that PhoneCast is compatible with the Gear VR but requires a Samsung Galaxy S8.
Best for: Moderate to casual VR fans.
4. VR Sky CX v3 ($155)
The VR Sky CX v3 provides mobile VR with a twist. Unlike the Gear VR and Daydream which require a phone, the VR Sky CX v3 is a standalone mobile headset. As such, it’s an all-in-one foray into VR. It’s a neat concept. But the VR Sky CX v3 isn’t necessarily the best option.
For Gear VR or Daydream owners, those are much better headsets. Even if you’ve got a high-end mobile device capable of VR, that plus a Cardboard is a better set up than the CX v3. However, the CX v3 is perfect for users sans VR-capability. If you have no mobile device that’s able to handle VR, the VR Sky CX v3 is an awesome all-in-one solution.
Best for: Users without a headset, or phone, capable of VR and casual VR fans.
5. PlayStation VR ($500/£340)
It’s with the PlayStation VR that virtual reality headsets begin focusing on power users. More specifically, the PlayStation VR targets gamers. It’s a neat headset with loads of potential. However, the PlayStation VR is only compatible with the PlayStation 4. At least, that’s the only official means to use the PSVR.
As Tom’s Hardware reports, Odd Sheep Games released Trinus PSVR which lets users play Steam games using a PSVR. There’s a way to plug the PlayStation VR into any HDMI source and activate Cinema Mode. Trinus PSVR dupes the headset into believing it’s plugged into a PS4 — and therefore, it plays Steam games in VR. Unfortunately, room-scale tracking isn’t possible. But you can still play in VR seated and using a gamepad. There’s even tracking with a webcam. Don’t expect a perfect solution, but at least it’s possible to cobble together a means of PC support with the PSVR.
Best for: PlayStation 4 owners and gamers in general.
6. Razer OSVR ($400)
PC and game manufacturer Razer makes some of the top wireless gaming headphones and soundbars (best soundbars for your HTPC) available. With its Razer OSVR, the premium hardware company makes its debut in the VR space. The OSVR boasts unique looks, which Tech Radar describes as a hybrid between the Gear VR and HTC Vive.
What really sets the Razer OSVR apart, however, is its open-source nature and a plentiful game library. In their testing, Tech Radar concluded that although it’s a high-end headset, the OSVR can’t compare with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Rather, it’s intended as its own entity: an open VR platform. Its low pricing makes it an awesome alternative to the Oculus and Vive, but not a true competitor. However, it is compatible with SteamVR.
Best for: VR enthusiasts with the patience to explore a new landscape and open source advocates.
The HTC Vive is arguably the best VR headset available. PC Mag praises the Vive for its comprehensive experience. Whereas phone-based, standalone, and even console-reliant virtual reality headsets like Cardboard, Daydream, and PSVR offer decent entry-level VR, the Vive is insanely immersive. It sports motion controllers and external sensors which work in conjunction for a whole-room virtual reality experience.
PC Mag further states that “the Vive is the most comprehensive virtual reality system available.” Unfortunately, this superb VR headset comes at a price. Quite literally. The HTC Vive, for its supreme VR capabilities, is the most expensive VR headset on the market. It’s also the closest competitor to the Oculus Rift. In our head-to-head comparison, we found the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive pretty close in almost every category. Our bottom line take is “if you can afford either headset anyway, try them both.”
Best for: Power users.
The Future of VR
As VR headsets continue to flourish, expect additional options targeting different demographics. For 2018, Oculus plans a $200 wireless VR headset. This forthcoming virtual reality device from Oculus reportedly nixes phones and computers for a truly wireless experience. Similarly, Acer is poised to offer a $300 Windows VR headset. Like Engadget points out, the future of VR, therefore, promises a wide array of potential choices and at increasingly lower price points. Acer’s VR mixed reality gadget will provide HoloLens support. Plus, both Lenovo and HTC have Daydream headsets in the works.
Look for VR’s widening prevalence. However, expect additional applications beyond consumer-oriented and gaming-centric tasks. Similarly, watch as VR headset prices tumble, while moves are made to migrate away from reliance on PCs and mobile devices.
Final Thoughts on the Oculus Bundle and Alternatives
From budget headsets to hulking PC-tethered options, delving into virtual reality is incredibly simple. However, before settling on a VR headset, review your interest in virtual reality, current gear, and factor in initial costs. For those with a passing interest in VR, try a Google Cardboard, Daydream, or Samsung VR for a virtual reality teaser. Even if you’re set on snagging a Vive or Oculus, I suggest trying a basic VR offering before jumping to an immersive unit. PlayStation users should consider the PSVR, although it lacks native PC compatibility.
Since the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are so close in most categories that the Oculus Rift is a fantastic steal at its $400 price. As such, those considering an Oculus already should absolutely get one. Moreover, the $400 Oculus Rift bundle is priced so well that if you’ve been mulling over the purchase of an HTC Vive, you may want to rethink that decision. Still, I’d suggest factoring in the cost of a gaming rig and games before blowing the cash on a headset. But if you’re stocked with a VR-capable PC and VR games, the Oculus bundle is a steal at $400. If you do settle on an Oculus, learn how to enable Rift mode in Alien: Isolation. Plus, check out these seven games you can mod to add VR support. For Oculus Rift newbies, try out these five demos to view the true, awe-inspiring potential of your device.
Will you pick up an Oculus Rift $400 bundle? Which VR headsets do you recommend?