Since the announcement of the Oculus Rift’s $600 pricing, the internet, as usual, has been spewing out unfounded amounts of outright hatred toward the VR solution, including its founder Lucky Palmer. It appears that the root of it is the company had been touting the Rift as an affordable VR solution to everyone the past few years as its hype and desire were growing. A few weeks prior to the recent news, the company had also hinted a range of about ~$450 – however decided last moment to make a few changes to improve the overall quality of their product bundle.
People started freaking out with apparently no understanding of how the tech industry works; or just out of the usual undeserved sense of entitlement.
Having read over a few different websites that had articles regarding the pricing; most comments frequently bashed the Rift specifically in favour of the currently available Gear VR, which is priced at $100. Most of them did not seem to understand that these two products are not really comparable at all for a few fundamental reasons I would like to elaborate on.
Now to make things clear, I think both solutions have their place and uses, and both are huge steps forward to bringing VR into reality after decades of trying. I simply want to voice that there is no reason to be angry about the gap in costs because it is unrealistic to think they should be on equal standing in retail price.
Firstly, Gear VR’s cost does not actually stop at $100 – because you need one of the newer Samsung phones to go with the head mount, which supports: Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge+. While you can get these cheaper with carrier contracts, they are all standalone products that cost as much or more than the Rift itself does currently. (I recently upgraded to an S6 Edge 64GB for $100 on a 2 year contract; but it would have cost well over $800 for a direct buyout at my local store) Therefore, if you do not already own one of these phones, you will be paying a good deal more one way or another for the product.
Next thing to consider is build. I don’t mean the looks of it (Gear VR does look nicer, but it doesn’t really have much on its own) The screen in the Rift will be set at 2160×1200 pixel, 90Hz OLED displays (110+ degrees Field of View); while the Gear VR is based on what phone you plug-in. ( averaging 2560×1440 pixel Super AMOLED at 60Hz with approx 95 degrees Field of View) At first glance you’ll see the phones have a higher resolution – but that’s only a fragment of the story.
The Rift uses custom-made lenses to provide a wider field of view, and the graphics rendering is done externally. As you can imagine, a desktop powering the latest graphics cards versus a cell phone’s integrated GPU is an absolute no-contest. The Gear VR is designed for basic VR-Video and VR mobile games/apps. They will not have the power to render the things a console, let alone a dedicated gaming PC, can generate. A wider Field of View also means better visual window, allowing the user to be more immersed. Another reason the Rift requires more powerful rendering, is because it will need three times the computation a standard PC monitor needs. Most monitors run 1080P at 60 frames per second. However, to minimize the effects that usually cause dizziness in older VR solutions, the Rift will render for each eye independently at 90fps. Keeping a high graphics setting will be on par with a computer running three monitors @ 60fps. The human eye has a rough equivalent of about 75fps, so staying well above that will ensure that the brain won’t since the “missing frames” when moving your head, sort to speak. Also, the motion input lag absolutely must be as minimal as possible; we’re talking about a single millisecond or less.
Furthermore, Gear VR does have tracking ability, but the precision and range are well below par compared with Rift, Vive, or Morpheus, etc. It also does not come with extra peripherals like an external tracking camera, IR trackers, or controllers that most other solutions will have. These all add costs.
Another thing to consider is the use of dedicated true 3d audio. Phones will not have this because it requires comparable processing to ray-tracing light physics. While most PC or mobile games have gotten away with basic audio solutions. Actual VR audio needs to be on a way more complex level to allow realistic sounds that our brain will truly believe. The sound being made has to be convincing enough that we can triangulate not just left/right, but also forward/behind, above/below, and apparent distance. It needs to account for echo, reverberation, muffling, and Doppler Effects.
(Maximum PC has written a very good article regarding VR audio & its history that’s worth a read here.)