Why I'm not buying into first generation VR

I’ve been more-or-less enamored with VR tech since I first tried the Oculus DK2 at PAX Prime in 2013. The experience, while not “life-changing” felt like a big step forward in Human-Computer interfaces (playing EVE Valkyrie in VR was really freaking cool).

Since that first demo, I’ve been somewhat closely following the development of the Oculus and - more recently - the HTC Vive. For what it’s worth, Tested’s weekly podcast “This is Only a Test” has been a great resource for keeping up-to-date with VR news and developments.

So I was really curious to see user reviews of the Oculus CV1, which started shipping last week, and the HTC Vive, for which the first press reviews have just gone online. What I saw was largely to-be-expected: The Oculus has better industrial design and a smoother user experience, but the HTC Vive’s room-scale experiences and included hand controllers are really what gives the “Wow” factor to these early VR platforms.

Of particular note as a trend in product reviews I’ve seen was the general consensus that the consumer version of the Vive - like it’s dev-kit predecessor - feels like unfinished hardware. This could potentially a real hindrance to the acceptance of the SteamVR platform. The DK1 and DK2 have been readily available to VR-nuts (who could afford them) for several years; this round of consumer launches was supposed to be when the ‘polished’ version of VR was released to general audiences. It’s understandable that the dev Vive would feel like what it is - a dev kit, but if the consumer version feels unfinished, that really could hurt HTC’s chances of being the victor in the “VR Wars” we’re entering into.

To be fair, all of these platforms - including yet-to-be-released Playstation VR - are the very essence of first-generation devices which you probably shouldn’t buy.

And that’s why I’m holding off. Not solely because of the $600 and $800 prices of the Oculus and Vive, respectively, but because I think VR headsets will be so much better in their next iterations.

The other factor is, of course, GPU performance. Completely unrelated to the development of VR, we’ve been seemingly (and frustratingly) stuck in the land of Nvidia 980’s and AMD 390x’s for the past two years, and with Pascal and Polaris presumably coming soon, this is not a great time to invest in a new GPU.

Buying hard into VR now will likely leave you incredibly disappointed when, in 12-24 months, we’ll have iterated at least once on the GPU side of things, headsets have seen another generation (or 2), and the experience of VR will be just so much better than what we get now.

Though I will not be partaking in it, the launch of these VR platforms is still super interesting and I sincerely hope that these products are financial successes (especially in the case of HTC, which might very well fold if the Vive doesn’t do well) - I’m well aware that my second or third generation VR headset will have been ‘subsidized’ by first-gen early adopters. I hope that VR does succeed, and look forward to a time when VR truly goes mainstream.