The emerging virtual reality market was already on the edge of its seat in anticipation of HTC and Valve's expected announcement of the price for their HTC Vive virtual reality headset at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona tomorrow. But surprise! Thanks to a leak earlier this morning, we now know the SteamVR-powered system will cost $799 and come with two controllers for each hand, in addition to two base stations for tracking motion in a room-sized environment. It'll also have Bluetooth support for smartphone integration and come with two free game: Job Simulator and Fantastic Contraption.
Vive's main competitor, the Oculus Rift, costs $200 less, but the price difference isn't that great when you consider that the Rift only comes with an Xbox One gamepad, while the Vive includes the motion tracking controllers.
There's a clear tradeoff here. Vive might be more expensive, but now developers know for sure that every Vive owner will have access to those nifty motion controllers that let users reach out and touch objects in virtual reality. Oculus is also working on equally cool motion and finger tracking controllers called Oculus Touch, but in no way can guarantee to developers that every Rift owner will have access to them. As we said at the time, much like when Microsoft doomed the Xbox One Kinect camera to failure by making it an optional peripheral device, Oculus has already put the Oculus Touch controllers at risk by not including them with every Rift unit. Now we know that Vive will not have the same problem.
Additionally, Oculus Touch won't even be available to buy until months after the Rift launches, and Oculus has yet to announce what the controllers will cost. For all we know, the price of an Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch might end up costing more than the $799 Vive.
Another thing the news today makes clear is that high-quality virtual reality experiences (as opposed to cardboard headsets that you can get for free with a copy of The New York Times) are just going to be more expensive than we'd like for now.
The price of the Oculus itself had already stunned people when its $600 price was announced last month, and that doesn't even factor in the cost of the PC you'll need to run it. Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey himself said it's going to take around $1,500 to buy both a Rift and components necessary for a VR-ready computer.
As we said at the time, Oculus Rift and virtual reality gaming in general is going to be expensive for a while, and that's going to keep the masses away.
In response to the outcry at the time, Luckey claimed on Twitter that his company wouldn't even be making money off of the Oculus hardware.
"High end VR is expensive, but Rift is obscenely cheap for what it is," he said.
Pre-orders for the Vive will begin on February 29, and the units are expected to start shipping in April. You can currently purchase the Oculus Rift online, and the first units should start shipping at the end of March.