Game On! Virtual Reality Race Starts As Facebook Oculus Rift Ships

Game On! Virtual Reality Race Starts As Facebook Oculus Rift Ships

Virtual reality will get its close-up on Monday when Facebook (FB) starts shipping its hot Oculus Rift headsets.

Facebook sees Oculus Rift as a big game changer that starts with games and later moves to virtual front-row seats at sports games, as users slap on the Rift goggles for deep-seated immersion.

Preorders for the $599 Oculus Rift headsets began in January. Facebook has not said how many Rift orders it received but did say they span 20 countries. When it ships, 30 games will be available, with more than 100 games expected by the end of this year. Game prices range from $9.99 to $59.99.

High-performance PCs will be needed to power the Rift system. Oculus-ready PCs and Rift bundles are available from Dell, Dell’s Alienware unit, and Asus, which start at around $1,499. They’re available through Amazon (AMZN), Best Buy (BBY) and the Microsoft (MSFT) Store.

Research firm CCS Insight estimates that virtual reality devices, including the related augmented reality field, will exceed $4 billion in sales in three years. It projects 2.5 million virtual reality and augmented reality devices will sell this year, growing to 12 million devices next year, and more than 24 million in 2018.

Later this year, Facebook will also ship its Oculus Touch controllers that allow people to interact more naturally in VR through hand movements and gestures. Facebook says it’s working with thousands of developers on entirely new VR experiences.

Facebook acquired Oculus for $1.9 billion two years ago. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the Oculus acquisition with a Facebook post, saying the technology goes far beyond being a system for gaming.

“After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court-side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face, just by putting on goggles in your home,” he wrote in the post.

In a conference call when Facebook announced fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 27, he said: “This Oculus launch is shaping up to be a big moment for the gaming community. Over the long-term, VR has the potential to change the way that we live, work and communicate as well.”

As to the revenue contribution Oculus will make to Facebook’s bottom line, the company is downplaying that for now.

“With Rift, it’s early in the evolution of VR,” Facebook CFO David Wehner said on the conference call. “It’s early to be talking about large volumes. So, at this point, I don’t think we’re giving a lot of color around supply chain and that sort of thing. It’s not going to be material to our financials this year.”

The arrival of Rift could have a big benefit for chipmaker and computer game-card maker Nvidia (NVDA), as the demand for virtual reality accelerates. Nvidia provides the graphic processors needed in computers for Oculus Rift performance and that of other VR systems.

The virtual reality field is expected to be intensely competitive, with a host of companies jumping into the game. Samsung has already shipped its Gear VR. Sony (SNE) is releasing a PlayStation VR system later this year, which will have a $400 price tag. Sony VR will have the benefit of leveraging its installed base of 30 million PlayStation 4 users.

Also coming is the Vive VR system from Taiwan-based HTC, in joint development with U.S. game developer Valve. The HTC VR headset will begin shipping on April 5. Likewise, Microsoft is working on its “HoloLens” technology.