What is the Oculus Rift? Everything you need to know

oculus rift headset
(Image credit: Oculus)

The original Oculus Rift headset may have been discontinued back in 2019, but its legacy lives on. Without it we wouldn't have got its successor, the Oculus Rift S, or any of parent company Meta's stand-alone headsets — including the much-loved Meta Quest 2 and the newly-unveiled Meta Quest Pro.

It's easy to be amazed by how far things have come, but it all started with a wired helmet that launched you into a virtual world. The Oculus Rift was among the first products to launch gamers into brand new virtual spaces feet first, and let them explore in a whole new way. 

Here's everything you need to know about the Oculus Rift, including specs, features, platform support and more.

What is the Oculus Rift?

woman wielding oculus rift headset and touch controllers

(Image credit: Oculus)

The Oculus Rift was invented by VR enthusiast Palmer Luckey, who later went on to found Oculus VR with Brendan Iribe, who became CEO. The Oculus Rift itself is a pair of virtual reality goggles, complete with headphones, that connect to a gaming PC or laptop.

But the real magic isn't in the goggles themselves, but rather the system that's able to track your entire body — translating any movement into whatever game you're playing. Assuming it's compatible with VR of course.

Head movements can be tracked using infra red sensors on the outside of the Oculus Rift itself. The rest of your body can be tracked by up to four external tracking stands, and limited hand movements are tracked from the Oculus Touch controllers. 

The Oculus Touch controllers also feature buttons and analogue sticks that let you actually play your games. Should you prefer a traditional gaming experience, or are playing a game without proper VR support, then you'll find the Rift is compatible with other PC-enabled games controllers as well.

The original Oculus Rift prototype was unveiled at E3 in 2012, and developer versions of the Rift headset were sold on Kickstarter to raise money. The duo eventually raised $2.4 million, used to refine and improve both the headset and the tracking software. By 2014 Oculus VR had been purchased by Facebook for $2 billion.

How much does the Oculus Rift cost?

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

Back when it first launched in 2016, the Oculus Rift cost $600. That included the headset, a single IR sensor, and an Xbox One controller with a wireless PC adapter. This price was later dropped to $400, and eventually bundled with the Oculus Touch controllers.

The Oculus Touch controllers arrived later, and originally cost $200 for the pair. This price included a second Oculus Sensor. Two additional sensors could be added to the mix, priced at $79 each. Both products received various price cuts in the years following launch.

An optional set of in-ear earbuds could also be purchased for $49, replacing the over-ear headphones packaged with the Rift headset.

The Oculus Rift headset and its accessories are still available on the secondary market, but the prices will vary from seller to seller.

How does the Oculus Rift work?

oculus rift

(Image credit: Future)

Picture a set of ski goggles but instead of miles of fresh powder, you're transported into space or underwater. 

The Oculus Rift accomplishes this using a pair of OLED screens that displays two images side by side, one for each eye. A set of lenses is placed on top of the panels, focusing and reshaping the picture and creating a stereoscopic 3D image. Each display offers 2,160 x 1200 resolution, which works out to offer 1080p resolution per eye. There's also a 110-degree field of view and 90 Hz refresh rate.

The goggles themselves feature a large number of internal and external sensors that monitor your head movements. This includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and a 360-degree positional tracking system with six-axes of movement. 

The latency on these tracking systems is milliseconds, and allows the Oculus platform to automatically adjusting the image you see on screen based on your own movement. You're not just playing the game, you see, you're in the game. It really does feel like you're looking around a 3D world.

On top of this the oculus Sensor stands and Touch controllers have their own sensors, tracking your movements and translating it all into the virtual environment — again with great precision and with no noticeable lag. Now if only there was a way to move around the virtual world without walking into furniture or our walls...

Does Oculus Riff support augmented reality?

Oculus' touch controllers are not currently available in the Rift bundle.

Oculus' touch controllers are not currently available in the Rift bundle.

Augmented reality (AR) appears to be the hot new thing, with Apple, Meta and others integrating it into their products — including headsets. But the Oculus Rift does not AR, since it is firmly a virtrual reality headset.

The difference is that AR involves superimposing graphics over a view of the real world, such as a smartphone's camera or the lenses in Microsoft's HoloLens glasses. Virtual reality lets you view and explore an entirely virtual world, with no implementation of real world objects. Furthermore, it lacks a camera to even let you see beyond the headset walls, something the original HTC Vive could do.

It doesn't stop the real world from being there, so be careful where you walk, it just means there's a firm barrier between what you see and the objects around you.

Do people experience motion sickness with the Oculus Rift?

The high refresh rate and low latency should, in theory, prevent most people from experiencing motion sickness with the Oculus Rift. That said, it does take time for people to adjust to virtual surroundings, especially in games that feature a lot of movement.

Of course everyone's body reacts differently to different things, and some people may never get used to virtual reality without feeling nauseous. That doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed, just that you have to make sure to take regular brakes and give yourself time to recover.

Is Oculus Rift compatible games consoles?

No. The Rift is exclusive to the PC, but thanks to Windows 10 cross-device compatibility, Xbox One owners will have the ability to stream some of their titles to the headset. 

If you're looking for a true console-based experience, you should purchase a PSVR or wait for the PS5-exclusive PSVR 2 to launch sometime in 2023.

What games are available on Oculus Rift?

The Rift has support for two widely used game engines: Unity and Unreal Engine. The result is that many indie titles and several larger games are compatible with the developer kit. You can find many of these listed on the Oculus Rift store and in the recently launched VR section of Steam.

There are also fan-made mods to particular titles to get them working with the Rift. Third-party programs such as TriDef, Vireio Perception and VorpX allow games that are not made for the Rift to work with it. 

The Rift also shipped with two free games: Lucky's Tale and EVE: Valkyrie, sci-fi space combat simulator, set in the same world as popular massively multiplayer online EVE Online. However other titles like Insomniac Games' Edge of Nowhere and 505 Games' Ad1ft will also be making an appearance.

What are the Oculus Rift's system requirements?

oculus rift sensor

(Image credit: Oculus)

Like all PC-centric products, the Oculus Rift has two sets of system requirements: The recommended requirements, for optimal performance, and the minimum requirements.

System requirements are as follows:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Recommended SpecsMinimum specs
ProcessorIntel i5-4590/AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater Intel i3-6100/AMD Ryzen 3 1200, FX4350 or greater
Graphics CardNVIDIA GTX 1060/AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti/AMD Radeon RX 470 or greater
Alternative Graphics CardNVIDIA GTX 970/AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater NVIDIA GTX 960 4 GB/AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater
Operating SystemWindows 10+Windows 10+
USB Ports3 x USB 3.0 ports, plus 1 x USB 2.0 port 1 x USB 3.0 port, plus 2 x USB 2.0 ports
Video OutputCompatible HDMI 1.3 video output Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output

How do I get the Oculus Rift to work with my computer?

Oculus VR has designed the Oculus Rift to be relatively simple to get up and running starting with connecting the headset to your PC and plugging it in.  Since the Rift is already tethered to the control box with a 13-foot cable, your computer should automatically detect the Rift and install all drivers and accompanying software. 

Next you should take some time to adjust the screen distance with the slider at the bottom of the device. Once you've found a comfortable fit, you're free to download a few Oculus-compatible titles and start playing.

Does Oculus Rift have non-gaming applications?

Yes there are several different applications for virtual reality headsets, Oculus Rift included. Since you can be whisked away into a virtual world, there's no limit to what sort of experiences and situations developers can come up with.

Filmmakers have already been experimenting with VR storytelling, putting you in the shoes of a character and watching things unfold from their point of view. Likewise it can put you in situations you'd otherwise not be able to experience — such as exotic locations across the world or even in space.

There are even apps that can put you in a movie theater, and let you watch movies and TV shows on a big screen. Or what appears to be a big screen, from your point of view. Your TV will never feel the same again.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.

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