An attendee demos an Oculus Rift HD virtual-reality headset while playing a shooter game at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.
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Oculus VR says its virtual-reality headset will ship to consumers in the first quarter of 2016

Oculus will begin taking pre-orders later this year. No price was announced

CNN  — 

After almost three years of hype, trade-show demos and breathless reviews from tech journalists, the long-awaited Oculus Rift finally has a release date. Sort of.

Its makers say the virtual-reality headset will ship to consumers in the first quarter of 2016, and they will begin taking pre-orders later this year. No price was announced.

“In the weeks ahead, we’ll be revealing the details around hardware, software, input, and many of our unannounced made-for-VR games and experiences coming to the Rift,” said a post early Wednesday on Oculus VR’s site. “Next week, we’ll share more of the technical specifications here on the Oculus blog.”

Of course, Oculus fans have heard promises like this before.

After debuting in 2012 as a blockbuster Kickstarter project, the device was initially expected to hit the market in 2014. In June 2014 CEO Brendan Iribe told Ars Technica, “If we haven’t shipped by the end of 2015, that’s a problem.”

Now, 2016. Although developer versions of the headsets have been available for a while, some consumers have grown impatient with the delays.

“Just release the damned thing already,” said one commenter, Paul Lopez, on Wednesday’s Oculus blog post. “You guys have been dragging on this marketing hype for years and your competitors are getting to market well ahead of you.”

Bin Li tries out Oculus's Crescent Bay prototype at the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A few virtual-reality rivals such as the Zeiss VR One, which works in tandem with an Android or iPhone, are already available. Others, such as Sony’s Project Morpheus headset, are due in the first half of 2016. Still others, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, have not announced a release date.

But none have commanded attention quite like the Oculus Rift, honored by CNN and Time as one of the top inventions of 2013. Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus VR in March 2014.

For the uninitiated, the Oculus Rift headset looks like something a skier or scuba diver might wear and fits snugly over the wearer’s face. Its crisp 3D display and headphones immerse you in an interactive world – say, a mountain fortress or a tropical beach – which you can navigate with the help of a game controller.

The goggles come packed with a 100-degree field of view, extending beyond viewers’ peripheral vision. They have an accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to track the position of your head and sync the visuals to the direction where you are looking.

The Oculus Rift was designed to enhance video gaming, although Facebook sees the device as a potential future communication platform. Iribe, the Oculus CEO, has mentioned virtual tourism, real-time cinema experiences and education as other possible applications.

“The Smithsonian Institution has more than 130 million items. They could be scanned and put into a virtual reality environment and you would believe they were in front of you,” Iribe told CNN last year.

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The latest Oculus Rift prototype, called Crescent Bay, is lighter and faster than its predecessors, with an improved tracking system to make for more seamless visuals.

“Virtual reality is going to transform gaming, film, entertainment, communication, and much more,” Oculus said Wednesday on its blog. “If you’re interested in building a next-generation VR game or application, everything you need to start developing for the Rift is available at the Oculus Developer Center.”