Sony has finally given details of how much its much-anticipated PlayStation VR headset will cost ($399) and when it will ship (October). At this price (admittedly not including the required camera or controller), it is fully $200 cheaper than the Oculus Rift and half the price of the HTC Vive.
Add in the fact that there are probably almost twice as many PlayStation 4 consoles (35+ million) in homes than VR-capable desktop PCs and the early market for dedicated VR headsets (i.e. those not needing a smartphone to power them) seems like Sony’s to lose.
Now that we know the pricing and likely availability of the first three mass-market consumer VR headsets, HTC, Oculus, and Sony have three challenges.
First, getting hardware production running smoothly. These are complex devices being sold at or below cost, and as such high-volume production (and quality control) will be no easy feat. The demand for PlayStation VR will outstrip supply in 2016, and probably into a good portion of 2017.
The same applies to HTC and Oculus. None of these firms can afford to ship out product that overheats, or has dead pixels in displays or warped enclosures – consumers are taking a big bet on these headsets and need to get a flawless product the first time.
Second, differentiating from lower-end VR headsets. As MWC showed, pretty much every major smartphone manufacturer will release a VR headset that accommodates its high-end phones.
Additionally, 20+ Chinese manufacturers have plans for self-contained low-end headsets. Many of these headsets will be dreadful, but some will be pretty good for VR video and simple games.
The dedicated headset manufacturers are almost competing against “free” here (Samsung is giving away Gear VR headsets with Galaxy S7 pre-orders) and need to show what their products can do better.
Third, getting fully interactive experiences out in the market – and soon. Much of this differentiation needs to come from full interactive experiences (including games) that allow freedom of movement in the virtual space rather than just fixed-point or tracking 360-degree video shots.
These take far longer to develop than just sticking a camera next to a basketball court, and platform owners need to keep cultivating those firms that can deliver this for their headsets.
Paul Jackson is principal analyst for digital media at Ovum.