Sony Sold As Many PSVRs As It Could Ship to Retail, But Samsung Is the Biggest Brand in VR
Expectations for the VR market are running high, with vendors, content creators and enthusiasts alike predicting robust growth in demand for head-mounted display hardware. But many observers still remember the broken promises, not so long ago, that stereo 3D would become so popular that every television sold in the U.S. would have 3D playback capability. And we know how that worked out.
It's early days for VR technology, to be sure. But how is the outlook shaping up? Well, different analysts see the market in different ways. Here's a summary of where we stand, using projections released in a flurry at the end of last year, as researchers began prognosticating about the success of VR in 2016 and beyond.
The most expansive view of the market comes from IDC, which counts all types of 360-degree viewing devices in its tally. The firm figures 10.3 million units were shipped in 2016. That number doesn't include "simplistic" headsets like Google Cardboard, but it does count standalone HMDs (like Microsoft's Hololens and Epson's Moverio) as well as screenless viewers like Google's Daydream View and Samsung's Gear VR — the latter a powerhouse in this emerging market. At CES last week, Samsung America announced that it sold 5 million of the headsets in 2016, putting it on top of the heap.
Sony seems to be in second place, with its PlayStation VR (PSVR) widely thought to have rocketed out of the gate in the last three months of 2016, despite struggling with shortages of AMOLED panels — which are becoming popular for smartphones, putting the squeeze on supplies to makers of HMDs. But while there's general agreement that Sony had a good holiday season, nobody is sure just how many PSVR units the company has managed to ship.
TrendForce expects software sales to match hardware sales in driving the market starting in 2020.
Researcher Trendforce said it expected Sony to come out of 2016 with about 1.5 million units shipped into retail, giving it a comfortable lead over rivals Oculus (which shipped an estimated 650,000 Oculus Rifts) and HTC (an estimated 460,000 Vive shipments). But another analyst, Canalys, is more bearish. It figures trouble sourcing OLED displays limited Sony to just 800,000 PSVR units shipped. Further, Canalys says the HTC Vive is the number three headset, with about 500,000 shipments in 2016, followed by the Oculus Rift with just under 400,000.
Note: Figures do not include "mobile VR" headsets, such as Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View.
Add up those numbers and you'll see that the estimates really do vary widely. Trendforce sees about 2.6 million headsets shipped from those three vendors at the end of 2016, while Canalys reckons the number is just 1.7 million. That's a pretty big difference.
Either way, all of the other vendors seem to be swamped right now by the Gear VR. (The other obvious big player in mobile VR, Google's Daydream View, didn't begin shipping until November, limiting its numbers for the year.) Samsung's success in the nascent VR market has been driven by in-store demos and bundled sales with the company's smartphones, and that bodes well for the PSVR, which will similarly benefit from increased awareness and, presumably, bundling deals with the PlayStation console — at least once Sony gets to a position where it has plenty of units in retail channels and ramps up promotion of the device.
But, for now, Samsung is the best-known brand in VR. Figures from ReportLinker, which conducted an Internet survey with 738 respondents after the holiday season, indicate that the Samsung Gear is the big standout in terms of market awareness, with 58% of survey-takers saying they had heard of the device. Google Cardboard came in second at 32%, followed by the Oculus Rift at 31%. Only 25% said they hadn't heard of any VR devices, down 25 points from the last time the survey was conducted, in September 2016.