New Headset is Poised to Become Most Successful High-End Immersive Device

Forget about Oculus Rift and put the HTC Vive aside. It's time for high-end VR to make it into the mainstream with today's launch of the Sony PlayStation VR headset.

It's not that the Oculus and Vive are bad technology. But the installed base of PlayStation 4 consoles is much higher than the number of VR-capable PCs in consumer households. Research firm IHS Technology said last week that it expects the PlayStation VR to outsell the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive combined by the end of this year.

PlayStation VR arrives in a market that's still largely driven by low-end, smartphone VR headsets — IHS says the $100 Samsung Gear is expected to finish the year with the largest installed base, about 5.4 million. "The smartphone VR base will be a major opportunity for VR content experimentation," said IHS Technology Senior Director Ian Fogg in a prepared statement. "Smartphone VR headsets' share of the VR installed base will be 87 percent at the end of 2016."


Samsung will soon have a strong competitor in that segment as Google rolls out its Pixel phone and $80 Daydream View headset. The firm says Daydream View will be the most popular VR headset by 2019.

Despite smaller sales volume, Oculus, HTC and Sony are drawing increasing amounts of revenue from the VR market. The average selling price of headsets was just $26 in 2015 but should climb to around $85 this year and reach $191 in 2017, IHS said. 

So what are people going to actually do with the PlayStation VR? Well, that's an excellent question. Early reviews of games have been mixed, and the best-reviewed games have tended to be inexpensive ($20-$30) titles like Thumper, a soccer-themed game controlled entirely by the player's head movements, or the venerable Rez Infinite, the latest in a franchise that dates back to the Sega Dreamcast. Batman: Arkham VR has been reasonably well reviewed but also described as essentially a tech demo, and tank-shooter Battlezone has been surprisingly well-reviewed by writers who still object to its $60 price point.

Forthcoming games in blockbuster franchises like Star Wars Battlefront, which is getting a special "Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission" and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard will help determine whether PlayStation VR occupies a niche market or eventually becomes a gaming must-have.

In between gaming sessions, the PlayStation VR will offer video playback in a virtual-theater environment called "cinematic mode," and the PlayStation's Media Player is being updated today with the ability to view 360-degree videos and photos via the headset. Presumably the YouTube app will eventually allow 360-degree playback via the PlayStation VR, and content from VR specialist VRSE is widely expected to become available as well.

The bottom line? For anyone with a VR story to tell, it's likely that PlayStation VR users will quickly become too big a demographic to neglect.