MAY 6, 2015 • The Oculus Rift VR device has been given a release window during the first quarter of 2016. Preorders will be taken later this year, and in the run-up to the Electronic Entertainment Expo this June in Los Angeles, Oculus VR, LLC will be announcing more specifics about the evolution of the hardware design, input and output options to PCs, as well as made-for-VR games that are planned. The company, acquired by Facebook Inc. for $2 billion in 2014, promises that the final consumer headset will have better fitting and more natural ergonomics, plus better movement tracking while standing than the units it has sold to developers so far.
Impact: Although it was buoyed by an initial Kickstarter campaign that reached $2.4 million and was first to popularize this latest attempt at a commercially successful virtual realty game system, Oculus may find itself second out of the gate behind HTC’s Vive with a target release by the end of 2015. The Vive has the benefit of a partnership with Valve Corp., plus a very nifty system for warning users when they are near a real world obstacle, which encourages more active movement on your feet with the headset on. Sony Computer Entertainment plans on releasing its Morpheus VR headset for the PlayStation 4 sometime during the first six months of next year. Then there is Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR, which clips a Note 4 smartphone into headset to play made-for-Android VR content. At $200, Gear VR, which utilizes Oculus’ software, is well priced for anyone who already owns a Note 4. Only the Oculus Rift and Vive compete directly on the PC platform yet both devices will be focusing on the same core gamers that also own PS4s. As core gamers play on both PCs and consoles, all three devices are effectively vying for the same consumers. The Rift developer kit has been selling at $350, and HTC is only saying that the Vive will command a premium MSRP. Sony has not publicly addressed pricing for the Morpheus. High-end peripherals are a tricky sale, as was discovered with countless Rock Band and Guitar Hero hardware SKUs a few years back. The sweet spot for major peripheral sales remains $99 and under. Any accessory priced above $99 usually amounts to a niche sale. Even so, demand waned for high-end racing wheels or air simulator cockpit gear a long time ago.
Sony did a good job with 3D support in PS3 titles, so we expect the firm has a viable content plan on tap for Morpheus that could help encourage sales, and we understand that Facebook has high hopes for other connectivity uses for the Rift beyond games. Regardless, it is difficult to see how the market can sustain three major VR headsets. The prospects for Samsung’s approach are even more confused in that content must be purpose built for Android. We can accept that a good number of core gamers may already own a Note 4, but mobile is more of a casual mainstream platform, not core gamer. All four of these products are backed by deep pockets that can sustain a long-term investment. How many consumers will take the VR plunge remains to be seen.