The HMD market can be compared to our current generation of games consoles. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are targeting living rooms to become the go-to console for the family, using a variety of tactics which are remarkably similar to HTC, Oculus and the PlayStation VR. Exclusive titles ensure people buys the respective headset, such as Lone Echo for the Oculus Rift – while it restricts consumer choice, it helps to build an install base for the relevant brand.
Like the close of 2016, Oculus and HTC are still head-to-head in terms of applicability room-scale interactions. As the heavyweights of the competition, fists will start flying in 2018 as they build on their solidified reputations to usurp one another. Oculus has an excellent head start with its Oculus Touch controls and its lowered price. The PlayStation VR, while weaker than the other two, has sold over a million headsets over the year, thanks in part to its lower costs and install-base of PS4s which can handle the high power required for VR.
The key learning from 2017 is that it is a price elastic market; a decrease in costs leads to an increase in sales, with hardware fidelity being less of a factor for the consumer. With the standalone headsets being pushed in 2018 / 2019, sales may spike upwards depending on the costs of the hardware. One tactic which may be risked is undercutting the competition by selling the hardware near the costs of production, lowering the profit margins of the hardware but receiving returns with software downloads. The Facebook-funded Oculus is in a good position to do this. In any case, a price war is expected.
In terms of mobile headsets, the Samsung Gear VR remains a strong contender with its included controller and (relatively) low price accompanied with the phones. The system is comparable to the updated Google Daydream View, which also has a respectable line-up and a nice range of phones which are compatible with the system.
Then there are a wide range of headsets which allow people to slip on the headset and play, such as the Google Cardboard. They are rudimentary, though functional and work with some high-quality apps. At the moment the market is saturated with plastic headsets which promise stellar VR, but offer little more than the Google Cardboard in terms of actual function. While they can be considered a rip-off, their suffusion in the market still helps people at least try mobile VR for the first time.
In terms of new headsets – the market is likely to be absolutely suffused with new tech which, for the normal and navigating consumer, it may be difficult to pinpoint the one to choose.
Oculus is set to mimic Boeing’s business strategy of offering multiple services to capitalise on different areas. 2018 will have several headsets come through, and an exciting one is Oculus Santa Cruz (pending to be released in 2018 or beyond). A standalone headset with controllers and solid experiences is set to revolutionise the market, and people will be following the headset closely. The same goes for Oculus Go, a lower-end version which will bring more people into the industry.
Google is doing the same by expanding the Daydream project and collaborating with Lenovo standalone headsets. A previous collaboration with HTC has been cancelled as the Vive Focus only launches in the Chinese market – potentially to win the Asian market before moving west with its product. Coupled with the Vive Wave development platform, which promises to make it easier to develop games and import to the Vive, the company is set to make waves beyond the Western shores.
Microsoft and Magic Leap will dip their toes into MR, though in different angles. Microsoft has partnered with Lenovo, HP, and Samsung, and offer versions based on integrated and dedicated graphics cards. Magic Leap will be launching Magic Leap One, and it is currently difficult to pinpoint further details until more is revealed later this year. Characteristic of the company, very little is known at the moment.
Altogether, there will be an onslaught of headsets appearing in 2018. While 2017 was a battle between several large companies in mobile and HMDs, the market will now open further with MR and standalone headsets – a fresh market set to rupture how people will experience immersive reality. My prediction is that Oculus Go and Oculus Santa Cruz will be taking the headlines for the New Year.
This article was initially written by me in VRFocus.