There's a lot of hope bound in the Oculus Rift. Many were hoping that the Rift would be the first real mainstream virtual reality headset for consumers. The reality is that the Oculus Rift carries a $599 price tag in addition to the hefty PC needed just to use the Rift. Those costs act as a significant barrier to the average consumer, who may not even be into the PC as a platform yet.
HTC Vive already looks like it's carving a niche out in the high-end. Samsung Gear VR is slightly more accessible than the rest, but I'm unsure how many Samsung phone owners are really thinking about a VR add-on. There is a potential middle ground though. There's one headset that could have a cheaper cost to entry compared to the Oculus Rift.
That's Sony PlayStation VR.
Sony's upcoming VR headset for the PlayStation 4 could represent the real mainstream push. 35.9 million people worldwide already own a PlayStation 4 system and the cost of the hardware is only $349 if you don't. Comments made by Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey point to a device that comes in under the Rift in technology, and possibly price.
"I think that there's not many people who already own a PS4 who don't own a gaming PC who are going to go out and make that roughly $1,500 all-in investment in the Rift. It really is a separate market. They're bringing virtual reality to a different group of people who I don't think were ever really a part of our market anyway," Luckey told the International Business Times. "It's also worth noting that their headset isn't quite as high-end as ours - it's still, I think, a good headset - and the PlayStation 4 is not nearly as powerful as our recommended spec for a PC."
Luckey has previously spoken with Sony about VR technology and in his mind, it's all about making VR a great market for everyone in the future.
"I knew some people at Sony working on VR before I even started my Kickstarter campaign, actually, and we brought them in early on to show them what we were working on, to talk about what the minimum standards were for a good VR experience," he added. "What does it take to make something that won't make people uncomfortable and won't turn people off of virtual reality? That's really the most important thing, is to not poison this well for all of us in the future, and I think they understand that. They also understand the importance of content, and they've been doing a lot of work making sure there's a lot of VR games."
Even if the PlayStation VR comes in at $350-$450, that's still much cheaper than the cost to entry for Oculus Rift. Yes, you might be able to build a PC with Rift recommended specs for around $600, but that's not covering everything you may need and your average consumer isn't building a PC anyways. With PlayStation VR, you're talking a total all-in cost of $850, assuming a $500 PSVR headset. With Oculus Rift, your buy-in cost is probably around $1,400, $600 for the Rift and $800 for a solid PC. That's much better already.
In addition, the PlayStation VR would occupy retail space right alongside the PlayStation 4. It'll be there in your local Best Buy, Target, Toys R Us, or Wal-Mart, in the PlayStation 4 section. In terms of visibility for the average consumer that's huge and it means more people who wouldn't know about VR will be intrigued at the least.
If the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive occupy the high-end, the PlayStation VR could be our solid middle ground. Imagine it as the Ford Focus or Honda Civic of VR. Sure, you may find better, but it should do convincing VR at a smaller price point for a more casual audience. And once they're in, those consumers will be ready for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive in 2019, when the prices come down.
Of course, all this is predicated on Sony pricing the PlayStation VR in the right sweet spot. Fingers crossed.