The Real Battle Of Virtual Reality: Who Will Be The Winner For Round One?



There are a few big tech trends making a sea change in the next three years, including driverless personal transportation, intelligent homes, and, of course, virtual reality. While none of these concepts are new, they are now a reality – and on a trajectory to become as commonplace as a smartphone.

Engineers and designers have been playing around with virtual reality, a technology that immerses users in an artificial world, for almost 30 years. Last year, we’ve finally seen their achievements through the Oculus and Vive launches, but this is the year it will finally take off. Electric cars, for example, have been promised for more than a century, and now that Tesla nailed it, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, while Google is making driverless cars real. And once Tesla helps drive down the cost of batteries with its Gigafactory, cost won’t be a deterrent either, with electric car prices expected to drop below traditional cars by 2022, and electric cars with self-driving capabilities eventually going for under $50,000. We can expect the race to intensify.

Likewise for VR, the race is picking up speed. Mark Zuckerberg is convinced that this is the next big breakthrough, and other influential deep pockets such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft are scrambling to catch up because they can’t afford to miss the boat. From looking at the current players in the market, it seems that HTC Vive is way ahead of the game, although Oculus is heavily funded and owns the majority share of mind and developers’ interests. Apple is laying low, but most likely will buy their way in.

Then, Sony announced that the PlayStation VR (formerly “Project Morpheus”) would be released later this year with a price tag of $399. Compare that to Oculus and HTC Vive ­­– which cost $599 and $700 respectively, with the Vive enterprise version coming in at $1,200 – and it’s clear that the PlayStation VR is priced for accelerated mass adoption. Theoretically speaking, a lower price point will drive market share and, in return, Sony can leverage their mass user base to motivate content developers. While there is some truth to this, it’s not necessarily the case.

My prediction is that two leaders will emerge in the medium term for the first round: Sony’s PlayStation VR, with HTC Vive potentially giving them a run for their money. The competition will be between the Console-centric and the PC-centric; at the end of the day, it’s the gaming community that decides which one is the ultimate winner. HTC Vive, together with Valve, has a very strong chance to win from a technology perspective. Sony will gain a very decent share though, and is motivated to undercut the market to speed adoption – but I don’t expect they will outperform from a technical perspective. And BTW, where is Nintendo? Nintendo did VR first… the Virtual Boy system in 1995. ? It was red, and had a stand, the graphics were monocrome (red and black) and is now a collectors item. Nintendo can be irrelevant if they miss this train. You would wonder if they even have anything in the working.

The PlayStation VR is similar to the Oculus Rift’s DK2 in spec, with a 1920×1080 screen (960×1080 per eye, lower than Oculus’ new Crescent Bay and HTC’s Vive); a 100-degree field of view, with the lenses set up to provide more pixels to the center of the field of view so it can be widened to 100 degrees; and a 120Hz refresh rate, which the PS4 should be able to support. This should bode well with its 40 million PS4 owners – that’s a powerful user base to start with.

For now, HTC Vive is still the ultimate premium immersive experience, but PlayStation VR will surely get Sony through the video gaming console midlife crisis. I am betting these two are the winners, providing Sony can improve its technology and HTC Vive can drive down prices when they achieve scale. Welcome to the race to “immersiveness,” where billions of dollars are now waiting to be spent – and consumers are ready to pay and play.

Disclosure: The author was closely affiliated with Vive in the initial development and launch phase and this article contains no company’s confidential information other than information from public sources and the author’s own opinion.