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Yet more VR announcements add confusion to a crowded market

Posted by on October 11, 2016.

Virtual Reality saw a lot of news in the first week of October, which has done little to clarify or stabilise a marketplace that many already see as confusing and complicated. The first big announcement comes from Google, with the news that they going beyond their ‘Cardboard’ VR-viewing device with a more purpose-built headset, the Daydream View.

Unlike VR’s current ‘big three’ of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR, the Daydream seems to be targeting the mobile market, just as the Samsung Gear is doing. Like the Samsung Gear, Google’s device requires its own proprietary phone to use, though they have also promised that more Android devices will be compatible with the Daydream in the future. Initially, Google’s upcoming Pixel phone will be required to use Daydream View. the phone itself will cost $650, meaning it’s still an expensive entry point into VR.

With a price point on the headset that undercuts Samsung’s, the promise of more compatibility with other Android phones in the future and a motion controller more closely resembling the bigger VR devices, Google’s Daydream View sets itself up in direct competition with Samsung’s Gear VR, and helps to draw a more clear divide between ‘Mobile VR’ and ‘Home VR’ as market sectors.

Hot on the heels of Google’s VR news come three separate announcements from Oculus VR. First, the unveiling of their long-delayed Oculus Touch motion controllers for the Rift. A pair of these controllers is set to cost $200, nullifying the Rift’s pricing advantage over the $800 HTC Vive, at least for the ‘full’ VR experience.

However, Oculus made another announcement that may give them a different edge in the market: Two new firmware systems, ‘Timewarp’ and ‘Spacewarp’, proprietary to the Rift system, which can drastically reduce the Rift’s PC system requirements. Currently, both the Rift and the Vive need powerful, high-end PCs to run well, due to the high framerates needed to prevent nausea. If this latest venture is successful, it will drastically increase the market share of mid-range PC and even laptop users available to Oculus.

All this may be rendered moot, however; Oculus’ third piece of news was to tease a brand new VR product. Only a prototype at this stage , known as the ‘Santa Cruz,’ the headset is a completely standalone device – meaning it doesn’t require a PC at all, or external sensors to track motion. Almost nothing is known about the headset for now; it’s not even certain if it will make it to the consumer market, let alone when or for what price.

With the slew of new hardware announced just as the first ‘wave’ of VR devices is about to get off the ground, it actually becomes quite discouraging for potential new adopters of VR technology, as it leaves too many questions unanswered. Why buy a Rift now when we don’t know if the technology is ‘finished’ yet? Will it be the Rift or the Vive that has the best functionality in the long run? Which device will have the best third-party developer support?

It’s hard to see these announcements, timed as they are with Google throwing yet another device into the arena, doing anything other than hampering VR sales in the short term, but this could be more than a simple business blunder. According to both a January poll from The Verge, Oculus was quite significantly behind both the Vive and the PSVR in demand. A more recent poll – still open at this article’s time of publication – has seen the Rift recover some ground and nose ahead of its competitors, but the figures are far from decisive. It’s possible they feel that their new announcements could make people back away from VR until the dust settles, giving them an opportunity to develop a more attractive product. It’s a gamble, as VR has already had disappointing early sales reports, and if software developers start to withdraw their support the industry could end up in a downward spiral.

However, even if VR fails this time around, it’s only a matter of time before we see another, more fruitful iteration. Virtual Reality has been a holy grail for the gaming industry for decades, and as soon as technology advances it’s a sure bet that someone will try and make a new, more accessible product.

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Submitted in: Expert Views, Josh Townsend, Uncategorized |