Sony has two big pieces of hardware coming out this fall, the PS4 Pro and PlayStation VR, the latter of which releases in just three weeks. Despite a heavy presence at E3, there hasn’t been terribly much buzz around PSVR as of late, with the PS4 Pro announcement, which barely mentioned VR at all, seemingly stealing some of its thunder.
But PSVR will be here shortly, and with it comes VR’s best chance at truly mainstream adoption, at least in theory. With over 40 million PS4s out in the world, this is the first time a mainstream VR set has been able to run on a console rather than a relatively pricey PC. PSVR’s competitors, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, require the sorts of PCs that most people won’t just have lying around, but a PS4 in the house? That’s a much more common occurrence.
Part of me is starting to wonder what exactly happens if PSVR is not the breakout moment VR needs. While I wouldn’t call the Vive or the Rift “unsuccessful,” if you manage to escape from the bubble of tech journalism, VR has certainly not been adopted into the mainstream, despite the retail releases of these two devices.
PSVR will be more “low-end” than the Rift and Vive, in terms of its capabilities, and unfortunately the biggest PSVR story that came out of E3 this year was a specific demo (Resident Evil 7) that was making even VR veterans motion sick. While I doubt the retail release is going to produce that effect on a larger scale, I do worry that PSVR may struggle to find a wide audience, despite the PS4 install base.
I’ve previously made the argument that Sony, by releasing two $400 pieces of hardware this fall, is essentially asking many consumers who can’t afford both to choose between them. And given the choice between a more powerful PS4, and a PSVR headset in the unproven field of virtual reality, I have to believe many will go with the former. If PS4 Pro was debuting say, next spring or fall, we wouldn’t have this problem, but I do think Sony might end up cannibalizing itself, despite the innate differences between the two pieces of hardware.
But, assuming that PSVR isn’t an outright failure, and maybe the same sort of muted success as the Vive and Rift, where exactly does VR go from here?
There’s always this vague sense that VR really is the future, but the journey to get there has been pretty rocky in this, the official “year one” of the concept. A month from now, we will have three consumer VR headsets on the market, and yet, adoption is very slow, and again, outside of the tech scene, you hear very little about VR in day to day life. Outside of my coworkers, I know exactly zero people that own a headset. Even if they did want to spend the money, “normal” people do not have the PCs to run a headset, and my friends with PS4s probably are not going to spend the additional $400 for relatively unproven tech that will mostly play VR-based minigames rather than the kinds of full releases they’re used to.
After this, breakthroughs seems like they’re going to be hard. If three very different types of VR sets are now on the market, and none appear to be catching fire, what then?