Virtual Reality is a technology that is not necessarily new to us or the industry, but on the level it's at today compared to decades ago when VR first hit the scene for consumers, it's come a long way and it costs considerably less to pick up a unit. VR though like many wearables and smartwatches, is still not a mass consumer product and it may not be for some time as there is quite a bit less compatibility with devices. This, however, could also change as more manufacturers reach the end of their development cycles and move into production. Companies like Samsung are already selling their virtual reality headsets to buyers who own and use a compatible Samsung smartphone, coming in at just $99 for the consumer model, which is already a much better deal than it's predecessor that came out last year, the Innovator Edition, which not only cost double the price but also only worked with the Galaxy Note4/Galaxy Note Edge at the time of its initial release.
Samsung is not the only company on the market dabbling in VR though, and at least a few more top brands are looking into releasing their own flavor of VR by sometime next year, including Sony, Facebook-owned Oculus, HTC and Valve with the Vive headset, and even Razer with the OSVR. With so much competition gearing up to enter the space, this will certainly be good for consumers as they'll have more choice. Companies will be in a race to the bottom in an attempt to find the perfect balance of price and quality to offer buyers an overall good value. With lots of options on the horizon, it might be difficult to see who ends up finding mass market success with consumers first, although Samsung likely have a sizeable lead since they're already selling units, not to mention at a price point that is sure to be lower than the projected costs of things like Sony's PlayStation VR for PS4 as well as the Oculus Rift. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, let's take a look at what's already available on the market for consumers to get their hands on.
Currently, there's Samsung's Gear VR, and the multitudes of options based on the Google Cardboard design including Google Cardboard itself. When it comes to compatibility, Cardboard takes the cake as you can simply pop in just about any Android or iOS device and use the headset. It has its limitations though in terms of what you can do with it. There's less content to immerse yourself in, a head strap doesn't come with it so you're left with fashioning your own, and even once you get everything set up, wearing it won't be as comfortable as something like the Gear VR. It can, however, be picked up for a fraction of the cost of the Gear VR, even now that Samsung's official consumer model is out for pre-order at just $99. For the most part, Cardboard is a cheap alternative to something like the Gear VR and upcoming units, but that doesn't mean it won't be capable of providing a decent VR experience. It's $20-$25 price point also makes it extremely accessible and it generally comes with free shipping, making this a much easier option for most people. Still, there's the issue of content, which Gear VR still seems to have in the bag. While Gear VR may only be compatible with Samsung's 2015 flagships, plenty of consumers are already using those phones. Let's not forget Samsung is still the most popular Android manufacturer, and they've sold more handsets this year than any other Android OEM by far, so there are millions of users who are already equipped to be using the Gear VR. This basically means people are only looking at an extra $99 to get set up and start consuming what the world of VR has to offer.
In comparison, headsets like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are quite a bit more costly, and likewise the types of content that will be made for them are sure to be more costly than what you'd find on Gear VR. Although there are no exact prices listed for either the Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR just yet, there is some speculation circulating as to potential costs to the consumer. PlayStation VR is expected to cost at least as much as the console it requires to hook up to it, and the current going rate for a PlayStation 4 console is $349 most places. Even if PlayStation VR were to launch next week at the same price, that's already $700 that consumers would have invested to get started with Sony's virtual reality experience. Then you have to look at the cost of games. Although there are no listed prices for PlayStation VR games either, a typical PS4 game at launch is around $59.99, and it's reasonable to assume that games for the PlayStation VR could be around the same price, where something on the Gear VR might cost you anywhere from $4 to $10. The recently launched Gear VR game 'Land's End' by ustwo games for example, costs just $7.99. For the total package to get started, picking up a Gear VR and a 32GB Galaxy S6, and Land's End, consumers would be looking at spending Almost $690. That's still under the cost of what it might be for the PlayStation VR experience, and that's before you pick up a VR game, movie or some other content that launches alongside the headset. Not to mention, the smartphone is something most people are already going to own, so you could consider the only extra costs as the Gear VR itself and the content you'd want to consume.
If you look at other options such as the Oculus Rift or HTC's Vive headset that's being co-developed by Valve (the makers of the 'Steam' PC gaming platform) the cost of the headsets is likely going to be more than what it would cost for Samsung's option. An Oculus Rift developer kit goes for $350, on top of that you'll need a computer that has a suitable amount of power to give you the best experience, and that won't come cheap. The best case scenario could be somewhere upward of $1,200, and that's just where it starts. The cost is quite possibly going to be higher for something like the HTC Vive, which you'll also need a powerful PC to hook up to. HTC has stated that the Vive is being aimed at the high-end of the consumer market, with an eventual price that is more accessible to the broader collective of consumers who are interested in VR games and other VR content.
When the Vive kicks off, as reasonable speculation on its price might put it somewhere around $500, and this could put the cost to get set up with it at $1,500 or more depending on how much you spend on a PC or laptop to support it. Razer's OSVR devkit comes in at $300 which is less than both the Oculus Rift devkit and likely the HTC Vive, but it will still require a PC for it to work, and just like the other two it probably needs to be powerful enough to handle the content. Considering the cost comparisons between all the major offerings that are either consumer ready, developer ready, or on the way, and couple that with what each unit has to offer in terms of media and content consumption, Samsung's Gear VR is already leagues ahead of anyone else. It's on the market now, and it's powered by a device most people already have in their pockets. Yes, it does only work with four Samsung flagship phones from this year, so far, but there are likely more people that are willing to give Gear VR a shot than something like the next cheapest option, the upcoming PlayStation's VR.
For Sony's headset to work, you'll need a PS4, a console that as of back in June this year has only reached the 25 million mark for units sold globally, since its launch in 2014. Compared to the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, two phones which support the Gear VR, Samsung's estimated 2015 sales are set to reach 45 million. If Samsung hits that number that's already 20 million more people who have the hardware compatible with Gear VR. That's not even taken into consideration the amount of Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ units (the two other phones compatible with the $99 consumer model of Gear VR) that will be in the hands of consumers before the end of the year. Gear VR is also likely to offer a much wider range of content than PlayStation VR which could make it more appealing.
In the world of virtual reality, there are going to be plenty of options in due time, with more than a few major players ready to deliver. Most, though, will be geared towards the enthusiasts of this sort of tech. Those who want to be completely immersed in the coolest, most bleeding edge content VR will place in front of you. Samsung's option is geared more towards the mass market and it shows, it's evident by the price tag as well as the fact that Samsung developed it to be powered by a smartphone instead of a gaming console or high-end PC. Because the Gear VR is already available to millions of people worldwide, chances are Samsung is set to come out ahead of everyone in the VR space, at least in the beginning. You also have to consider that options like Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and Vive will need some time for the market to allow the potential starting prices to come down some. Samsung's Gear VR will help to do that as it should drive other VR manufacturers to be more competitive. First though, VR will need to become a more adopted piece of tech.