One Year After
It’s been close to a year since the Oculus Rift was released with the much fanfare and ever more consumer rage as it faced production delays and numerous unfulfilled promises. The Vive release followed shortly thereafter with lesser but still stinging ordering issues. A few months later came the Playstation VR which managed to sell almost more than the 2 combined. Having tested all three systems we look back at how far VR has come since it’s official consumer launch (or relaunch if you count the VR of the past) and get a glimpse at the future of VR gaming.
The VR scene is not without scandal. Just as they were trying to rebuild momentum with the launch of the much delayed Oculus touch controllers, they lost a lawsuit and were forced to pay 500 million in damages- and although that is a small amount for Facebook to cover, the cost in perception and consumer confidence is so evident that they just announced a major price drop on both the headset and controller.
Right after release, it became evident that the biggest roadblock of all 3 devices was that in order to deliver the required FPS (frames per second) for the displays, you needed to be tethered to a more powerful machine. The solution that companies like MSI, HP, Zotac and XMG have come up for the oculus and Vive is to have the user wear a backpack computer powerful enough to drive the device. They are somewhat available now but they still weigh about 10 lbs. and have a limited battery life due to the power that VR requires.
Another solution would be to just cut the wires altogether. Companies like KwikVR have a wireless solution which surprisingly works quite well. Priced at around $300 and not due out till the summer, we have yet to see if this solution is worth it to the already price of entry into VR.
To further the VR immersion, and to supplement the wireless experience, HTC is releasing a Vive Tracker which can be attached to peripherals like gun controllers or sticks to give you the feel of holing a sword or a bat. This will definitely up the ante on what VR evangelists call “presense”.
So What’s Next?
The tech is here and the hardware to showcase the tech is as well. So what is missing? The actual audience is. VR is slowly getting into the hands of users but the price of admission is just still too steep for arguably still a niche in gaming. Think tank Canalys states that in December last year the VR best seller was the PS VR with 800k units sold in 3 months vs. the HTC Vive at 500k and the Oculus at a mere 400k.
Having owned all 3 major VR units at some point, it’s fair to say that in the end, the comfort, convenience and lower cost of ownership of console VR wins over better graphics. Triple A games that support VR like Resident Evil have done well in enticing more and more people into VR. The PSVR is quite a hit at home mainly because of it’s ability to bring group gameplay into the mix- and quite successfully at that. It’s odd that the technology which is supposed to bring you to other worlds benefits so much in the fun department if and when played with others (and not just spectated by others).
There are a ton of clones and cheap cardboard alternatives that have been released but big boys like Microsoft and it’s more expensive HoloLens have been gaining traction with the developer community as well. LG’s own VR headset is also showing some promise as seen this year at the Game Developers Conference.
Overall I think that the VR industry is going through birthing pains and there are still quite a few challenges (primarily COST!) that prevent VR from becoming ubiquitous in every household but the past years advancements, though clumsy and fraught with agita, are still steps towards our Lawnmowerman dreams of tomorrow!