Mobile VR, not VR headsets, to dominate, says study

Virtual Reality will be experienced by gamers using a combination of smartphone and headset, not by dedicated high-end headsets, at least at first, says a new study. The reason is cost.

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Credit: Martyn Williams

It will be smartphones that drive initial virtual reality (VR) adoption, not the much-touted dedicated VR headsets from Oculus and others, says a research firm.

The reason is that VR headset-only devices will be too expensive for the simply-inquisitive consumers who want to check out the technology before plunging in, thinks playable media and games market research firm Superdata.

Oculus’s Rift headset is available now for pre-order at $599.

+ ALSO: Virtual reality headsets are coming to airlines +

Superdata thinks smartphones will be used in conjunction with cheaper headsets to provide a more economical solution.

One example of the kind of offering we’ll be seeing, the researcher thinks, is Samsung’s bundling of a free Gear VR headset with pre-orders of the mobile device maker’s new Galaxy S7 smartphone. That combination could give early adopters a chance to check out the brand-new immersive technology, without paying for an expensive headset.

“Initially, affordable smartphone devices will drive the bulk of sales as consumers first explore virtual reality, before committing to the more expensive platforms,” Superdata says in a February report.

Samsung’s Gear VR headset will be free with the smartphone. And while not self-contained like Oculus’s, it’s likely a fair second-choice — particularly because it won’t cost anything. Harmonix and CCP are two game makers developing for the headset, Superdata says.

The Gear VR device works through the plugging-in of a phone into the sensor- and special lens-enabled headset. The phone’s processors drive the VR.

While VR is being much-touted partly because for the first time computing power is powerful enough to enable it, it’s not a slam dunk that VR will be the be-all and end-all of immersive experiences. So it may not be a bad idea for budget-conscious consumers to hedge and not go all out on a top-of-the-line model, at least to begin with.

Some experts are saying that Augmented Reality (AR) will be ultimately bigger than VR. AR lets the user see the environment at the same time, whereas VR is a more closed-off experience.

I’ve written about this VR vs. AR debate before in “Virtual reality rules now, but augmented reality will soon take over.”

Superdata comes up with some startling VR numbers, though. Around $5.1 billion in 2016 is what the researchers reckon that VR overall will generate in sales, Superdata said in a January report.

And mobile VR should get $861 million in revenues this year, it thinks.

“Total investments in VR and AR reached a combined $6.1 billion between 2012 and 2015,” the researcher says. That’s triggered “the current market momentum and growing industry expectation,” it adds.

But really, the main reason that this is a fascinating technology worth watching isn’t actually because of that investment, or the VR tech’s immersive capabilities and next-generation potential gaming ability. It’s actually because, despite the hype, no one knows whether it’s going to take off or not. Is this just another bit of tech? 

“Will VR gaming be a fad or are we at the dawn of an entirely new gaming platform?” says Superdata in the January report.

And don't forget that AR is just around the corner, too.

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