PlayStation VR on course to win battle of headsets

More Sony PS VR sets expected to be sold than the combined sales of its two major rivals

A gamer trying out the Sony PlayStation VR headset at Ani-Com & Games Hong Kong last week.
A gamer trying out the Sony PlayStation VR headset at Ani-Com & Games Hong Kong last week. ST PHOTO: LISABEL TING

Sony's virtual reality headset, the PlayStation VR (PS VR), looks set to outsell its two biggest competitors, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, when it is released here on Oct 13 - the same day as in the United States.

Mr Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at IHS Markit Technology, forecast that 1.6 million units of the PS VR will be sold this year - more than the two PC-based headsets combined.

He explained the bullish outlook: "We believe that Sony is generally well positioned because of its end-to-end offer, and lower total cost of ownership."

The PS VR, which is compatible with the PlayStation 4 console, will retail for $599.The announcement was made last week before the Ani-Com & Games show in Hong Kong, and The Straits Times reported the launch details last Thursday.

Also available is a bundle priced of $649,which includes a PlayStation Camera that is required to use the headset.

The PS VR enters a market currently occupied by the Oculus Rift, which was released in March for US$599.99 (S$805), and the HTC Vive (released in April for US$799).

However, Mr Harding-Rolls added that Sony will face more competition in Asian territories, especially where adoption of the PS4 is relatively limited.

As the PS VR is compatible only with the PlayStation console, unlike PC-based headsets, Sony has been careful to provide a wide variety of avenues for content.

Besides VR games, users can also use the headset to view 360 videos and images. There is also a cinematic mode, where users can watch content from sources such as Netflix and Hulu on a virtual screen.

Mr Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, said: "We think it's very important to support such content because we'd like to expand the reach and usage of the PS VR beyond just games."

"Using these platforms to enjoy video streaming content is already a very, very popular way to use the PlayStation, and in the same way we believe that panoramic video content on the PS VR is very important," Mr Yoshida said.

There will be more than 60 VR games titles available at launch, including Batman Arkham VR (see this page) and Stifled, a horror game created by local studio Gattai Games.

Mr Justin Ng, co-founder of Gattai Games, said that VR provides a great immersive experience for gamers, and that in-game actions such as looking around become more natural.

However, he added that VR also introduces limitations and challenges for developers.

"Some common design features in games do not translate well to VR," he said.

"For example, directed camera animations cause discomfort, and workarounds had to be found."

Mr Hiroyuki Oda, deputy president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan and Asia, said that, as VR is still a technology in its nascent stages, it will level the playing field between indie developers and big game studios.

"Great ideas can come from anyone, but indie developers are better placed to jump into developing VR titles, because typically they are the business decision makers as well as creators," he said. "In larger studios, creators have to get approval from the business owners."

The launch of the PS VR in October will mark the last of the major VR headsets to be released, and now the race is on to win over the market.

Mr Dax Ginn is the brand marketing producer at Rocksteady Studios, the developer of Batman Arkham VR. He said of virtual reality: "It's so exciting, so full of potential, and I think it will go in lots of different directions.

"We're just at the beginning of VR as a technology, and in five years time, 15 years time, it will be unrecognisable from where we are now."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline PlayStation VR on course to win battle of headsets. Subscribe