Sony today announced that the PlayStation VR will cost $399 and be available in October, the latest major virtual reality hardware platform to announce its launch date.
That the PlayStation VR costs $399 is big news, because that means it will be less expensive at launch than the Oculus Rift, which will cost $599 when it goes on sale on March 28, and the HTC Vive, which will run $799 at launch in April.
The three platforms comprise the high end of the VR spectrum, with each device being tethered to some kind of powerful computing system. Samsung’s Gear VR, which has been out since last fall, goes for $99. Holding down the middle range of the spectrum, it is powered by a Samsung smartphone. The low end is led by Google’s Cardboard, which has been available in many forms for more than a year.
Sony said that there are currently 230 publishers and developers working on titles for the PlayStation VR. The company also said there will be an exclusive new Star Wars: Battlefront VR game available for the device.
Analysts predict that the VR industry will be worth $30 billion a year by 2025, with content alone generating $5 billion a year by 2020. Clearly, though, there is no industry if there’s no hardware, and the imminent release of the three high-end systems means we’re very much at the cusp of the true mainstream coming out of the consumer VR era.
Though the Rift, from Facebook-owned Oculus, may get the most attention, some analysts believe Sony may have an important built-in advantage over the rival Rift and Vive. While the latter two platforms require being tethered to a video-game quality PC, the PS VR tethers to the PlayStation 4. That means Sony enters the VR market with an existing potential user base of more than 20 million customers, although there are of course, many people with gaming-quality PCs as well.
At the same time, by settling on an October launch date, Sony is ceding months of head start to Oculus and HTC.
Still, it’s not clear how consumers will take to any of the hardware. As with any new platform, the key almost certainly has to do with the available content. That’s why it’s so important for the industry that VR conferences, like those going on this week at South by Southwest in Austin and the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco inspire large amounts of deep, compelling content and technological advances. Only time will tell.