Everybody knew that the price drops for virtual reality headgear had to start happening if VR was ever going to get a toehold in the marketplace, and now both HTC and Oculus have lowered the prices on their respective products.
Oculus Takes the Plunge
First Oculus did what everybody knew they had to do eventually — they dropped the price of their Oculus Rift package from a breathtaking $800 to a more affordable $589 last March, then cut it again for a dramatic drop about a month ago to just $399 for the Oculus + Touch bundle. There’s going to be a permanent price cut in a couple more weeks from now.
They haven’t announced what that’s going to be yet, of course, they’re also releasing a package similar to the summer bundle will be available for $499. The $499 package doesn’t include an Xbox One wireless controller, Rock Band guitar connector, or a remote — all of which are included in the $399 bundle. That said, it will include six free titles — Lucky’s Tale, Medium, Toybox, Quill, Dead and Buried, and Robo Recall — which goes someway to making up for the lack of accessories.
Naturally, the $499 option (pictured below) will also include an Oculus Rift headset, two sensors, a pair of Touch controllers, and all of the necessary cables.
HTC Jumps In
Then HTC cut the price of its Vive virtual reality headset $799 to $599, meaning those still eager to buy the device can now save $200 on the deal. This is the cheapest “full room” VR experience you can currently buy over the counter.
As reported by Polygon, the discounted package comes with the headset, two motion controllers, and the two wall-mounted sensors that track your movements so that you can effectively turn your living room into a holodeck (just watch out for the furniture). All Vive purchases will also come with a free trial for Viveport, HTC’s subscription-based virtual reality marketplace that lets users access five titles each month for free.
Viveport president Rikard Steiber says that the new price point will make the Vive much more attractive to both consumers and business, and although the timing is somewhat coincidental, he says the discount has nothing directly to do with the recent Oculus Rift price drop.
“I think we are the leader in the market, and the plan was always that high-end VR be available to everyone,” he explained.
“So of course there are a couple of components that need to fall into place in order to reach the mass market, you need to have a lower price point. That’s been the plan all along. I think it’s good that other players in the market are making similar moves.”
Room in the Pool for the Rest of Us?
While the price drops are good, and very welcome, neither of the two leading headsets is yet down to the point where mainstream consumers are ready to plunk down the dough for a one-person-at-a-time visual experience. The expense doesn’t stop there, with graphics cards needed to drive the experience still clocking in at around $160 to start, plus having a machine strong enough to drive it won’t be cheap either.
The dominant form of VR right now is still, embarrassingly, the Google Cardboard. This fragile $15 construct of plastic (and mostly cardboard, hence the name) lets you drop your cell phone into a box with magnifying lenses so that you can view low resolution virtual reality games and movies. It’s clunky. Most systems lack any form of controller, meaning you control the experience solely with head movements. It’s also completely dependent on the quality of the phone you run it on.
With cell phones being the primary functioning VR for this marketplace, we obviously still have some work to do. Yes, you can get better VR experiences than this, but the average price of entry for one seat of VR is still going to be somewhere between $1200 – $1400 by the time you add it all up. It has to come down a lot further before VR can be a truly mainstream phenomenon, but fortunately, it looks like the manufacturers have figured this out. It’s just a matter of time before we can all afford this stuff, and our technical staff at SCIFI.radio predicts that we’ll reach that convergence of power versus price possibly as early as the Christmas season of 2017, but more likely the summer of 2018.