With the rumors that Sony looks set to bring their own take on an VR headset attempting to replicate in some way, the Oculus Rift (the show floor darling of the moment) to the PS4. The starter pistol has been fired on the next round of innovations and their pretenders (whether it is gimmick or will lead to substantial gameplay is to be seen, but this is not the first time something like this has happened with consoles). The often space-race like surges in progress between console manufacturers will once again transform the industry.
The full on head unit idea has been toyed with since Nintendo tried to burn red and black into our retinas through the Virtual Boy. Although the coca-cola ad colour schemed head-set did not take, it was not to say we would not be ready for another go at a more sophisticated version of the immersive head unit in the future. Many have tried, the numerous Vuzix VR headsets being a notable piece of kit for PC gamers over the years, but no one gaming headset brand has become a household name needed to domesticate the concept.
It is not news that Sony has already made moves into this direction. Sony’s HMZ head visor units feature two OLED screens (just like the PS Vita) for each eye, use Augmented Reality (thanks to the cameras on the outside of the system), can render images in 3D and function with PC, TV and PS3 to deliver stereoscopic visuals for supported media. The first of the series, the HMZ-T1 appeared in 2011 and was in development for 2 years before that, the HMZ-T2 followed in 2012. It is fair to say they have a rolling start for the next gen 3D visor. Despite their PS friendly functionality the systems stood alone from the PlayStation brand and with good reason, they both cost the best part of a grand (approx $1,237.50/ £799.99 for the T1 and $1,546.88/£999.99 for the T2) at launch and that price point only looks to rise.
As recently as September 6, Sony once again unveiled a third generation of its HMZ personal viewer headset tech, the T3. The HMZ-T3 will cost $2,010.97/£1,300 approx at launch and like its predecessors it will handle AR, 3D and PlayStation support. Again, a serious piece of kit, but at a serious price. Clearly, it is not an affordable option for most, which is the main issue currently facing head techs integration among the Kinects and Wii U GamePads of the world. Paying for a peripheral worth more than the console it supports is simply not an attractive prospect for many.
This is possibly why Sony are looking into a separate avenue for their PS4 based VR head tech, that is if they want to compete with the previously mentioned independent VR headset – Oculus Rift. The Oculus is currently pre-order priced on the company’s site at an affordable $300 as part of a development kit, which is a SD version of the unit. That is a grand and some change shy of the HMZ. While the full retail version will obviously cost more than the development kit (full HD support ain’t cheap), it will still likely be well below the $2,010.97 asking price for the HMZ-T3. That is highly attractive, especially since the Oculus has good word of mouth from those who have used it and developers are actively developing games to implement the tech into gameplay. Sony’s VR headset needs to aim to see off the Rift, while setting itself apart from the costly established in-house HMZ line, as well as anticipating moves from Microsoft and other competitors to get into the market since the enthusiasm for the Oculus is so high.
With the PS4 and Xbox One both focusing on social media, Sony’s PS VR could take a leaf out of Google’s book. Google Glass is the giant ‘share’ button you can wear on your face. The glasses offer a visual display computer boasting e-mail, twitter, facebook and all the other social media crack everyone’s addicted to these days, and achieves this with AR functionality. An effective social head piece would certainly break the mold. No doubt Apple and Samsung are reviewing if not moving into this emerging tech market also. Sony could make gains here and tie it to their gaming platform killing two birds with one craftily boomeranged DualShock 3.
How they do this on an average gamers budget again, is still the hurdle. Typically one way to do this is to offer a premium and budget package, which is the industry norm nowadays. This week we have seen it with the PS Vita TV and Apple iPhone 5C/5S, so it is a practice that could run on its own bus timetable. The entry level option does not leave people behind, but also actually makes the more expensive version seem more worthwhile.
Another way would be to decide that if they cannot make a VR headset as easily affordable as consumers are used to seeing peripherals, then make it irresistible. That would be where all those social and UI pizza toppings come in, but judge it wrong and you have got an ‘Xbox One at E3′ PR disaster on your hands. There is also a potential knock on effect of a raised price bar for product, which long-term would only price audiences out rather than in.
With Sony showing off the HMZ-T2 at the Tokyo Gameshow last year, there is a chance we could see or hear something about a PS4 headset as soon as September 19 at this year’s Tokyo Gameshow. It is hard to say though seeing as a new PS Vita and PS Vita TV was only just announced and the PS4 will have a delayed February release (in Japan). Playing all cards at once seems a little too dicey before a console release war.
They already have the tech. The impact of a PS4 specific headset’s entrance to the market will rely on how much it costs, how much buzz surrounds it and how it will be translate into an accessible and worthwhile gaming experience. Consumers are cheerleaders and whiners in equal measure (as seen with motion control, 3D games/films and DLC), so Sony, Oculus and anyone else throwing down in the big VR cook-off will need a strong enough product to ride the backlash.
Until then, when it comes VR making an impact and how consumers react, we can only wait and see.