With the upcoming launches of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, 2016 marks the most significant year for virtual reality to date. But even with those head-mounted displays joining existing options like Samsung's Gear VR, this isn't expected to be a massive year for virtual reality headset sales, at least compared with where the market is forecasted to go in the years ahead.
There are several reasons for that. The first and most obvious is price: These things aren't cheap, with the Rift going for $599 and the Vive $799. From there, there's also the other PC hardware these devices require—hardware that isn't cheap and that most people don't own. Going from zero to playing on an Oculus Rift will cost around $1500 at least.
How many virtual reality headsets could be sold this year, though? Most projections about virtual reality sales talk in terms of what's expected to happen over the remainder of the decade; the expectation is for major growth as prices (of headsets and the required PC components) decline and more virtual reality-enabled content becomes available. For instance, research firm Tractica believes revenue from virtual reality hardware and content will reach almost $22 billion worldwide in 2020, compared with only $110 million in 2014.
Trying to determine a realistic sales figure for this year first requires us to get a sense of how many potential buyers are out there. We can't say how many people have the money or inclination to drop hundreds of dollars on a virtual reality headset, but we do know how many PlayStation 4s are on the market, and we have some idea of how many people have computers that meet the minimum specs for Rift or Vive.
Neil Schneider, executive director of the Immersive Technology Alliance, recently laid out his expectations for virtual reality headset sales in the coming year in a blog post on Gamasutra. The ITA is a non-profit group that advocates for technologies like virtual and augmented reality, and whose members include companies such as AMD, Electronic Arts, and Crytek. We reached out to Schneider, who previously served as Manager of Immersive Technology Services at the Universe of Ontario Institute of Technology, to get a better sense of what the next year holds for sales of the major headsets on the market.
"In the PC space, VR HMD sales are closely bound to graphics cards (GPU) at the level of an AMD 290 [about $300] series or Nvidia 970 [about $330] series GPU or better because HTC and Oculus consider this part of their minimum recommended spec," says Schneider. "There are other hardware considerations, but I chose the GPU because with data provided by Jon Peddie Research, we kind of know how many of the right graphics cards are out there and will be out there in 2016."...MOREIf interested, here are some more of our VR posts.