Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Li Huang.
The rise of the Virtual empire
Oculus Rift. Sony Morpheus. Valve/HTC Vive. It’s no love triangle, but each of these three competitors seek to crown themselves king of the virtual reality market all the while studying the other two with jealous fervor. Who will win out in the end?
Enter the Bermuda Triangle of virtual reality, where it’s not ships and planes that get lost in the fog but consumer decisions. The struggle between the three giants to seal buyer loyalty resembles a swim through the sea of apps amidst the Android-Apple rivalry. What primarily distinguishes virtual reality from other industries is its revolutionary perspective and fresh footprint in the market, making its future nebulous. Will these three be the future Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft of VR or will some of them whither, making space for new competitors or a monopoly? In all the static of this VR Bermuda Triangle, which would be the best investment? Oculus? Sony? Or Valve/HTC?
Oculus is the forefather of VR. It is the pioneer that cleared marshes and paved the way for VR as it is today. Think of it the Rift to VR as Elvis was to rock n’ roll or The Beatles to boyband inspiration. In fact, the words “virtual reality” are so readily paired with Oculus that it easily makes the top five in any Google search of VR.
In June 2015, Oculus bolstered its reputation by rallying developer support from prominent companies like Insomniac Games and Ubisoft to its cause. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A longtime ally of Facebook and recent partnership with Microsoft make Oculus Rift both well stocked in funds and well staffed with the most capable technicians in the industry. It’s often pointed out that the engineers or crafters of a tech company determine its integrity and a large slice of its success. That being said, the combination of a superb core tech staff, plenty of cash floating around from wealthy sponsors along with millions raised in crowdfunding, and the looming rep for establishing the foundations of VR make the Oculus Rift a juggernaut without brakes… Or does it?
The Rift has only been demonstrated in very restrictive environments thus far. Furthermore, it heightens the minimum specs necessary on the PC to the point where users might have to strain their wallet or altogether reformat their budget to meet requirements more than they would with Sony or Valve/HTC. The CEO of Oculus, Brendan Iribe, claims you will need to spend $1500 for a VR capable computer. Also, all this is possibly hardware dependent, rolling in more complaints. Early adopters of any VR hardware should be cautious, but if you can duck under the high price tag and maneuver through its minimum specs bar, it should be a safe investment.
Whether or not Sony named its VR platform after a Matrix character is debatable but the fact that it has a tremendous advantage in software development is not. Imagine living by yourself and still walking into a fully cleaned and arranged bedroom every night. This is Sony’s predicament entering the VR industry with its PS4 benchmark.
The tech behemoth’s high reputation in the gaming industry make incorporating what would otherwise be a giant leap into VR a subtle stride by building on a prior template. What competitors consider a luxury is a default for Sony. The PS4 has garnered enough attention and dedication through its loyal niche that the additional profits generated by VR headset gaming wouldn’t be impeded by trust issues.
On the flip side, Sony is financially disoriented on its home front. This means that while its competitors can lower prices to raise incentive, Sony will find the task of matching that tactic burdensome. Moreover, since the Morpheus is so tailored to the PS4, will it be compatible with PCs? And with no modding community on that console, can we be confident that developers will make VR games with precision?
Are there noobs in virtual reality? If there are in the VR industry, gamers would be shooting contemptuous glances at Valve/HTC Vive. Competitive VR, meet your rookie. They are so new to the scene that they actually sat out on E3 this year and elected to focus their resources on gaming tournaments.
Valve/HTC compensated for this by issuing a 2015 Vive launch date, putting Oculus and Sony on edge for their respective 2016 VR releases. The real ace up their sleeve is that while competitors are focused solely on headsets, Vive operates around an entire VR environment. Unlike other VR sets that bombard your eyes with its version of realism and lets your mind do the exploring, the Vive allows you to navigate around both the virtual setting and real life setting as your feet pace around the room. Valve/HTC has taken into account limited room space by triggering the Vive to flash a grid image as you close in on an object or wall.
The frustrating matter in this mechanism is that not all rooms will be empty and neat for walking around at all times. In real life environments there will be many obstacles that you can stumble on. You can always shut off the interactive environment feature, but why sit on a chair when you can absorb your surroundings like never before? Again beckons the question: are you willing to repeatedly stash away your furniture for virtual experiences? The idea is brilliant in concept but awkward in practicality.
The end of Reality as we know it
There isn’t a clear-cut “steal” from a buyer’s perspective. Each of the three brands has its own Achilles’ Heel. Moving forward, I must point out that label is an overarching theme in deciding the fate of the purchase. This is especially true for virtual reality sets because the industry is still in its infancy stage, albeit the surge of hysteria in past half decade. Here, two broad factors sway the path of which brand to buy. The first is product integrity. This usually entails design (form), quality (function and usage), and cost-effectiveness. If it works well and feels like it’s going to last you years without breaking the bank, then you probably got a bargain. The other thing to consider is popularity scale. Your newest headset might be[come] the trend of the decade/next big fad. Whether you prize integrity over style in VR or vice versa is solely up to individual preference but keep in mind before you walk down the virtual red carpet that you not only look good, but don’t stumble.
The highlight of the Oculus Rift, Sony Morpheus, and HTC Valve might be engrossed in the virtual, but the competition of these three organizations is as real as reality gets for the open market. The power struggle in the VR realm is reminiscent of the Three Kingdoms in Chinese history. Strategy and deep thinking is required to oust the other two and be the top dog. Every move is critical. Sometimes taking action is empirical while other times letting your competitors slug it out is best. Over assertion or rash aggression can be the immediate demise of any of these three while remaining passive might lead to ruin at a slower pace. These three are dogs tugging on the steak of fame, prestige, and a shit load of money in the VR domain, and letting go most likely entails starvation.