Headset Sales and Platform Wars: The VR Race So Far

Taking a look at the main contenders in 2016’s VR headset race.

Just over a year ago, Google announced that more than five million Google cardboard viewers had shipped. With over ten thousand apps available to anyone with a compatible smartphone, it seemed that the long-promised VR revolution was finally getting going. Since then we’ve seen the launch of the first four serious VR headsets, with several more are expected to hit the market in the next year.

VR headsets have come a long way since the 90s, but still leave a few things to be desired.


Early estimates of headset sales were highly optimistic. Deloitte predicted that VR would have its first billion dollar year, while Statistica forecast the sale of over ten million headsets. Unfortunately for both VR fans and investors, these optimistic guesstimates fell far short of reality. VR uptake has been smaller than expected, and, despite inspiring rave reviews and blowing the minds of gamers worldwide, the sales figures for VR headsets are just not as good as we all hoped.

How many headsets really sold?

The answer is not easy to find. However we can make some early estimates, and, while they don’t live up to initial predictions, the news is not all bad.


Gear VR sales hit five million

Tim Baxter of Samsung recently announced that over five million Gear VR headsets have shipped, offering a wide range of experiences from TV tie-ins to video games. Their partnership with the Oculus store has clearly worked out well, despite a few little issues with exploding Note 7s, with roughly 80% of the headsets purchased in the last four months.


Console VR proves popular

Caption for video: Road to VR compares PSVR performance on PS4 and PS4 Pro


Playstation VR was the hot VR headset of the holiday season, and despite global supply issues causing initial sales to fall short of early estimates, sales figures eclipsed those of both the Vive and the Rift put together. Several months on Playstation VR headsets are still hard to come by, and consumer demand still seems to be high. Sales of the PS4 console behind it were strong, with many consumers opting for the higher performance PS4 pro. This bodes well for the future of Sony’s VR journey.


In contrast, Microsoft have held back from VR frenzy. Instead, they’ve set the stage for a new console cycle, and plan to release the Xbox Scorpio in time for the 2017 holiday season. Microsoft have confirmed that existing Xbox One titles will be compatible with the new console, and while it is being designed to be VR capable, it’s squarely aimed at traditional console gamers rather than just VR fans.


Gear VR overtakes Oculus Rift

While mobile users got into Gear VR and console fans waited for their headsets, HTC’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift battled to capture the PC gaming audience. While exact sales figures can only be guessed at, the HTC Vive appears to be pulling ahead. The Vive wowed reviewers at launch, and despite its higher price tag, it has proved over and over to be the more popular of the first two PC VR contenders. If recent rumours are to be believed, twice as many consumers are opting for the Vive, who reported that over 140,000 headsets had been sold by October of last year. This is hardly surprising given that the Vive has been one step ahead of the Rift since it launched last April. Despite its later launch date and higher price, the HTC vive captured the lion’s share of the PC consumer and developer market early by offering a two-handed room scale experience from the start. The launch of the Oculus Touch controllers in December went some way towards levelling the playing field, but still fell short of providing the same quality of experience, while the $199 add-ons eliminated the price difference between the two headsets.


The HTC Vive is poised to pull even further ahead with the release of their new line of peripherals, which make it easy to bring new items into the VR world. Rather than bringing out rumoured headset upgrades, Valve and HTC will be focusing on hardware add-ons such as the HTC Vive Tracker, which allows users and developers to customize their experience.


More HTC Vive Tracker details were revealed at CES 2017 last month


While Facebook recently lost their courtroom battle with ZeniMax Media, who are considering taking out an injunction to restrain Oculus from using code that infringes their copyrights, it seems that stopping the Oculus train may not be that simple, and the impacts of the $500 million verdict against them are still unknown.


Looking ahead

So far it seems that the VR revolution has had a slow and rocky start. Fortunately for tech fans, the next generation of headsets are on their way. While Google DayDream recently launched in the U.S, we have several hotly anticipated VR launches to look forward to over the next year, including the eye-tracking Fove and the standalone Pico Neo CV.