PCR deputy editor Jonathan Easton examines the announced UK price rise of the HTC Vive, and considers if consumers will be willing to take such a financial risk on the emerging technology.
Pundits and analysts have predicted that 2016 will be the year that virtual reality (VR) hits the mainstream with aplomb. The jury's still out but (from a technical standpoint at least) the HTC Vive seems to be the preferred option for those who have experience with both it and the Oculus Rift – the Vive's closest competitor.
While the HTC Vive is undoubtedly an impressive bit of kit, the pre-existing hurdles in selling it to consumers - such as demo opportunities and a complicated set-up process - have been added to, with yesterday's announced UK price hike, a price rise which could be the Vive’s undoing in the UK market.
Earlier this year, the Vive was listed on HTC’s website at £689 which is already a considerable investment for consumers. Now with an added £70 on top (which HTC puts down to “recent currency valuation changes and the current value of the GBP”) and P&P, ordering the headset online will see consumers spend almost £800 for the privilege.
Just for the purpose of comparison, a mid-range gaming PC bought from Overclockers will set shoppers back a little under £800. Will average users be willing to spend the same amount on a VR headset as they could on a brand new PC? I’m not so convinced.
Of course this is all a matter of context. The Vive was already considerably more expensive than the Oculus Rift so it was never cheap to begin with. The price rise will only have re-enforced the public perception of the Vive, as a more expensive niche that won't have the mainstream appeal of its competitors.
UK consumers already think that VR is too expensive – this will not help that presumption.
In addition to the cost of the headset there is, of course, the cost that comes with a VR-ready PC. The example Overclockers PC mentioned earlier is pretty much one of the cheapest entry point into the world of VR gaming.
In order for users to get the experience intended by the headset makers, they would have to spend upwards of £1,000 on their PC alone, making the total cost around £1,800.
"It's a price rise which could be the Vive’s undoing in the UK market."
That is a huge risk for consumers to take on an emerging yet promising technology, which could prove to be a novelty abandoned much like 3D or motion controls in gaming.
By contrast, the PlayStation VR, which is set to launch later this year with a £350 price tag, promises to work on systems that millions of users already own (i.e. PlayStation 4s), undoubtedly looks like a more attractive and financially palatable proposition.
Even if the PlayStation VR might require users to upgrade to a potential PS4.5 in order to get the optimum experience, that is still a huge plus - because owners of standard PS4s can still use it. This means there ultimately will be more PlayStation VRs in homes.
There will always be a dedicated core of enthusiasts who will be willing to spend as much as they have to in order to get the best experience. These consumers are the bread-and-butter of the gaming industry with vendors and developers hoping that their enthusiasm will permeate into public consciousness.
While the Vive’s price rise might make sound financial sense for HTC, it will not go far to convince skeptical consumers to shell out; it might ultimately price HTC out of the UK market.