Investors, tech enthusiasts and gamers are all waiting for the big day when VR ‘finally kicks off’. No one really doubts the capability of the technology, but they do doubt if people will be able to afford it.

The truth is, virtual reality is more affordable today than it was 10 years ago. Room-scale VR headsets are decreasing in price so much so that manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand. Alternatively, there are already way cheaper mobile-based VR systems that can be afforded by the general public. Today, VR can range from $5 to $2000, depending on how high end you want it.

The lower the prices of quality virtual reality, the more the consumption rate and demand will grow. The virtual reality industry is heavily dependent on this demand, and the good news is – it’s already happening.

Virtual Reality Prices Have Dropped

It’s no secret that when the first virtual reality headsets released, their starting prices were way too high. And this did a number on a large amount of investment that was made into the industry. It’s not that people didn’t think the technology had great capability, it was that there wasn’t enough market research done into how to incorporate it into the everyday home.

The camera and tracking sensors in the headsets and controllers weren’t cheap to manufacture, and the hype around the product was too high. And now, in 2020, we’re all expecting a major delay and waiting for virtual reality ‘to kick-off’.

And this delay has pulled cotton over many eyes. A lot of people are starting to think of virtual reality as purely a gaming niche. Research shows that people are still interested in having VR in their homes, and manufacturers are making moves to make this a reality.

A big milestone is virtual reality affordability has been the release of the Oculus Go. Standalone headsets have drastically reduced in price since then, as the Oculus Go dropped to $199 USD, about $200 cheaper than one of the other popular headsets, the Oculus Rift.

Oculus Go

You don’t need a cellphone or a bulky computer set-up to operate the Oculus Go, and for just $199 USD, you can have a fully immersed VR experience. 

As for the Oculus Rift, it has needed to compete with the Go and has dropped its price to just $399. But you will still need a computer for this.

The biggest difference between standalone headsets like the Oculus Go and the Oculus Rift is that standalone headsets do not need a computer to operate. No more wires and no more bulky computers to plug them into. This is a huge revelation in the virtual reality industry, so to see that they cost almost $200 less than the Rift is a blessing.

The advantage of having The Rift as opposed to The Go is that The Rift has a higher refresh rate at 90Hz, which will make the experience look a lot smoother and reduce any risk of motion sickness.

Another advantage of The Rift is having full room-scale VR, where the headset is tracked if you move left, right, up-down, or side to side. While The Go only has tracking from side to side in a single position (otherwise known as ‘seated VR’).

Here’s a look at the current price of the most popular headsets on Steam.

Popularity on Steam June 2020Price June 2020
HTC Vive25.00%$795
Oculus Rift S21.54%$590
Oculus Rift15.93%$399
Valve Index HMD11.90%$2400
Windows Mixed Reality8.79%$530
Oculus Quest7.46%$530
HTC Vive Pro3.12%$720
HTC Vive Cosmos1.35%$899
Sony PlayStation VR0.49%$240

The 100% of VR users on Steam only make up 1,9% of all users on Steam. A disappointing figure, if you ask me. But it’s important to note that not all sales go to gaming, despite the myth that virtual reality is only a gaming niche. Other data suggests differently, like The International Data Commission, who have made predictions that virtual reality sales will grow to 57% and reach 100 million units by 2021.

Another more recent prediction was made by the IDE that virtual reality sales will grow 30% during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people will eb stuck in their homes and more likely to buy virtual reality for entertainment.

Cheaper Virtual Reality Options

There has been a lot of talk, particularly from room-scale headset manufacturers, about the market falling short in sales. There are plenty of reasons for this, among them being the initially inflated prices. But the market is making a gradual turn for the better – and 2020 should see an exponential increase in sales soon enough.

Cellphone Headsets

As an alternative to buying large and expensive standalone headsets, companies started developing way cheaper mobile VR applications. Now you ditch the expensive headset, any controllers, and the expensive desktop requirements – all you need is your cellphone.

Cellphone based virtual reality is far less immersive than the standalone or full room-scale virtual reality options, but there are a dozen budget models out there with mixed options of quality and price that can help get the idea of virtual reality across.

In fact, sometimes these cheaper and less interactable versions of virtual reality are preferred. It’s a lot to put on a full headset and hand someone controllers if they’ve never done it before, and it can be a sure recipe for disaster in a presentation. 

Sometimes giving your client less interaction (and less responsibility) the less stressed out they might be, and the more successful your presentation could be.

Plus, they are lightweight and more mobile – as an alternative to dragging your fancy PC around everywhere alongside your headset.

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard is one of these options, starting at only $5. Google Cardboard’s success can mostly be attributed to its extremely low price and its mobility. A lot of users, including myself, have used this to showcase 360 videos and photos during presentations. It’s pretty handy but can become really flimsy without any quality head straps.

The quality is going to be really dependant on the phone its operating on, while the comfort of the device is not really it’s selling point. Without any straps, you’re kind of expected to hold it to your face. Which makes it suitable for quick short viewings, and not necessarily long ones.

Samsung Gear VR

Samsung Gear VR is another option that leans toward 100$. The Samsung Gear is slightly more expensive because it’s not just a box with a placeholder for your phone. It showcases more design features than Google Cardboard when it comes to padding and head straps.

The downside to a Samsung Gear is that its only for Samsung and is not compatible with Apple devices.

360 Videos 

There is a big difference between 360 videos and room-scale virtual reality. 360 videos are pre-animated and pre-rendered file formats that are displayed on phones or on Facebook. Room-scale virtual reality is an environment that’s rendered in real time. 

Roomscale virtual reality is a lot more immersive and is rendered in real time – and this is eventually the type of technology that we want to take to the everyday home. We want people to escape to different worlds, not just to view pre-recorded animations. 

That level of escapism and interaction is what makes virtual reality so intriguing – and we hope that manufacturers continue to turn the market in a positive direction to make this a reality.

Leah van der Walt

Leah van der Walt

Leah is a 3D Artist & VR / AR Developer with 8 years of experience. Based in South Africa, she is a passionate teacher and loves to listen to drum and bass in her spare time.

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