From Starved to Spoiled: Oculus, Valve and Sony Prepare for War in 2016

A quiet 6th May morning, mere weeks away from E3 2015, might seem like a strange time to reveal a release window for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, and yet here we are. After two and a half years of questions, theories and speculation, we now know that Oculus VR will launch the head-mounted display (HMD) that started the technology’s revival in the first three months of 2016. The news has been made in a somewhat quiet fashion; no on-stage reveal or mammoth blog post here; just a short, sharp update to let everyone know.

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The announcement comes as more of a relief than anything; Oculus VR has been facing increased pressure from the VR industry since early March 2015, when Valve revealed that it was turning from ally to rival with its own HMD, the HTC Vive, and the SteamVR concept. There are few companies that could cause such a stir within an entire industry, but Valve did just that with its promise of a 2015 consumer release which, we now know, will beat the Oculus Rift to market. Even Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE) Project Morpheus was given a Q1/Q2 2016 release date, leading many to question if Oculus VR would even beat the console-based HMD.

But we now know that it (likely) will. In fact, the VR industry is about to go from years of waiting into a very intense period of releases. Valve is going to fire first and could well dictate just how successful the Oculus Rift’s launch will be with the right pricing and line-up. In terms of technology, it remains to be seen if Oculus VR will be able to turn its Crescent Bay prototype into something similar to(or better than) the HTC Vive, which came out of the 2015 Game Developers Conference (GDC) with high praise, even being labelled by some as the superior VR experience. Vive offers Room-Scale tracking, allowing players to walk within an area of up to 15 feet by 15 feet and have those movements replicated in-game. Will Oculus VR have an answer to this impressive upgrade in time for consumer launch?

Oculus VR of course has a few aces up its sleeve, the most crucial of which being the backing of one of the planet’s biggest social networks, Facebook. Just about everyone has a Facebook account, which means that Facebook has access to just about everyone to let them know that this landmark technology is now available. Add to that the content that Oculus VR will be able to make exclusive thanks to its internal studios and publishing arm and no one should be considering the Oculus Rift to be out of the race because of a release gap.

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In terms of Project Morpheus, SCE could well play the launch of both Vive and the Oculus Rift to its advantage. For the best experiences, both HMDs require high-powered PCs to run, something that many mainstream consumers don’t own. But after six months of watching enthusiasts enjoy VR from the outside looking-in, here comes a HMD that’s compatible with a device that is already in over 20 million consumer’s homes, the PlayStation 4. It could be Project Morpheus’ secret weapon; an easy access point to a technology that will have so far only appeared on a platform with an undeniable barrier or entry and on mobile, which is still some ways from reach the quality of what’s possible on PlayStation 4.

A six – nine month period in which three major HMDs will be released can only mean war. We could well be about to enter what very closely resembles the rivalry between SCE and Microsoft for PlayStation and Xbox, or Apple and Samsung with the iPhone and Galaxy brands. VR companies have been friendly up until this point but, at the end of the day, Oculus VR wants you to buy the Rift over the Vive and SCE wants you to save your cash for Morpheus. Neither will be able to get what they want without putting up a fight. The storm has been brewing throughout 2015 and it’s about to come to ahead.

VR fans have gone from starved to spoiled; pre-GDC there was a thick sense of impatience in the air, with people growing tired of waiting for information. There’s now around six months until the first consumer VR HMD launches, with two more expected soon after and plenty still to be revealed on each. The floodgates have opened. Consumer VR is painfully close. It’s actually happening.

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