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PlayStation VR Will Be the Cheapest VR Headset at $400

A new kind of console war is about to break out this year, with the big three virtual reality headsets — PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift — all scheduled for release sometime this year. With the Oculus Rift shipping out on March 28 and the Vive just a week later on April 5, the only question remaining was when we would see Sony’s entry. We knew it’d be later in the year, and while we still don’t have a set date, Sony did provide an estimate along with a final price and spec sheet at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week.

PlayStation VR will retail for $400, which is $100 more than the PlayStation 4 itself costs. $400 isn’t the total cost, though — you’ll need the PlayStation 4 console, a PlayStation Camera and PlayStation Move Controllers or the DualShock 4 controller in order to use the PlayStation VR, which cost $300, $60, $50, and between $50 and $60, respectively (the Move controllers won’t necessarily be required, but could be needed depending on the game). Sony isn’t shipping any of those with the PlayStation VR, which makes sense to some extent — besides the obvious need for the console, it seems silly to make people who have already purchased a PlayStation Camera plunk down money for another as part of a bundle when they don’t need it. For those who don’t already have one, Sony is planning on selling a bundle including everything needed in North America, although price is yet to be determined.

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PlayStation VR still looks like the Project Morpheus prototype that was introduced years ago — a sleek black and white wired headset with a prominent headrest that keeps the unit stable while you’re wearing it. It works by connecting the headset and an included external processing unit (roughly the size of a Wii, according to Sony) to a PlayStation 4, which will power the VR games. Either Move controllers or the regular DualShock 4 controller are used in-game, although head tracking allows for some use of eye movements and head turning as controls, as well.

PlayStation VR will use one 5.7″ 1920 x 1080 display in the headset, which comes out to 960 x 1080 resolution per eye. It’ll have a refresh rate of 120 Hz and latency of less than 18 ms — these two stats are much more important in VR than in regular displays, because VR relies so much on immersion. If controls are slow to respond or the display can’t keep up with the action, not only can the immersion be broken, but some nasty motion sickness can arise, as well.

At $400, PlayStation VR is cheaper than the $600 Oculus Rift and $800 HTC Vive (although the latter are almost the same in price, as the Vive includes its own touch controls, while Oculus will sell theirs separately). It gets even cheaper when you take into account the price of the PlayStation 4 — at $300, it’s much cheaper than the kind of PC needed to run the Oculus Rift or the Vive, which will easily cost upwards of $1,000.

But, the PC/console divide holds true here for more than price. The PlayStation 4 is much less powerful than the gaming PCs needed to run Oculus and Vive, and probably won’t have graphics or performance as crisp and robust as those PC-based headsets.

The market still looks good for Sony. VR is shaping up to be a market similar to smartwatches, at least from the outset — purchases will be guided chiefly by which platform gamers have already adopted. The PlayStation 4 has been an immensely successful console, giving Sony a huge install base of customers for whom the easiest VR choice is their PlayStation VR.

In terms of performance, PlayStation VR is, strictly speaking, the weakest of the big three VR headsets. But, an affordable price and a ready-made target market, along with the promise of 50 games during the holiday launch season, suggest that it has the best chance to be the most commercially successful out of the gate. Then again, they are giving Oculus and HTC a huge head start — PlayStation VR won’t be available until October.