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Boom in virtual reality devices still more virtual than reality

Posted December 2, 2016

Virtual reality is supposed to be the next big thing.

But after a lot of pre-holiday season buzz, what some thought would be the hot item for the season seems to be falling flat.

Research firm Superdata has revised its sales forecast for PlayStation VR and other head-mounted devices, deeming virtual reality to be the "biggest loser" this holiday season.

Experts expect PlayStation to sell about 750,000 of its VR units over the holidays, down from a pre-Thanksgiving prediction of more than 2.5 million.

There are likely several reasons for the sluggish sales, but put simply, there is still a long way to go before virtual reality is mainstream.

"Virtual reality goggles, right now, are not quite mainstream enough for most consumers, but something that gamers would like to have," Adobe data analyst Tamara Gaffney said.

PlayStation VR is currently the only virtual reality offering that's part of a gaming console, but it's expensive.

"It's an all-in-one package around $500," Gaffney said.

Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets are also expensive, between $600 and $800. They also require a gaming computer.

"The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift – both of those are not selling at the levels of their social buzz," Gaffney said.

There are cheaper options, but they often come with limitations.

Google Cardboard is simple to make, but it's pretty rudimentary in terms of what it offers virtual reality fans.

Other headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream require specialized phones to work properly.

"A lot of companies are working on standalone virtual reality headsets. It's just right now is the first time we're really seeing consumer devices," Ashley Carmen, a writer for The Verge, said. "Obviously, they need something hefty to tether to."

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