The recent spate of launches from manufacturers of virtual reality headsets and companies producing content to watch on them suggests VR is going mainstream but the reality is that just 3 per cent of Britons will get a headset this year, according to findings from research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics.
Around two million Britons will own one by the end of 2016. With prices ranging from under £10 for a Google Cardboard headset to £770 for an HTC Vive, VR headsets will generate £62 million worth of sales in Britain this year.
The lower-cost headsets, which are basically ‘shells’ into which people slide their smartphone – such as Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear – will account for the vast majority (92 per cent) of units sold. Those which attach to games consoles, such as the PlayStation VR launching on Friday and costing £350, will account for 7 per cent. Just 1 per cent of sales will go on the likes of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets that plug into PCs.
“Despite the rush of companies eager to jump in, the reality is that VR take-up among the British public will be a slow burn and dominated by low-cost headsets,” said David MacQueen from Strategy Analytics’ global wireless practice. “The VR headset market will be much like the car market – most owning the likes of Vauxhalls and Fords, a handful owning Porsches and the odd few splashing out on a Ferrari.”
MacQueen emphasises the big gulf between price and quality: “The experience of a Google Cardboard versus an HTC Vive is as different as listening to a car stereo versus being in the front row of a concert.”
The ‘slow burn’ is shown that by the end of next year, 10 per cent of British adults are estimated to own a VR headset, rising to nearly one in five in 2018 and over one in four (27 per cent) in 2019. “To put its popularity in context, it will take at least five years for VR headsets to reach the level of household penetration that say Sky TV has now,” notes MacQueen.
However, it’s estimated that by 2020 one in three British adults will own some form of VR headset. “Despite the slow start, there’s a real opportunity in the longer term,” he says. “VR can bring new experiences to people beyond the obvious next step in video games. There’s also watching sport right in amongst the action, enhanced communications and social networking, plus more serious uses such as better educational materials for kids or use in architecture and design.”