Sony Corp.’s PlayStation VR hit the stores on Thursday, capping 2016 as the year that many have called the dawn of virtual reality.
Rival manufacturers Facebook-owned Oculus and Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC launched high-end VR headsets this year, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, respectively, but experts say the debut of the Sony’s VR device has significance for the whole industry.
While consumer devices are naturally targeting gamers, the technology is likely to advance into other fields, including education, medicine and even virtual tourism.
Experts believe the PlayStation VR will help push the technology into these new areas thanks to its comparatively low cost and easy integration with a widely used gaming platform.
The use of VR will become common in the video game industry in the near future, but whether it goes beyond that “depends on what kind of nonvideo game content will be produced,” said Hirohiko Nakamura, a researcher at Mitsubishi Research Institute who follows the VR industry.
Nakamura said virtual tourism, which can offer exotic sights to people who cannot travel, is one example of new territory.
For now, though, avid gamers are excited to take part in a thrilling outer-space dog fights, as seem from the cockpit of a fighter craft, or engage in hand-to-hand combat through a protagonist’s eyes.
At a launch on Thursday at the Sony Store in Tokyo’s Ginza district, Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia, said he expects nonvideo game content for the PlayStation VR to increase.
“VR technology has immense potential. I think it’s our duty to nurture it,” he said.
Like the Oculus and HTC headsets, the PlayStation VR provides a high-resolution experience.
The difference is the price. Sony has the ability to mass-produce such gadgets.
The PlayStation VR is priced at ¥44,980 ($433), while the Oculus Rift costs around ¥90,000 and the HTC Vive sells for ¥99,800.
In addition, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive users need high-end computers, which can cost ¥150,000 or more. The PlayStation VR simply plugs into the widely available PlayStation 4 game console.
Low cost and high supply are factors that could see the PlayStation VR push virtual reality into mainstream use, Nakamura said.
“Quite a lot of PlayStation 4 consoles have already been sold,” said Nakamura. “Those users can experience high quality virtual reality by paying just a few tens of thousands of yen more, so I think the impact on consumers will be greater than Oculus and HTC.”
Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia’s president reiterated the sentiment.
“We think our advantage is that we’ve sold more than 40 million PlayStation 4 units,” Morita said, referring to global sales.
He called the device one of the greatest innovations in visual home entertainment since televisions were first made available to consumers.
“People can casually enjoy a VR experience by connecting the PlayStation VR to a PlayStation 4 at home.”
The VR headset has a monitor that gives the wearer an immersive, apparently 360-degree view of a digital world.
“It’s a dream come true for gamers,” Morita said.
A number of gamers who came to the Sony event to purchase the PlayStation VR expressed joy at its release.
“I’ve been looking forward to this. I can’t wait to play,” said a man in his 20s who asked not to be named.
The man added, he has tried the PlayStation VR and found it more compelling than he expected.
“I was doubtful about (VR gaming). But when I tried it, it was fun … so I decided to buy it,” he said.
He said one drawback is that relatively few titles are available so far.
Sony said there will be around 50 VR-ready titles available within the year.
As of Thursday, users can play titles such as “Batman: Arkham,” where the hero of Gotham City takes a spin in the hands of gamers. Another is “Summer Lesson,” in which players communicate with a virtual female character as a home tutor.
Major titles just around the corner include the latest offerings from the “Resident Evil” and “Final Fantasy” series.
Also among the first customers was a woman from Kanagawa Prefecture, who similarly declined to give her name. She said she has never tried the PlayStation VR, so she was excited at the prospect of enjoying a new gaming experience.
“I heard the (upcoming) ‘Final Fantasy’ title will be VR-ready. I am excited and wondering what it’s going to be like,” she said.