As 2016 comes to a close, one big question on the minds of technologists is whether virtual reality (VR) will remain a niche product in the coming year, or explode into the mainstream.
Some new shipment numbers from Canalys may help put the VR market into perspective. For starters, the firm predicts that the market really will go mainstream over the next few years, expanding shipments from 2 million in 2016 to 20 million by 2020. (These projections exclude “simple viewers” that rely on a smartphone for a screen, such as the Google Cardboard and Daydream View.)
This year, Sony’s PlayStation VR managed to out-ship both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift—and not by narrow margins, either. Canalys estimates that PlayStation VR shipped more than 800,000 units so far in 2016, compared to 500,000 for the Vive and 400,000 for the Oculus Rift.
For those who follow the VR market, those numbers might come as something of a surprise. After all, the Oculus Rift seems to have attracted a lion’s share of the publicity surrounding VR over the past twelve months. Valve, which co-developed the Vive with HTC, has effectively leveraged its massive Steam network to make hardcore gamers—one of the key audiences for VR—aware of the Vive’s existence.
But Sony’s PlayStation VR has an advantage that the other two platforms do not: a huge install base, thanks to the PlayStation game console. A gamer might not be willing (or able) to shell out the cash for a new, high-end PC capable of running either the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but chances are good they have a PlayStation 4 in their living room.
For developers and those interested in breaking into virtual reality, especially gaming, the estimates from Canalys suggest the PlayStation VR is a platform worthy of exploration and study. Fortunately, Sony’s developer portal and guidelines are pretty clear. There’s also a nifty PlayStation VR Wiki that breaks down the respective specs and development kits for the various VR platforms, including Oculus; and a community PSVR subreddit that you can use to find others interested in building games.