Ed. Note: While we’ve spent literally dozens of hours with PlayStation VR since receiving it late last week, our full review of Sony’s latest isn’t quite ready. With our reviewer at Oculus Connect this week (with a PlayStation VR hooked up at his hotel), we’re going to keep working on our final review, while sharing some pieces of it with you sooner.
Sony's mainstream push for the PlayStation VR starts with its pricing.
The PlayStation VR is available at two price points. The version most buyers will likely need is $499, and comes with the PlayStation VR headset and Processor Unit, the PlayStation 4's camera peripheral (which PSVR requires to function -- the headset isn't usable without it), and two PlayStation Move wand controllers. The $499 bundle also contains PlayStation VR Worlds, a surprisingly robust collection of games and experiences designed explicitly for PSVR. That shark demo and London Heist game Sony has shown off for so long? They're on the Worlds disc, and there's a lot more content there. The collection is $40 when bought separately.
Sony is also selling a version of the PSVR that contains only the headset and Processor Unit. At $399, this version excludes the camera and the Move controllers, which wouldn't be so bad. But the $399 version also doesn't include PlayStation VR Worlds. You're losing out on $200 worth of hardware and software to save $100.
If by some chance you already own a PlayStation 4 camera peripheral, as well as functioning PlayStation Move controllers, you could buy the $399 product. But it's hard to come away from the whole situation without feeling like Sony couldn't try harder to make the $399 option look like a bad deal from start to finish. At least both boxes include a physical disc containing demo software of various PSVR game releases. A physical demo disc! In 2016! It's a charming touch, and the demos include content from a good selection of games.
Bundle pricing notwithstanding, it's not exaggeration to say that price could be Sony's greatest weapon in the war for hearts and minds of consumers looking to enter the VR market. At the most basic point of comparison, the PSVR kit most people will buy is $499, which is $100 less than the Oculus Rift (which does not include the platform's Touch controllers, which are expected to retail for ~$200 for a pair), and $300 less than HTC and Valve's Vive platform (which does include a pair of motion controllers).
Apples-to-apples comparisons are a little difficult here, because there are philosophical differences between each platform. The Vive intends to be a solution for "room-scale" VR, whereas the Rift and PSVR are more stationary implementations. But not only is PSVR at least $100 less than its nearest competitor, it requires less of an investment elsewhere. Where the Rift and Vive require dedicated PCs that start in the neighborhood of around $900, on the conservative side, PSVR works with the existing PlayStation 4 consoles many people already own, and which currently retail at a starting price of $299.
This is somewhat complicated by Sony's introduction of the PlayStation 4 Pro later this year, which is being released in part as a means of running VR titles better than the base system can. But even that system will start at $399. The PlayStation VR is the least expensive VR platform by a good margin, while offering more control options at launch than the Rift.
This is still a high price tag on its face - the PSVR costs at least $100 more than the console it requires to play it. But if someone is even casually interested in VR, Sony's ask is a dramatically easier to swallow proposition. PSVR games will not look as good as similar titles can on the Rift or Vive, and devs for the system will have to sacrifice details and polygons to hit the minimum framerate necessary to keep players from becoming ill.
But the PSVR offers an enjoyable, effective VR solution at a much lower point of entry. And it does it with what might be the best-made, most comfortable hardware of the bunch.
Sony's price point for the PlayStation VR is one of the hardware's most effective selling points, especially due to the fact that the company is offering an entire platform for the price ... including motion controls. Don't underestimate the power of having the lowest price tag on the market.