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MWC 2016 Day 4: Cutting Edge VR Costs Get Real as Handset Based Viewers Commoditize

by Steven Waltzer | Feb 25, 2016

Strategy Analytics’ device analysts are on the show floor at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016, in Barcelona, Spain. Each day we are blogging the most important device news and announcements, today focusing on Virtual Reality (VR).

While the "big" announcements came on the first day of the show, from Samsung and LG, plenty more came on day 2 and day 3

Virtual Reality remains a prevailing theme in the mobile industry as device vendors search for new growth engines to combat maturing smartphone penetration.  Many consumers are now very eager to enter the world of immersive 360-degree viewing and gaming, with 2016 being a pivotal year for virtual reality due to major product launches from HTC, Oculus, Sony, and others. There were several substantial announcements from the MWC 2016 show floor in Barcelona this week around VR, including HTC Vive launch price/pre-orders starting, co-bundling of a refreshed Samsung Gear VR with the Galaxy S7/S7 edge, 360 degree cameras from LG and Samsung, and the new LG 360 VR.

Firstly, HTC has announced that pre-orders are opening up for the Vive, and also announced pricing at a whopping 799 USD retail.  While it does include the hand controllers and room tracking modules, this price point will still be too hard to digest for the vast majority of consumers, especially when considering the 1,500+ USD high-end gaming computer needed to run it.  For that reason handset based VR will remain the dominant segment over PC/Console based VR in 2016, capturing 8 in 10 HMD units sold.  Having said that, for the niche hardcore gamer with money to spend, I believe the quality of experience and level of immersion is indeed best in class

HTC Vive:

HTC Vive

This makes Sony the final 2016 major VR entrant yet to announce pricing (likely announcing in March), and with the lower barrier to entry of connecting via already existing, and relatively less expensive, PS4 gaming consoles, it remains to be seen how PC/console based VR market share will play out by the end of 2016.

Separately, LG announced the LG 360 VR, a handset-based head mounted display (HMD) which uniquely connects via USB Type-C, rather than by affixing the smartphone to the head mounted unit itself. This allows for the potential to add compatibility with a wider array of smartphones versus Samsung’s Gear VR, especially if LG allows it to work with other Android devices beyond its own, opening up to a much larger target market. Its lightweight design, enabled by the wired connection, also adds portability standing at 1/3rd the size/weight of the Gear VR.  That should be a win for the LG users, but we found the image quality of the IPS LCD display is not competitive with the latest displays of the Galaxy devices used in the Gear VR.  We also found the HMD  does not seal well against the face, leaking light significantly, and the playback lags a bit, having trouble keeping up with quicker head movements accurately. These shortcomings detract from an immersive experience
In theory, the LG 360 VR's portability is attractive given its ability to leverage a host phone without the bulk dimensions of actually housing it. However LG needs to revisit the quality of experience if they are to make inroads into the handset-based HMD space.

LG 360 VR:

LG 360 VR

Another major VR announcement from MWC 2016 came from Samsung, who will be giving away a free Gear VR (normally 99 USD retail) with the purchase of a Galaxy S7/S7 edge smartphone for a limited time. TCL-Alcatel will also be innovatively packaging their new Idol 4S smartphone in a box that converts into a Google Cardboard style VR viewer. These types of programs should significantly pump up the shipments and installed base of VR HMDs and will thus drive an increased market awareness/education around VR, bringing demand for VR content/360 degree videoto an all-time high. On a related note, 360 degree cameras were also a hot topic at MWC 2016, with models announced by LG and Samsung.

360 degree cameras: LG and Samsung:

LG 360 CameraSamsung Gear 360 Camera

Remember to log in to our MWC 2016 Wrap Up Webinar, as well as for regular updates about all things mobile device-related on all of our Devices blogs.

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