The virtual reality war is set to be a battle of financial endurance

The eventual champion in the race for VR supremacy is likely to be the company that can last the longest without making a profit, according to a report published yesterday by a leading technology intelligence provider.

The report, which was published by Current Analysis in response to HTC’s reveal of its updated Vive VR headset and custom controllers,  acknowledged that content availability was likely to determine which headset – Oculus’ Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR or the Valve co-created Vive – would come out on top initially. However, it argued that it would take far longer for high-end VR headsets to become mainstream, meaning companies may need to run at a loss for some time.

“Whoever gets the largest commitment to the best content is likely to garner the lion’s share of early adopter purchases, but mainstream adoption and profitability could still be a long way off,” wrote Avi Greengart, research director of consumer platforms and devices at Current Analysis.

As a result, the companies with the deepest pockets are likely to have the biggest advantage, giving the Facebook-owned Oculus a serious edge.

“Oculus should stress to developers that no matter who gets the best start, Facebook gives it the resources to survive long enough to succeed,” added Greengart.

Image courtesy of Oculus.

Image courtesy of Oculus.

With pre-orders for the consumer edition of the Oculus Rift opening later today despite no word yet on price or precise release date, the company looks set to get an early march on HTC, which will not be releasing the Vive until April.

However, Vive’s newly announced features, which include a built-in camera, could persuade some to wait, particularly as those who’ve managed to lay their hands on the updated headset are making some very positive noises.

“We demoed the system at CES and were impressed. It still has screen-door effect, but images are much higher contrast than before,” said Greengart.

“The camera allows the software to alert you to real-world objects in the room, which makes gameplay safer. The system was significantly more comfortable to wear and was not disorienting – or nausea-inducing – to enter or exit.”

Image and featured image courtesy of HTC

Image and featured image courtesy of HTC.

If the long-term success of virtual reality headsets does prove to be down to money, neither HTC nor Facebook is in a particularly poor position. Both have considerable cash to spare, and could certainly afford to keep the products afloat for several years.

However, for Facebook the Oculus Rift is an opportunity to get ahead on an emerging form of communication, something that is likely to be immensely valuable for the long-term success of its social media network. As a result, it’s likely to want to make the Rift a success no matter what the cost.

By contrast, HTC has far less crossovers between the Vive and its other products, meaning if the battle proves to be a long, loss-making slog, it could well find its shareholders unwilling to keep funding the headset.

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