VR Market Leaders Being Chased by Upstarts as Competition Evolves

The leadership of Oculus and Samsung in the virtual reality market is being challenged by smaller VR companies, according to a report by Lux Research.

virtual reality

The virtual reality marketplace, recently dominated by Samsung and Oculus, will soon see both companies falling behind as newer, smaller companies gain momentum and overtake the current market leaders, according to a recent report by Lux Research.

The study, which looked at 22 VR devices with built-in displays among the total of 87 models reviewed, found that the Oculus Rift VR headset ranks at the top of the list, but that "emerging devices such as Sulon Q and Star VR were on the verge of gaining the lead."

Among 65 smartphone-based VR headsets reviewed in the story, the Samsung Gear device remains in the lead, "but was overshadowed in ease of use by Pinch VR and in display by Freefly VR," the report states.

Lux Research analyst Tony Sun, who is the lead author of the report, "Virtual Reality Heats-up: Why Oculus Rift and Samsung VR's Days on Top Are Numbered," told eWEEK that what surprised him most about the data is that some of the smartphone-based VR viewers are able to beat the performance of some dedicated VR headsets due to the impressive computational powers of smartphones.

"Expect the VR space to shake out soon," said Sun in a statement. "Next-gen smartphone-based VR headsets such as Google's Daydream will focus on better ergonomic design while innovative new headsets will tap augmented reality" and be untethered to other devices.

The Lux report, which evaluated the 87 headset models across 40 use cases, found that the Oculus VR headset "remains the best device for full immersion needs," with the HTC Vive headset following closely. The Ant VR is the best-priced unit, according to the report, but all three are limited because they are wired devices. Upcoming models such as Sulon Q and StarVR offer a wider field of vision, the report states.

For gaming, as well as for sports training and retail, the Freefly VR device now leads the competition, especially due to its low $80 price and 120-degree field of view, according to the research.

For demonstrations and exhibitions, Samsung's $99 Gear VR remains the best option, but it will "soon face threats from Google's Daydream, which is expected to bring major improvements in ergonomics, and other wireless devices," according to Lux.

Also challenging VR vendors is that the VR ecosystem of content, applications and more is not yet fully developed, which makes it harder to inspire consumers to buy and use the devices, said Sun.

"The ecosystem needs to be built gradually, and there is not enough of it right now," he said. "It has to be a combination of the content and the hardware features."

Hardware system refinement is still needed, he said, with preferences for location-based VR that uses embedded sensors that can accurately track a user's movements, said Sun. Oculus uses such systems, which he called a "very important feature," while some other vendors use room-based location-tracking sensors, which aren't as efficient.

"There is still a very big gap between what is available and what consumers expect," said Sun. In addition, some vendors are still dealing with motion sickness issues with the devices that need to be resolved if consumers are to jump into VR, he said. "Hardware performance needs improvements, and software developers need to find new ways to tell their stories using VR."

For the bigger players like Samsung and Oculus, the uncertainty of the market is causing them difficulties because it is riskier for them to invest in and develop their products due to the need for bigger results when it comes to sales and revenue, said Sun. "They are more cautious," he said.

Both Samsung and Oculus are making investments in VR, especially Samsung, in such areas as VR cameras and content studios, and that will help them, said Sun. "They're trying to build out the ecosystems. This is one way they can still keep the lead."

A wide range of virtual reality products are being developed and marketed as the technology continues to mature. In June, HTC moved its popular Vive VR product line into its own company-owned subsidiary as the main company continues to react to its tough financial performance in the first quarter of the year. The new subsidiary aims to support and promote the company's VR ecosystem, while isolating it from the parent company's financial woes.

A report issued by research firm TrendForce concludes that Sony's upcoming PlayStation VR headset, which won't be released until October, is already priming the global virtual reality marketplace, according to an earlier eWEEK story.