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PSVR, one year later

After outselling the Vive and Oculus, where does Sony's headset stand?
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PlayStation VR hit the market with a bang in October 2016. It debuted at $400, without the PlayStation Camera or motion controllers. By February, Sony had sold 915,000 headsets -- far surpassing the combined number of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift units estimated to be out in the wild. Sony Interactive Entertainment head Andrew House went on a press tour to brag about the numbers, telling The New York Times PSVR sales were on track to outpace the company's internal goal of 1 million in the first six months. That would have been mid-April.

"The company will almost certainly surpass that forecast," The New York Times wrote.

April came and went. It wasn't until June that Sony announced it had sold more than 1 million PSVR headsets -- missing its internal estimate by about two months, in the opposite direction than House had initially touted.

One year after the debut of the PSVR, Sony hasn't publicly updated that sales figure. The VR market is chugging away, with three standalone headsets -- PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift -- dominating the conversation. Sony is assuredly ahead of this pack when it comes to hardware sales, even though PSVR came out roughly six months after the Rift and Vive.

Superdata Research estimates HTC sold 420,000 Vives and Oculus sold 243,000 Rift headsets in 2016. Meanwhile, it says Sony sold 745,000 PSVR units with just three months on store shelves. Note that, at launch, the Vive cost $800, the Rift was $600 and PSVR came in at $400. Today, the Vive is $600, the Rift is $400 and PSVR is still $400 -- but, now, that includes the $50 PlayStation Camera.

The sales discrepancy could come down to accessibility: Vive and Rift are PC headsets, each requiring a fairly hefty rig to run smoothly while PSVR is a plug-and-play device for anyone with a PlayStation 4. That's not a bad market to bet on, considering there are more than 60 million PS4s in living rooms across the globe.

Sony has a sizable lineup of games, with more than 100 VR experiences available and 60 more expected by early 2018. PSVR can't compare with the libraries for the Rift or Vive, however: On Steam, there are 2,133 titles that support Vive, Rift or both.

Still, Sony's software sales figures are impressive: As of September, the company has sold 9.97 million PSVR games. This includes titles like Rez, Farpoint and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. That last one is especially noteworthy for Sony -- it's a timed exclusive to PSVR and one of the first AAA games to be fully playable in this new medium. Plus, it's fantastic.

"Different users enjoy different experiences, and it's hard to pinpoint a particular app or experience that is most popular, but we've found that certain genres work very well with VR, and horror is one example," a Sony spokesperson told Engadget. "When Resident Evil 7: Biohazard launched earlier this year, the average amount of time PSVR users spent playing doubled."

PSVR players spend an average of 25 minutes with the headset on at a time -- "a lot of bite-sized experiences," Sony PR said -- but Resident Evil 7's special brand of bloody terror stretched that to nearly an hour. It was a smart way to kick off the PSVR's year.

Still, the VR market overall is moving at a more sluggish pace than many watchdogs expected. In March 2016, a Macquarie Securities analyst said he expected Sony to sell 8 million PSVR headsets in its first two years; another analyst estimated 4 million sales in its first year. Nokia recently shut down production of its OZO VR camera, citing the "slower-than-expected development of the VR market."

But virtual reality is far from dead. The second generation of VR devices is on its way: Oculus has two wireless devices in the works -- the $200 Go is scheduled to land in early 2018, and Project Santa Cruz, a truly impressive untethered headset, should ship to developers sometime that year. Earlier this month, Sony revealed an updated version of the PSVR with integrated headphones and HDR passthrough support; it's already on sale in Japan. Microsoft is also diving into the world of mixed and virtual reality in a big way, recently opening a collaborative studio space in San Francisco to help developers create these types of experiences.

Globally, Superdata Research expects the VR market to generate $2.2 billion this year, and that estimate jumps to $28.5 billion by 2020. Much of this growth is driven by mobile VR devices including Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR.

PSVR has proven there's healthy interest in accessible, standalone VR, at least when it comes to gaming -- what's left to see is how long this intrigue can last.

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