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Wearable Tech

HTC Vive gets a huge price cut, but is it enough?

It's $200, £160 or AU$400 cheaper now.

htc-vive-fullbody-04.jpg

The HTC Vive in action.

Sarah Tew/CNET

HTC knows you're still on the fence re: virtual reality, so today it's sweetening the deal. Starting Monday, an HTC Vive VR headset and controller kit will cost just $600, £600 or AU$1,000. 

Make no mistake, that's a huge price cut -- a full $200, £160 or AU$400 cheaper than you'd have to pay yesterday.

It's the first time the Taiwanese electronics company has permanantly dropped the price of its headset -- but it could also be seen as the latest sign consumers aren't yet sold on VR. For instance, Facebook also chopped the price of its rival Oculus Rift kit in half this year, after reportedly experiencing slow sales and quietly closing hundreds of pop-up demo stations at Best Buy stores. 

Most companies still aren't willing to share sales numbers for VR, and those that do come with caveats: Though Samsung has shipped over 5 million Gear VR headsets, it hasn't said how many of those were included free with a Samsung Galaxy phone. Google's Daydream has seen significant discounts, too. 

Only Sony has reported sales of over 1 million for a $100+ headset and even so, a Wall Street Journal report in April suggested Sony's PlayStation VR had seen slower-than-expected sales. (Sony didn't respond to a request for comment.)

Total VR headsets shipped, rough estimates

SuperData estimate IDC estimate
Oculus Rift 460,000 620,000
HTC Vive 703,000 725,000
PlayStation VR 1,187,000 1,400,000
Samsung Gear VR 8,374,000 5,500,000
Google Daydream 1,437,000 275,000

That hesitation to proclaim any kind of success might be why both VR companies and experts agree these price cuts aren't really about competing with each other -- they're about "penetrating the market, period," to quote SuperData analyst Stephanie Llamas. IDC analyst Ryan Reith says the price cut will likely keep the HTC Vive in the same position it's in today: beating Facebook, but not Sony. 

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The HTC Vive has been quietly improved since launch. The headset is 15 percent lighter, and the tether is lighter too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As for HTC, VR boss Dan O'Brien says that Facebook's price cut didn't factor into his decision at all. "We've been planning it for quite some time," he tells CNET. "It's essential that we reset the price for Vive going into the holiday season." According to O'Brien, the price cut is merely about growing the audience.

That's what Facebook told us, too, but it's true that HTC hasn't been at quite the same disadvantage. Right out of the starting gate in April 2016, the HTC Vive's motion controllers and ability to freely walk around a virtual room made it a reviewer's favorite, and it took eight months for Facebook's tech to (mostly) catch up.

But assuming you want an HTC Vive, is this price cut enough? "At $599 I think it's a much more accessible price, but still not quite to the point of a $299 or $399 mainstream price," says Moor Insights and Strategy analyst Anshel Sag. 

And that's without considering that -- while they're growing more affordable -- you'll still need a potent PC to use a Vive or Oculus Rift, the headsets still have cords to trip over and the search for a killer app (or three) continues on.

For the record, HTC's O'Brien wants you to know that his price cut has nothing to do with clearing shelves for an eventual Vive 2. "It's not about trying to sell through all the existing Vive Ones," he says. "We will take this version of Vive well into 2018."

It's cliche to ask readers a question like this, but I really want to know: What would get you to buy a VR headset?

Disclosure: Sean Hollister's wife works for Facebook as a business-to-business video producer.

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