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Despite $100 price increase, Meta Quest 2 still offers historically cheap VR

Enlarge / You could be this gleeful, too, if you were in the Meta Quest 2!

If there’s one rule about computer and video game hardware, it’s that prices always come down after launch. The Meta Quest 2 became the exception that proves the rule this week, as Meta announced a coming $100 price increase for the popular standalone VR headset, to $400.

The increase, which Meta blamed on “rising costs,” suggests the company may be trying to rein in subsidized hardware pricing that has contributed to nearly $1 billion in monthly losses for its virtual reality division in the most recent quarter.

But when you look at the short history of consumer-grade home virtual reality headsets, the Meta Quest 2 is still a historically cheap VR entry point, even after the price increase. That’s especially true when you account for inflation and the extra hardware needed to power most other comparable headsets on the market.

$400 ain’t what it used to be

Enlarge / Fig. 1: $400 is still a middle-of-the-road nominal price for consumer-facing VR headsets.

To see how the Quest 2’s price shaped up, we gathered historical price data for a variety of popular headsets that offer full “six degrees of freedom” head and hand tracking (that eliminates cheaper options like the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Go). We also included the cost of any hand-tracking controllers and external tracking hardware (when applicable), so the launch-era Oculus Rift doesn’t enter the picture until the launch of the $200 Oculus Touch controllers months later.

Ignoring the extra cost of the hardware needed to power all these “tethered” VR headsets, the $400 Quest 2 is right in the middle of the nominal historical price range for consumer level VR. While headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launched in 2016 at prices around $800 (with controllers included), those prices quickly came down through 2017.

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By 2018, most headsets were settling in a nominal price range of $300 to $500, with high-end exceptions like the HTC Vive Pro and Valve Index serving the “money is no object” portion of the market. And while value-minded consumers could find deals like a $229 Samsung Odyssey Plus in early 2020, $300 to $400 has been the lowest reasonable asking price for most VR headsets in recent years.

Enlarge / Fig. 2: Adjusting for inflation, the Meta Quest 2 is still one of the cheapest VR options ever available.

When you adjust for inflation, though, the Quest 2’s $400 price ends up looking much better, shifting to near the bottom-end of historical headset pricing. That might be surprising, considering that we’ve only had five or six years for inflation to chip away at the relative value of earlier headsets. But given how inflation has approached double-digit annualized rates in recent months, $400 today looks a lot different than it did even in the late 2010s.

The Quest stands alone

The Meta Quest 2 looks like an even better deal when you consider that other “tethered” VR headsets require a powerful gaming PC (or a PlayStation 4) in order to work at all. That makes the “all-in” price to get into VR with the Meta Quest 2 significantly cheaper than most of the comparable competition.

The Quest 2 is also more full-featured than most competing standalone headsets, which only offer limited head and hand tracking. And while we didn’t include the enterprise-focused HTC Vive Focus standalone headset in our data, it has been significantly more expensive than the Quest line in all its incarnations.

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Enlarge / Fig. 3: With the cost of additional hardware included, “tethered” headsets start to look pretty unaffordable.

Accounting for the cost of a minimal, VR-ready PC over time is difficult, though. Oculus said that a low-end “Oculus Ready” PC would cost about $900 at launch in 2016, but that cost was down to about $500 by early 2017. In 2019, Oculus was listing entry-level “Oculus Ready” PCs at $829.

Enlarge / Fig. 4: The tethered headset premium is even higher once inflation comes into play.

Based on that data, and various “build-it-yourself” VR-ready PC guides, we chose $750 (in nominal dollars) as a basic “all-in” premium for the PC-based headsets in our sample. You can adjust that price up or down a few hundred dollars if you want, but it doesn’t change things all that much when comparing with the standalone Quest 2. And adding in inflation effects makes those “all-in” tethered prices look even worse by comparison.

In a way, this isn’t a really fair match up. Spending the “all-in” cost for tethered VR gets you a full-featured gaming PC (or PlayStation 4) on top of the headset, which is a significant additional asset. Players who already have a gaming PC (or PS4) anyway don’t have to take that full cost into account, either, and can often get better performance (and maybe better game selection) for their troubles.

Still, for completely new customers who just want to experienced full-featured VR, the Meta Quest 2 still provides by far the cheapest way to get into the market without buying a lot of extra hardware.

Come on down

Comparing different headsets over time is also tricky because that virtual reality hardware has gotten better over time, too. In an attempt to account for this, we looked at the total resolution (i.e., number of pixels) on various virtual reality headsets over the years to see what kind of quality users could expect to get for their (inflation-adjusted) dollar over time.

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Enlarge / Fig. 5: You’re getting more pixels for your VR dollar these days than you did in the past.

This is admittedly an imperfect measure of headset quality—more pixels of resolution does not necessarily mean a better experience. That’s especially true for standalone headsets, which run off of mobile-focused chips and not hefty PC/console GPUs. Still, total resolution provides an easy-to-quantify comparison point that can estimate a quality-per-price trend over time.

This metric highlights how quickly VR prices have come down in just a few years. In 2016, you could expect to pay $3 to $4 per 10,000 pixels of resolution on your VR headset. Today, the Quest 2 offers prices closer to $0.50 per 10,000 pixels, broadly in line with recent tethered competition like the Samsung Odyssey Plus and HP Reverb G2 (though some of the Quest 2 resolution is unusable).

Just for fun, we also used the Quest 2’s price-per-pixel benchmark to try to estimate the price of the upcoming PlayStation VR 2 headset, which will sport a 4000×2040 resolution across both eyes. Multiplying it out, that would put the expected asking price for Sony’s new headset at about $462, in July 2022 dollars. That would be a slight decrease from the $499 nominal price for the original PSVR in 2016 (with hand-tracking controllers included).

Despite the historical oddity of its coming price increase, the Meta Quest 2 still provides a historically cheap entry point into the VR ecosystem. And while it’s galling to have to pay more for the same hardware, reports suggesting that Meta’s upcoming Cambria headset could be much more expensive start to make a $400 Quest seem downright reasonable.

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