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E3 2016 Plugs Into VR, 4K Gaming

To perhaps no one’s surprise, this year’s E3 gaming show, held last week in Los Angeles, was hyper-focused on all things virtual reality, as the gaming industry continues to pave the way to this nascent category. According to a spring survey from Parks Associates, 5 percent of broadband-equipped households plan to purchase a VR headset this year, while research firm Greenlight VR expects nearly 37 million headsets to be in U.S. homes in just four short years.

This market, noted Greenlight VR CEO Clifton Dawson, “will be heavily driven by gaming in the near-term.”

Indeed, gaming is where those VR headset dollars are going. While unit shipments of PC-and game-console-tethered VR headsets will account for only 13 percent of unit shipments in 2016 — with cellphone-based headsets accounting for the remaining 87 percent — the high-priced PC and console headsets will capture a whopping 77 percent of dollar value.

Here are the top highlights from this year’s show, VR-related and otherwise.

Microsoft gave its Xbox line a refresh, launching a lower-priced smaller console (known as the Xbox One S) and previewing a super-high-end console currently code-named Project Scorpio. The latter console, slated for holiday 2017 (yes, 2017), will feature 6 teraflops of GPU and be able to deliver native 4K gaming and virtual-reality gaming. The company ambitiously called Project Scorpio “the most powerful console ever created,” but further details were not provided.

The Xbox One S, meanwhile, is 40 percent smaller than the original Xbox One, Microsoft said, can be placed horizontally or vertically with an optional $19.99 stand. Pricing starts at $299 for a 500GB version. The 1TB version will be $349, and a limited-edition 2TB version will be $399. Availability is slated for August. In additional to being able to watch and stream video 4K Ultra HD, the console also offers high dynamic range (HDR) support.

Microsoft also redesigned the Xbox wireless controller, giving it a textured grip, adding Bluetooth connectivity and improving the signal performance. It has “up to twice the wireless range when used with Xbox One S,” said the company. One controller is included with the Xbox One S; additional controllers can be purchased for $59.99.

Sony announced its PlayStation VR gaming headset will become available Oct. 13 for $399, along with VR-optimized titles priced from $9.99 to $59.99. The headset and companion processor, which connects to a PlayStation4, also lets users view standard PS4 games and videos on a virtual screen up to an equivalent of 225 inches at a distance of about 8 feet. Users will also be able to watch 360-degree photos and videos captured by omnidirectional cameras. The headset has a 5.7-inch OLED display, 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, 100-degree field of view, six-axis motion sensing and HDMI.

Sony also highlighted a $499 bundle with the headset, a VR title called “PlayStation VR Worlds,” a $59 PlayStation camera needed to use the headset, and a pair of PlayStation Move handheld controllers needed for use with some VR titles.

Turtle Beach, a leader in gaming headsets, unveiled the first headphones designed specifically for VR gaming. The rechargeable 350VR headphones have a design build that takes VR headbands and cables into account. Features for the over-ear rechargeable headset include a 30-hour battery life, 50mm drivers, variable bass boost, memory foam ear cushions, removable mic, onboard audio controls and detachable cables. It will launch this fall for a $79.95 suggested retail.

— Additional reporting by Joseph Palenchar