When we heard Valve was planning to make some virtual-reality-related announcements around this week's Game Developer's Conference, I didn't expect to see the first part of the news coming out of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but that's what's happened. The folks at HTC have announced a VR headset called the Vive that will be "powered by Steam VR."
The final, retail version of the Vive is expected to be available this coming holiday season, and HTC is making some big claims about how the Vive compares with competing efforts:
Mootee claims the technology inside Vive is "at least nine months to a year ahead of Oculus," the virtual reality company that Facebook paid $2 billion to acquire last year, and the outfit powering the Gear VR goggles that HTC's rival Samsung sells.
That's quite the statement, but then Valve has evidently been doing work in the VR field for a number of years. I think we'll find out more about Valve's part of the picture at GDC in a couple of days.
The Vive is intended to connect to a PC running Windows, and its basic specs sound promising. The device incorporates dual displays at 1200x1080 resolution with refresh rates of 90Hz. That matches the latest Oculus dev kit on update frequency and offers a higher total pixel count, I believe. According to BGR, the device also contains a "gyrosensor, accelerometer, and laser position sensor." The scattered reflectors or LEDs across the front of the Vive look very similar to the LEDs on the Oculus prototypes since Crystal Cove.
Here's a hype video HTC released, which features a pensive Anakin peering out of a window. I think.
The Vive differs from other VR headsets in a couple of interesting ways. Apparently, Valve and HTC intend to make the VR experience a full-room thing, where the user can walk around
and bang into desks and stuff. The solution will include dual handheld controllers whose position is tracked, presumably by a base station. Oculus has said it's targeting "a seated experience."
Also, HTC and Valve are looking for a larger target market beyond gaming, and they've already lined up some big names to help out. From the press release:
HTC and Valve are committed to realizing a broader vision for VR and see a real opportunity in transforming everyday experiences. Travel, attending a game, meeting friends or even shopping will never be the same again, and the companies are working with leading content creators, including Google, HBO, Lionsgate and the National Palace Museum in Taiwan in order to make that vision a reality.
This part of the picture seems a little fuzzy to me. I completely get how VR headsets make sense for 3D gaming, but they're really just a more immersive version of what happens on a flat display. The talk about taking VR into entertainment, especially non-interactive experiences, seems a little like the hype around 3D TVs for the home. It doesn't help that "virtual reality" is perhaps the biggest hyperbolic tech term since "artificial intelligence." What we're talking about is head-mounted displays with position tracking and headphones, not some miraculous full-body experience with perfect fidelity for all of your senses.
Marketers gotta market, I guess. Let's just hope the gaming piece of this thing works well.