Just the other day we heard that Valve is getting ready to put out its SteamVR headset. Well now we know that HTC is making it, it's called the HTC Vive and it'll be out — for real — by the end of the year. Game on, Oculus.
Unlike other virtual reality headsets, which have surfaced as early prototypes with a developer version off on the horizon, the HTC Vive is virtually done. Yes, there is still a developer kit on the way (this spring) but HTC and Valve are swearing up and down that the real one will come out before year's end.
The headset itself sports some beefy specs, including a pair of 1200 x 1080 displays that can handle video at a whopping 90 frames per second. For context, the Oculus Rift DK2 has a single 1080p panel that can refresh fast enough to support 75 FPS, and while Gear VR has a 2560 x 1440 display, it can only go as fast as 60 FPS. So this is a BIG step up compared to anything else out there, although who knows what the Oculus Rift consumer version will look like whenever it finally shows up.
The HTC Vive comes with a motion-tracking base station that can track your movement in a room as large as 15-feet by 15-feet (4.5 metres by 4.5 metres). Previous versions of Valve's mysterious headset used face-mounted cameras to track location against QR codes pasted all along the walls.
An early SteamVR test room
It sounds like this base station might be a more elegant version of that; the headset definitely appears to have cameras on it. Oculus, on the other hand, works the opposite way: the motion tracking cameras keep track of the headset by looking at markers on it.
What's more, Valve and HTC seem to have figured out the controller problem: The Vive will come with a pair of wireless "VR controllers," that HTC claims are simple and intuitive, without much more in the way of details. From the way HTC describes them, they might be gloves? It's hard to tell.
The end result, though, is that the HTC Vive and SteamVR are intended to be a far more holodeck-y experience than the Rift, which Oculus has stressed on multiple occasions is a sit-down device, at least in the first generation. HTC and Valve want you to get up and walk around; it's intended to be part of the experience. Though from what we've seen it looks like, the headset itself isn't wireless, which is a bit of a constraint.
We haven't tried it out yet, but HTC and Valve are giving limited demos at Mobile World Congress, as well as bringing some of the devices to next week's Game Developer Conference. We'll update you with impressions as soon as we get to try it out.
Until then, it looks like the virtual reality war is really heating up. Oculus had plenty of time out ahead with the Rift, and though headsets like Sony's Morpheus and Microsoft's Hololens have shown up as prototypes, no one has actually put one of these things out. It looks like Valve and HTC are going to do just that, and they'll drag everyone else along with them. The party's really getting started now.