The virtual reality market is getting crowded before it's even really off the ground. Mere months after Samsung launched the Galaxy Note 4-powered Gear VR headset, HTC just announced its own VR hardware, the HTC Vive. And much like Samsung partnered with Oculus on its headset, HTC is also pairing with a powerful virtual reality pioneer: Valve. Yes, that Valve--the team behind Steam, Half-Life, and many, many more iconic PC gaming experiences.
HTC's Jeff Gattis didn't dive too deeply into technical details at the company's Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, but what he did reveal is awfully intriguing.
The HTC Vive packs 70 internal sensors to create what Gattis calls the "first room scale experience." Rather than being tethered to a spot and merely looking around, as you do with the Oculus Rift VR headset, the HTC Vive is designed to let you move around your environment in spaces up to 15 ft. by 15 ft. with the help of a pair of "SteamVR base stations." Gattis didn't explain how that will work, exactly. The implementation will be key, if HTC hopes to avoid claustrophobic limitations similar to what you find in augmented reality headsets.
The Vive will ship with a pair of wireless controllers to help you manipulate your virtual surroundings, with each tracked separately in space, the same as the headset itself. HTC didn't show a controller at its press event, but the image below is from HTC's new Vive website. Developing a truly VR-friendly controller is one of virtual reality's biggest hurdles, so much so that Oculus recently acquired the team behind the Xbox 360 controller to tackle the problem. It'll be interesting to see how HTC's custom controllers perform.
Beyond free-range gaming, the HTC Vive packs dual 1200x1080 screens--one for each eye--and a 90Hz refresh rate, which is higher than the Oculus Rift DK2's 75Hz. A high refresh rate is key to virtual reality, as smoother visuals reduce your chances of feeling nauseous. Gaming pioneer and Oculus CTO John Carmack has said that "95 to 99 percent" of people no longer notice refresh rates at 90Hz.
To that end, Gattis says you won't get sick using the HTC Vive. The headset is also "light" to allow you to wear it for long stints, and there's an audio jack on the side for headphones.
HTC's partnership with Valve is big news, but we don't know much about the nascent SteamVR platform yet. Valve will be detailing SteamVR at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, and yes, PCWorld will be there, reporting on every key detail.
HTC's vision for the Vive goes beyond mere gaming. Much like Samsung has done with the Gear VR, HTC's focusing on bringing movies and other virtual reality media experiences to the Vive. Gattis name-dropped HBO, Lionsgate Entertainment, and Google as three early partners.
How much will the HTC Vive cost? Will it require a HTC phone for use as a power source and display, a la the Gear VR's Galaxy Note dependence? Those key questions remain unanswered, alas. But we'll know soon: HTC says a Vive Developer Edition will launch this spring, and a full consumer release is slated before the end of the year.
Oculus might really want to consider pushing the final consumer edition of the Rift headset out the door sooner rather than later.