The Valve VR Headset is coming. It’s called the Vive and is produced in partnership with HTC. In this article, I cover what we know so far.
Valve is a big player in computer games and hardware. They have been working on VR behind the scenes for several years. And they have been known to have the best VR prototype system available; known as the Valve Room.
But it’s clear now that Valve has continued working hard on VR behind the scenes.
Partnership with HTC
HTC, based in Taiwan, is a large manufacturer of smartphones and other electronics. This is just the sort of company that can mass produce the hardware required for a consumer VR release.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Because this is very much like the relationship between Oculus and Samsung. Oculus VR leads the design and software, and Samsung handles the very difficult job of hardware and distribution.
You can find a lot of great info about the new VR Headset at HTCVR.com.
What We Know
There is a lot of official information available now. So we have a good idea of the specs.
The resolution between both eyes is 2400 x 1080 pixels. This is more than the DK2, but somewhat less than the Gear VR and probably Oculus CV1. Reddit user subbedsubs shared this useful graphic for comparing the various VR headset resolutions.
The screen refresh rate will be a respectable 90 frames per second. A high refresh rate is necessary for a smooth VR experience. This is the expected rate of the Oculus CV1. The Gear VR rate is 60 fps.
But the drawback of high framerates is more strain on the computer rendering the graphics. To give you an idea of what this means. Many high-end console games nowadays, such as the new Elder Scrolls, aim for only 30fps. This framerate may be tolerable on a tv screen, but definitely not for VR. The human eye can still discriminate fps differences to over 120+.
Inside Out Positional tracking
Rotational tracking has become almost a trivial problem to solve. Modern sensors make it easy.
However, positional tracking, is still a significant problem to be solved for VR. Gear VR has no positional tracking. DK1 also had no positional tracking. DK2 does have positional tracking, but it uses an awkward setup involving an external camera which I have found to be a rather lackluster experience.
The Valve solution involves a pair of base stations and internal cameras on the headset. The cameras can see the trackers and thus give you positional tracking.
Stand Up Experience
A feature I’m excited about is their emphasis that this is a stand up experience. They claim you can get up and walk around a virtual world in a space up to 15 feet by 15 feet. Now we’re sounding closer to the ideal of a holodeck!
This is especially interesting because Oculus has been emphasizing that they are intending to create a seated experience. This is largely to encourage developers to make experiences easy to use for the masses who will likely want to be sitting for much of their VR time. But it is also seemingly a matter of pure legal liability protection: Oculus is afraid that if they strap blindfolds to millions of heads and have them walking around, some are bound to get hurt and use the abusive US legal system against Oculus.
On the other hand, Oculus has recently been demoing its latest prototype with no chair in sight. They take people in to a room for a standing and walking around experience.
Obviously to me, a VR system allowing you to walk around is better than one forcing you to stay seated. In fact, for me at least, many games are impossible to play seated. For example, I can play first person shooter games like Half Life 2 standing up because it’s more natural. But if I try to play such games seated, I can get sick.
But it’s too bad that the 0.01% of the population who are idiots and hurt themselves can use the legal system to give all of us a hard time.
Custom Game Controller
Control in VR is another big hurdle to solve. Oculus has not yet given us clear direction on what they are planning. The only thing they have said is that it’s really important.
Vive will use one controller in each hand. And these will have positional tracking. What this means is that, for example, if you swing the controller, you could see yourself swinging a sword in the virtual world.
This sort of control really improves the VR experience. People expect to be able to see their hands and interact in a natural way in the virtual environments.
It’s all well and good having a cutting edge VR headset, but if there’s no content, you’re out of luck. But they show that they know what they’re doing and have announced a long list of respectable content partners, such as Cloudhead Games, Google, and HBO.
Developer Edition being released in Spring 2015
The developer’s kit will be released soon. They said Spring 2015, which means it’s just around the corner. And rightly so, since the release date is this year.
2015 Holiday Consumer Release Date
They have confirmed a 2015 holiday release date. This is big news in itself. It means that we are getting a bonafide consumer VR headset this year.
The Gear VR is, by far, the best on the market currently. But it’s still marketed as the “Innovator Edition”. This makes sense since it’s still early and there is not much content.
But we are finally being promised consumer VR from people who know how to do it. This is not just another copycat VR headset trying to capitalize on the VR trend.
Further, this is likely confirmation that Oculus will also be releasing their consumer version in 2015. It’s likely that industry insiders at Valve know of Oculus’ general plans. And either way, if Oculus does not release in 2015, then they will let Valve steal their thunder as the first real consumer VR headset.