On Sunday, March 1st, 2015, Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC caught the VR world and tech media somewhat off-guard when, among a series of product announcements on the eve of the Mobile World Congress (March 2nd-5th, 2015, Barcelona), they revealed a new high-end VR headset they have been developing in partnership with Valve, the on-line gaming service.
The revelation comes after a week of speculation on what Valve; statement they’d be revealing a “previously unannounced” Steam VR Development Kit, thought to comprise a new headset and other goodies, at the upcoming Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.
As reported by Engadget among other tech journals, the HTC headset is called the Vive, and is both the headset Valve have been dropping hints about and is a direct competitor to the Oculus Rift, rather than being a headset for use with mobile devices, despite being announced at a an event focused on mobile devices.
As reported by Gamespot, it’s unit offering a 1,200 by 1,800 pixel screen in front of each eye, each with a 90 fps refresh rate to eliminate image judder and offer “photo realism”. It also features a gyrosensor, accelerometer, and laser position sensor. The latter tracks the rotation of your head, allowing you to look around a virtual environment naturally.
According the HTC, the new headset will have high fidelity audio capabilities as well. But what is particularly interesting about it is that HTC are claiming it “will bring the first room-scale [VR] experience” to the world.
This is apparently achieved by combining the headset with a pair of SteamVR “base stations”, and some 70 movement sensors within the system. When placed out, the “base stations” can scan a square space up to 4.6 metres (15 feet) on a side, and any body movement, walking, jumping, turning, etc., captured within that space will be tracked and reproduced within the VR space being seen through the headset.
If that wasn’t enough, HTC are also indicating that they have solved the issue of interacting in virtual spaces. They’ve done this by pairing the headset with a set of wireless hand controllers of their own design. These apparently allow the wearer to use their hands, point, hold things, etc., with sensors mounted on the front of the headset tracking all such movements / actions and again reproducing them in the virtual environment.
Like the Oculus Rift, the headset is being initially aimed at the games market, with HTC indicating that Dovetail Games, Fireproof Games, Cloudhead Games, Owlchemy Lab, Bossa Studios, Steel Wool Games and Vertigo Games already having signed-up to support the device.
In addition, and as reported by The Road to VR (see the link earlier in this article), Valve have also been putting out the word that they want to hear from developers and a link from the HTCVR website, launched at the same time as the announcement was made, directs any developer wishing to register their interest in working with the new headset to the Steam website, where they can do so.
However, and again like Oculus VR, HTC have broader ambitions in the VR market.
Speaking at the Barcelona event, Jeff Gattis, HTC’s Executive Director, Global Marketing — Connected Products, stated that Google, Lionsgate, and HBO are among those signed-up to provide content for the headset as well.
HTC’s CEO Peter Chou also indicated the company’s ambitions in a statement somewhat mindful of one from Mark Zuckerberg at the time Facebook acquired Oculus VR. In his statement, Chou again stirred the image of VR becoming a part of our everyday lives, fundamentally changing how we interact with the world and with one another, including how we attend learn, attend live events and so on.
A short video introducing the new headset was also released at the time of the announcement, together with the tag line:
Imagine standing on the bridge of a starship rocketing across the galaxy, or strolling through the streets of ancient Rome, or shrinking down to subatomic size and watching molecules collide. Now Re-imagine.
No price range for the system has been mentioned by HTC. However, the developer kit is expected to start shipping in the Spring of 2015, with the consumer version being launched by the end of the year. Since HTC’s announcement at the MWC, Valve have been cagey as to what they will or won’t say about the system at the GDC, promising only that “all will be revealed in time”. However, this announcement most likely means the focus of VR news for the coming week is now likely set in stone.
- Valve to Reveal “SteamVR Dev Kit” Next Week at GDC 2015 – Road to VR
- HTC’s Vive is a high-end VR headset being made with Valve’s help – Engadget
- Valve and HTC Reveal Vive VR Headset – Gamespot
- This is Valve’s VR headset, the HTC Vive – The Verge
- Video of the HTC presentation at MWC – HTC
All images courtesy HTC, unless otherwise indicated.