Virtual Reality in 2016: An HTC Vive primer

  • AFP
  • Updated: Jan 02, 2016 13:43 IST
The HTC Vive is aiming to become a premium VR experience. Photo: AFP (AFP)

Early 2016 looks set to be a defining moment in the Virtual Reality entertainment landscape with at least three major players’ devices set to hit the market: Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and the HTC Vive. Due April 2016, the Vive marks a collaboration between a major hardware manufacturer and a giant of PC gaming. We take a quick look at its history, capabilities, controls, and anticipated price bracket.

PC gaming giant Valve, best known for its entries to the “Half-Life,” “Portal” and “Dota” series, started tinkering with hardware development in 2012.

Those initial forays have produced the Steam Controller, a highly accurate, accessible and customizable gamepad for computers, and the Steam Link, an in-home streaming box that encourages PCs to join game consoles in the living room.

It’s also seen the launch of Steam Machines, a line of home computers that offer a console-like experience; their relatively higher cost is offset by the potential for deep game discounts during the Steam platform’s regular sales.

Early virtual reality demonstrations also led to its current partnership with Taiwanese manufacturer HTC.

Like the groundbreaking Oculus Rift, which is expected before the end of March, the Vive offers a pair of 1080x1200 displays refreshing at 90Hz, and though full PC specifications are not available at the time of writing, both headsets ask for one HDMI 1.3 connection and two USB 3.0 ports -- a relatively recent standard.

Where the Vive sets itself apart is in the freedom of movement that it offers, thanks to a pair of cuboid “Lighthouse” transmitters that, together with the headset and two wand-like variations on the Steam Controller, create five cubic meters of play space for Vive wearers to roam around in.

That’s relatively novel in contrast with the usual seated or stationary VR experiences, while players don’t have to orient themselves or their controllers towards a specific point, as with the single-camera solutions of the Rift or PlayStation VR.

Initially set for a late 2015 release, an unexpected technological breakthrough was cited as the reason for delaying the Vive’s retail debut into April 2016: the details of that discovery are to be made known at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), January 6-9, 2016.

The Las Vegas event also provides a convenient venue for pricing and computer specifications to be announced; the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are expected to come in at $399, with Jeff Gattis, HTC’s Director of Marketing, indicating in March 2015 that the Vive would have a “slightly higher price point” in order to ensure a “premium experience.”

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