HTC’s Vive headset still more virtual than reality

9 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

HTC Vive Finally Gets A Release Date: April 2016.

Earlier this year, HTC said its Vive VR headset would launch in limited quantities before the holidays, ahead of a wider consumer rollout sometime early in 2016.

In an email to Vive developers and a blog post that is now down due to traffic, HTC finally clarified when they’d be launching their long awaited virtual reality headset, Vive.If the lessons from mobile and 3D have been learned then it’s almost time to buy virtual reality technology, writes TechCentral.ie Editor Niall Kitson.HTC promised it would begin selling the headset by the end of this year, but it looks like the launch has been delayed, as the company has just announced the headset won’t be available to consumers until next spring.In August, gaming giant Valve, which is partnering with HTC to develop the Vive, revealed plans to offer a limited number of headsets to consumers before 2015 was out, but that didn’t happen.

The company posted a statement on its blog (which is currently offline) attempting to “clear up speculation and misinformation” about the launch, confirming the delay. “We will be starting the new year by making an additional 7,000 units available to developers, followed by commercial availability in April 2016,” the statement continues. Content is key to VR experiences, so it’s good that HTC is taking the time to court content creators – the Vive will need some compelling content to sell its take on VR to consumers in an increasingly-crowded yet nascent market.

At a demonstration of the HTC Vive at a secret location in the city earlier this month I was treated to four immersive experiences, ranging from exploring a shipwreck on the sea bed, to preparing a bowl of soup, to taking apart a robot. The Vive features a 1,200 by 1,080 pixel screen in front of each eye, with refresh rates of 90 frames per second, capable of displaying photorealistic imagery filling a users field of vision in all directions.

Having tried all of the major virtual reality headsets that are either on the market or on the way (Gear VR, all of the Oculus prototypes, Sony’s Playstation VR), I can honestly say: the Vive was the most impressive. Having already used an Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard I was used to full 360 degree, 3D navigation and had until then felt let down by blurry images. This headset uses a couple of hand controllers and a room-wide playing area to differentiate itself from the competition, and exists as a team effort between HTC (for manufacturing) and Valve (for software). The company hasn’t explained the reason behind the delay, but pushing the launch date to April means that it might be late to the VR party: Oculus and Sony are set to stock shelves with their headsets early next year.

The tracking, built in collaboration with Valve, was just ridiculous — and paired up with the Vive’s crazy looking controller, it gave an instant sense of immersion. Vive offers one of the more immersive VR experiences, and hopefully, HTC will be able to deliver that same experience to actual paying consumers next year. Alas, Vive is also the most cumbersome of the lot: there’s a big ol’ wire dangling from your head, and you have to put a few big “light house” sensors around your room to handle the tracking.

It’s not clear whether HTC and Valve haven’t achieved the “best experience” because they’re still working on the hardware, or whether the issue is getting enough games and other entertainment content to make a full launch. Compared to the wireless functionality of Samsung’s Gear VR (which uses a Samsung phone as the brains and display to keep wires out of the mix) or the plug-and-play simplicity of Playstation VR, that’s gonna be a tough sell to make to all but the most VR enthused.

Either way, HTC promises more opportunities to demo the headset, including the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW, the Game Developers Conference, and Mobile World Congress. In a blog/social media post detailing the device’s timeline, HTC said that it’s hosting a developer conference in Beijing on December 18th and launching a second-gen dev kit before the masses can start buying the headset. But we don’t know what will actually make it into buyers’ living rooms later this year, or how much it’ll cost — a question that every major VR headset developer has declined to answer.

At the time I argued that 3D would become the format of choice for consumers in their front rooms only if industry and content providers addressed the three Cs of content, convenience and cost. That nine of the top 10 grossing films of all time were released in 3D after 2009 and the outlier, Titanic, got a 3D run in 2012, the technology has proved itself commercially and found a natural place in the multiplexes alongside IMAX and THX sound systems. Getting 3D into the home required a killer app the cinemas couldn’t replicate and that meant a shift away from scripted content to sports, which had been instrumental in pushing high definition. Adding depth didn’t correspond to adding value, however, and without compelling broadcast support, streaming or rental options, your chance of watching anything in 3D at home is now limited to anyone with a compatible TV, Blu-ray player and whatever hard copies you own. Toshiba tried to bring a glasses-less 3D set to market but it had poor picture quality compared to sets using active shutter lenses and only delivered a depth effect when viewed in a specific position.

I’m adopting the same strategy I have for Apple devices: take an interest in every second generation where the feature set catches up to the rest of the market.

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