When HTC and Valve unveiled the SteamVR-powered Vive earlier this year, the launch date was almost as surprising as the reveal itself: The virtual reality headset will launch in time for the holidays, the companies said. That timeframe would give the Vive crucial “first to market” status over Oculus in the nascent VR field—and our eyes-on with the Vive quickly confirmed its experience is superior to the Rift’s. Gulp.
But it seems that holiday 2015 launch won’t be much of a launch at all.
“Later this year, HTC will offer the first commercial Vive units via a limited quantity of community and developer systems, with larger quantities shipping in calendar Q1 2016,” Valve said in a press release about the Vive’s appearance at PAX this weekend, according to GamesIndustry.biz.
That sounds an awful lot like the way Oculus has sold its 175,000-plus developer kits for the Rift over the past couple of years, albeit with the commercial version rather than a prototype. In other words: Sorry, kids. You probably won’t find a Vive underneath the Christmas tree.
Why this matters: With both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift launching in the first quarter of next year, it’s easier for them to compete on merit, rather than a clear first-mover snapping up all the curiosity-driven sales. Oculus is aiming for a stellar, yet mainstream-accessible approach to VR: nurturing game developers, shipping the Rift with a familiar Xbox One controller, ensuring it will work natively with Windows 10, and striving to make the headset at affordable as possible.
Valve and HTC, on the other hand, appear to be aiming for a more premium—and expensive—VR experience. The Vive includes a pair of designed-for-VR controls and two “Lighthouse” base stations that let you wander around a 15 ft. by 15 ft. area, whereas the Rift expects you to remain physically stationary.
Which VR headset will reign supreme? Sounds like we’ll have to wait until 2016 to find out for sure. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing; with VR being so new for most people, it's better to get the first impressions right rather than rushing something inferior out the door.