The state of VR: Where Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Gear VR, and others stand right now

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HTC Vive

Then there’s the usurper, the HTC Vive, a.k.a. SteamVR (pictured in use above). Yes, despite being built by HTC, the Vive is more commonly associated with Half-Life/Portal/Team Fortress 2/Steam developer Valve. And it’s a bit of a convoluted story.

At one point, Valve and Oculus were actually working together. Valve had been researching VR internally, and it’d built a legendary VR room at its studio in Bellevue, WA. Developers had tried it out and said it was a huge step above what Oculus was showing at the time.

But (supposedly) having no interest in creating its own VR headset, Valve and Oculus came to an agreement whereby Valve supplied Oculus with R&D—an agreement that became less and less important as more of Valve’s VR team left for Oculus. Then Facebook bought Oculus and the whole “sharing R&D” agreement seemed jeopardized.

HTC Vive

The SteamVR-powered HTC Vive.

I know nothing of the internal machinations of Valve, which is notoriously inscrutable. What I can say is that apparently “We’re not making a VR headset” turned into “We are making a VR headset.” Valve teamed up with HTC, lending its software expertise to the hardware company to create the Vive.

Despite pretty much identical specs (low-persistence OLED with a total resolution of 2160x1200 and a 90Hz refresh rate, a field of view of 110 degrees, internal rotation-tracking) the Vive is far more than another me-too, Rift-alike headset. It’s a competing philosophy of VR. Remember how Nate Mitchell said Oculus believes VR is mostly a sitting-down experience? Well the Vive is the response: A virtual reality platform centered around standing.

Not just standing but jumping, kneeling, and even walking around. The Vive is actually five different pieces—the headset, two position-tracked controllers, and two “Lighthouse” base stations mounted either on the walls or on tall furniture.

It’s a bigger investment, but the result is a 15-foot by 15-foot VR space you can walk around in. There’s still a cable attaching the headset to your computer, but you’re otherwise free to explore. A grid will show up in the game when you’ve come too close to a wall, so you won’t accidentally walk into the side of your living room.

HTC Vive - Lighthouse

One of HTC Vive’s two “Lighthouse” sensor stations, which enabled “room-scale” VR in a 15-by-15-ft. area.

The Vive is the best VR technology coming to market, and the experiences I’ve had with it are amazing. The main questions are: 1) How much software will be available at launch? 2) Will people have enough space to dedicate to the Vive? And, of course…

”Okay, cool. When can I buy it, and for how much?” The first answer is easy, actually. The Vive releases in limited numbers in November—yes, next month. Thus it’ll beat Oculus to market.

But price? No idea. Extrapolating from the Rift’s cost, adding two controllers and two base stations, I’d estimate it’ll cost at least $500—at least—but there hasn’t been any official word yet. Regardless, the Vive will undoubtedly cost more than the Rift at launch. And it takes up more space. And we’ve seen barely any games or third-party software. And we don’t know what the store will look like. And and and and…

My point is, there are a ton of unknowns surrounding the Vive considering it’s supposed to launch next month—which might explain why HTC recently amended the initial window to say November will see the Vive launch “in limited quantities.” Mass quantities of the Vive won’t be available until the first quarter of next year

As for recommended gaming PC specs, there’s nothing official from Valve or HTC yet. We can infer from the Rift that you’ll probably need at least a GTX 970 or Radeon R9 290 graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and an Intel i5-4590 or greater.

Next page: Samsung Gear VR.

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