There's a new frontrunner in virtual reality. At least for now. For the first time since virtual reality became "a thing" again, Oculus has been dethroned. SteamVR and the HTC Vive now reign supreme as the device I'm most looking forward to, following a demo during GDC.
For a lot of you, that won't mean much. We haven't had a single consumer-grade virtual reality headset yet, unless you count the GearVR which — while an impressive piece of kit in its own right — isn't exactly on a par with wired, desktop-based solutions. So to most of you, virtual reality is still just a product that's "on the way," and thus who cares if behind-the-scenes there's a jockeying for power?
And yet for me, the whole idea is mind-blowing. Here's what happened.
Setting the scene
My demo took place in a room much like that I saw during Oculus' Crescent Bay demos last September at Oculus Connect — one of those fake, cubicle-type rooms that are thrown together for trade shows. No furniture except for two small bookshelves, a stool in the center, and a PC tower off in a corner.
The headset itself was resting on the stool — a workmanlike prototype, with a hydra of wires sticking out of the top. The controllers in this demo were also wired, and a belt was fastened around my waist to keep me from getting tangled. To answer a question I had earlier this week: Yes, the final headset will be wired, though that version will require only a single cable instead of a whole mass. The final controllers will be completely wireless.
Even so, the headset was light. It definitely felt lighter than the Oculus Rift DK2, though I'd have to compare the two back-to-back to say for sure. Audio will be built into the final headset, though for this demo we wore standard headphones (an option in the consumer version also).
Then came my first surprise — when the technician held the controllers out for me to grab, I could see them.
It sounds stupid, maybe, but anyone who's fumbled for their Xbox 360 controller or mouse while blinded by an Oculus Rift will understand what I'm talking about. I could see virtual representations of the two controllers, judge how far away they were, and reach out and grab them. It changed the whole experience immediately. This is how VR should control.
To some extent, this was what the Razer Hydra did back when that device was still easy to buy. The Hydra's range was relatively small though, while the Vive's controllers and headset can be tracked within a fifteen foot diameter.
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