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Reality-checking HTC Vive and SteamVR: 4 crucial questions for the virtual reality headset

Hayden Dingman | March 3, 2015
The Vive headset marks HTC and Valve's first foray into virtual reality. Can it compete with Oculus Rift and Samsung's GearVR? The devil's in the details.

Less than a week after we first learned SteamVR existed, we already know what it is--sort of. It is indeed a virtual reality headset, a la the Oculus Rift or GearVR. It's the result of a partnership between Valve and HTC. And its name is "Vive."

Those were the key details that came out of HTC's Mobile World Congress presentation Sunday, along with the core specs: Two (one per eye) 1200x1080 screens rocking a 90Hz refresh rate, seventy internal sensors tracked by a pair of "SteamVR base stations" that allow you to move around rooms up to 15 feet by 15 feet, and a pair of wireless controllers to track hand movements. Oh, and there's an audio jack on the side.

That's basically what we know right now, and it's presumably all we'll know until we get our hands on the device later this week during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

But ahead of that hands-on, there are some things I'd like to discuss: A dash of speculation, a sprinkle of hype, and a heaping serving of reality.

Remember Steam Machines?
The first thing I think we should discuss is timing. HTC and Valve are on-record saying this device will launch by the end of 2015. If they hit that goal? Amazing!

Lest we forget the sins of the past, however, I'd like to bring up an old sore spot: Steam Machines. At CES 2014 Valve and a whole host of PC makers similarly swore we'd see Steam Machines on the market in holiday 2014.

We haven't heard anything about Steam Machines in the year since except words to the effect of "Yeah...we're not going to make our 2014 launch date." In fact, several of the would-be Steam Machines launched as Windows machines instead, such as the Alienware Alpha.

We're supposedly going to see a large Steam Machine presence at GDC this week, albeit rebranded as "living room hardware" instead of the semi-official brand name we heard last year. That's going to be our first exposure in fourteen months. And we still don't have a release date.

So when Valve and HTC say "Yeah, the Vive is launching in holiday 2015," you'll have to forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical. Especially with specialized hardware like 90Hz screens in the mix--something Oculus CTO and tech-wizard John Carmack said was particularly difficult for Oculus to source at last year's Oculus Connect conference.

If we reach holiday 2015 and Vive is readily available for consumer purchase, well, good on them. Right now, the only consumer-available VR device on the market (or at least the only one that matters) is the Samsung/Oculus partnership, GearVR. More competition is desperately needed, though the Oculus Rift is expected to launch in 2015. What's more, we need competition that a) meets some basic technical specifications like the Vive's 90Hz refresh rate, so people stop feeling nauseous, and b) is priced semi-reasonably.

 

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