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2016 seems to be the turning year for virtual reality headset technology. In March we saw launch of Oculus Rift VR, also announcement for Sony’s VR headset to be paired with PlayStation and is to come in fall. But out of nowhere there came a new player in this highly realistic game of the latest today: Taiwanese mobile gadget giant HTC with its Vive.
HTC is struggling to maintain its position among mobile phone and tablet makers from which it’s being pushed by Mainland Chinese technology firms like Huawei and Xiaomi. The management was timely aware of that and was seeking for a new field of consumer electronics in which they should take advantage of the existing competition from the smartphone market. Virtual reality was an ideal choice. At the time they made the final decision on development of the Vive, there was lot of buzz around virtual reality, but little actual effort from engineering teams, even amongst the largest and most enthusiastic firms. Still, few technology companies are endeavoring in VR and the Vive is finally on the market.
The only true competitor of HTC Vive on the VR headset market is Oculus Rift. The two companies were developing their consumer version nearly at the same time, and it seems that each of it has tracked what the other one does. Just like the Oculus counterpart, the HTC Vive has 1200 x 1080 resolution per each eye, giving it a 2160 x 1200 full resolution. And it also has to rely on a desktop or laptop for hardware pushing power. Both have a 110 degree field of view, sharing some other features and concepts, too.
But HTC have spotted a feature which was considered missing in Oculus Rift by them, that is actually a very important feature for such a thing – a camera. HTC Vive besides all motion sensors also has a camera which helps the user take a glimpse from the real world without stripping the headset, but is even more useful in games which require walking motion. It supports for 15 x 15 ft (4.55 x 4.55 meters) tracking area. In any case, you will not be able to cross the street with an HTC Vive on, but it will be able to better track obstacles on your way while moving casting a chaperone safety light whenever there’s something you can hit or walk into so you are warned timely. Chaperone light feature will reveal shades of the objects ahead of you, and project the limits of your room or other space in the gameplay to help you with measurements.
Another distinctive feature of the HTC Vive VR headset is that it can let you communicate through phone or the Internet using a Bluetooth connections. No wonder, it explains the company’s roots and is not only considered expected, but useful as well. If your gameplay is interrupted with a phone call, the game will automatically save your position and pause, should it quickly recover once the call has ended.
There is one more stronghold of the HTC Vive. It’s the controller which is highly anatomic and gives you a full realistic grip. The gun grip gives you an impression of wielding an actual weapon. At this moment it is unknown whether HTC will release similar controller units for people who like non-action games, but it is really expected to happen later. The VR gaming and multimedia headset concept in still in its pioneering phase and manufacturers will allow some time to unleash its full potential.
The number of available games is already around 70 and is growing every week. During the autumn of 2016 and over the course of 2017, we should see first games which utilize the full functionality of the HTC Vive VR headset, once the developers hear suggestions from actual players who enjoyed VR from the mere consumer perspective.
The main downside of the HTC Vive is its hefty price tag. $800 makes it the most expensive VR option. You will not save on the backing hardware power either, as it has similar PC requirements as its counterpart. Basically, do not expect it to work properly with a computer costing below $900 even if you assemble that PC on your own.
The HTC has made a swift decision to get into the still tiny VR market. Since it’s only competitor right now is just a VR specialty startup, and HTC is backed by engineers who have been playing with chips, semiconductors and software for years it is not unrealistic to see this as a breakthrough similar to what Sony did when it released its first PlayStation in the mid-90s when it had little gaming experience but was already well-established in other consumer electronics.
Speaking of Sony, they will soon jump into the market with a headset backed by their newest PlayStation console. It will not be before 2017 when we will see who will lead the market, and also, the demise of Sega in the gaming console market in early 2000s is still a fresh memory, and the manufacturers will develop their systems carefully and slowly. That will just increase the thrill among gamers, before even tuning in and putting a headset of their choice on the head.