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Joie de VIVE: Valve announces VR headset
Entertainment software company Valve Corporation has unveiled its new virtual reality (VR) headset, manufactured jointly with smartphone and tablet manufacturer HTC.
The product has been announced just in time for the game developers’ conferencing commencing 2-6 March 2015, where it promises to give developers the chance to test the software. A developer version is being released in spring 2015, with the consumer ready version aiming to be available by the end of the year. Further details are to be released at the conference.
Valve is renowned for producing critically acclaimed titles such as the Half-Life franchise and the Steam software, which some estimates reckon to now see 75% of PC game sales transactions through it. The company is secretive but also possesses a unique management structure in which a permanent hierarchy does not exist. The company is exploring other territory, with console-PC hybrid the Steam Machine also slated for a release this year. It has been exploring wearable tech for some time, a remarkable feat for a company a fraction the size of Google.
The Vive Developer Edition uses two 1200 x 1080 displays that refresh at 90 frames per second according to HTC. The displays are said to envelope your entire field of vision with 360-degree views. HTC claims it is the first wearable tech device to offer a “full room-scale” experience, “letting you get up, walk around and explore your virtual space, inspect objects from every angle and truly interact with your surroundings.” The Steam VR base station will let you walk around the virtual space instead of using a controller. While ostensibly about games, VR offers opportunities for other forms of media, such as viewing scenery, attending real-time concerts, watching films, 3D chat and even shopping. Content partners interested in Vive include HBO, Lionsgate Entertainment, Google, and Taiwan’s National Palace Museum.
Valve’s Steam platform has been likened to the iTunes of gaming, and completely altered the landscape for game content distribution. While considered a paragon of development amongst the gaming community, it has yet to capitalize on more lucrative casual gaming trends such as kinetic consoles or mobile gaming. The Vive headset may do the same, although it is not exactly a pioneer into VR tech; Google and Facebook have both experimented with Google Glass and acquiring the Occulus Rift respectively, although the Glass prototype was discontinued in January 2015. The Vive hopes to succeed and provide a more comprehensive experience.
Valve is also not diversifying fully into the casual market; it remains focused on its core market of gamers, compared to the Glass’ thwarted attempt to appeal to the wider consumer market. It faces competition from the Occulus Rift and Microsoft’s in development Holo-Lens, the latter also catering for the market of indoor gaming and entertainment purposes.
Valve’s forays into hardware have been complicated and resulted in delays; the Steam controller has been delayed by two years. By partnering with HTC the expertise in manufacturing should help to streamline the production process. This is not the first time either; the Steam Machine is available from a variety of original equipment manufacturers (OEM) across a price range to suit budget options and performance desires.
The more focused approach from Valve and HTC may yet succeed where Google has so far failed. Valve has a lot of brand credibility with the gaming market given its focus on quality and continual focus on improving the gaming platform, and has yet to hit a dud. For HTC it offers diversification into a different and potentially lucrative consumer technology sector.