HTC Vive, which was announced at this year’s MWC, is a new virtual reality headset created through a collaboration between HTC and software developer Valve. It was thought to be an exclusive partnership at the time, but thanks to Valve CEO Gabe Newell speaking on the subject at this year’s GDC, it appears that more headsets will use Valve’s technology.
“Think of the Vive as the first in the same way that there are multiple Steam Machines,” Newell told Engadget. “We’re developing tools that we hope will be useful to hardware partners who want to do it.”
“In some cases, we’ll take the lead in shipping things. But we’re really just creating tools for others to use. As a result, you’ll see more headsets.”
According to Newell’s words, the HTC Vive will not be the only SteamVR headset on the market. Think of it as a partnership like the one between Samsung and Oculus VR for the Gear VR, except HTC has decided not to use its phone as a screen and Valve’s technology is better right now.
Valve’s ideal VR scenario is to have it integrated into its Steam ecosystem. It’s all about providing tools to developers and manufacturers and assisting them in filling the competitive VR market, which is why Valve is giving away its technology for free to interested hardware manufacturers.
“To be honest, we’ll make money on the back end when people buy games from Steam.” Right?” Newell went on. “So we’re trying to be forward-thinking and make those longer-term investments in PC gaming that will pay off in a couple of years.”
With SteamVR, Valve hopes to eliminate motion sickness.
Valve’s goal with VR is to improve technology and cut down on latency so that users can have a better time. So far, it appears to be working fairly well. Valve’s Lighthouse technology, which uses beacons and sensors to detect where you are inside a 15 x 15ft square, and its high refresh rate of 90Hz are unlike anything else on the market.
This is probably why Newell can say that Valve has solved the problem of motion sickness caused by VR devices. He said in an interview that “zero percent of people get motion sick” when using SteamVR headsets.
Many companies are trying to solve this problem, with AMD and its new SDK LiquidVR being the most recent. AMD’s SDK is made to work with many different VR devices. It reduces motion-to-photon latency to less than 10 milliseconds, which makes it easier to move your head without getting sick. However, it appears that LiquidVR is limited to AMD GPUs and CPUs.
Interactivity is another way to reduce motion sickness and the general disconnect between your brain and your eyes, and Valve is working on it as well.
Gizmodo got a look at early prototypes of HTC Vive’s VR controllers at GDC. Even though it’s not clear if these controllers will work the same on all SteamVR devices, the technology works. These wand-like devices are dotted with sensors that communicate with Valve’s wall-mounted motion trackers. In fact, their design and function aren’t too dissimilar to the technology that powers Sony’s PlayStation Move controllers.
Despite all of this progress, if wireless headsets cannot reduce latency sufficiently – and let’s face it, few people will want a wired VR experience – motion sickness will remain a problem. If people start buying devices and then discover they make them sick, John Carmack, a programmer and VR torchbearer, sees it as a “nightmare scenario.” “The fear is that if a really bad VR product comes out,” he said this week at GDC, “it will send the industry back to the ’90s.”