With Oculus finally taking preorders for their Rift Virtual Reality headset, a line has been drawn in the sand for both its launch date and the price point that the company feels is acceptable for the consumer market. With three companies all introducing their own takes on the technology it will be fascinating to see how the year plays out with the competition and if there will be success for VR as well as whether a dominant player emerges.
Oculus certainly seems to be the one pursuing the premium end of the market with a product that is being sold as being a high quality piece. Being the most visible of the manufacturers and backed by Facebook it has clearly put itself in a position of wanting to be the Apple of VR. They even provide a tool to test your PC’s specs so you can determine what needs to be upgraded before your headset arrives.
The hardware has evolved beyond even the Crescent Bay prototypes and their head positional tracking to finally incorporate much needed headphones and a solid looking head mount. Trying an earlier Rift with third party headphones literally involved placing them over the headset like a second layer and showed me just how much better having an integrated product would be.
HTC with its Vive headset and the backing by Valve has a couple of additional tricks up its sleeve thanks to room sensors that allows the hardware to be able to not only track a user’s view but also their position in 3D space. It’s a feature that might open up additional markets for VR but for most users may not be necessary for what they would want initially. Especially if it means knocking over furniture.
Valve’s involvement and experience in VR goes a long way to help them on the software side. Previously they were working closely with Oculus but decided to steer away from that product and instead focus on their own internal projects which resulted in this partnership.
They aren’t resting on their laurels with their tech; newer versions of the headset have included external cameras to allow users some visibility beyond the screen which might introduce the potential for applications in the Augmented Reality space similar to what Microsoft are aiming for with HoloLens and also avoid the aforementioned furniture knocking over.
The last of the three is Sony with PlayStation VR. This is only one of the three dedicated to a console platform and is focused completely on PlayStation 4 with their Move controllers also making a surprise return in conjunction with the Eye camera. This could be the dark horse of the three if the price point is very competitive and the hardware can deliver on a platform already hitting a wall at 1080p and 60fps.
If there is additional hardware involved in helping to bump up the spec, it would be understandable as it would help the console achieve the high refresh rate needed for user friendly VR (60fps per eye is considered the absolute minimum). If true, I’m curious to find out how it is applied. With some computers recently leveraging high speed connections such as Thunderbolt for external graphics cards, the technology is definitely there to support it.
The thing I think could give Sony a massive boost is something that’s never talked about: PC compatibility. If they were willing to open the hardware to other platforms they could potentially achieve greater success by having a product that developers can rely on for both PC and console. Could we see a day when a Sony VR headset in running on an Xbox? Maybe not but if they get market penetration with a good product you never know. Hopefully we will hear more when it comes closer to release.
Microsoft have already made deals to support both Oculus and HTC in Windows 10 through a common API so there is certainly room for additional hardware to be supported that way for PCs. Right now it appears Xbox One will only have token support for VR via game streaming to an Oculus equipped PC; it seems it’s a token gesture right now to show they are dipping their toe into it on consoles.
Though with Xbox One’s hardware specs often putting it in second place to the PlayStation 4, how could the console possibly support VR? I wonder if MS might be creative and leverage one of their Windows 10 supporters in Oculus or HTC with their often maligned Kinect hardware… then the question is would these guys be willing to make cheaper headsets to support the lower spec console or can they find a way to make the Rift/Vive cross platform compatible? Only time will tell.
With E3 a few months away, we’re still due some more big announcements on VR. Feel free to throw in some of your own guesses on the future in the comments below.