Vive Pro Announced at CES Without a Price & A Disgraceful Anniversary for Valve

HTC announced a Vive Pro with higher resolution goggles than their original SteamVR virtual reality headset, built-in headphones (they were previously available separately), a more comfortable strap, a second camera and microphone are now built into the headset, and an official wireless module that is sold separately.

The resolution is the biggest thing here. The first Vive was only 1080×1200 pixels for the display going to each eye. The Pro is 1440×1600 per-eye. This should help to eliminate some of the issues the original had with text and other details. HTC also promises that it’ll be easier to adjust the headset to suit your eyes.

I still feel like it’s wrong to announce a thing without a price or any dates for when it’ll be available, but there you go. Maybe they’re trying to get out ahead of an upcoming Oculus announcement. I’m glad that the Vive is still a going concern because I don’t want anything to do with Oculus after the Palmer Luckey debacle. It would be even better if this means that HTC will lower the price of the original Vive but they might just put the Pro at a higher one and be done with it for now.

HTC also has their own store for software called Viveport available with or without a subscription. It’s available inside the headset now, and the gimmick is that there may be previews available of the different experiences it offers.

I kind of get why HTC might want a separate storefront from Steam, developers aren’t always going to be eager to go through Valve’s process for every kind of software and Valve might not want a billion short VR experiences crapping up their money hog. As it is, HTC claims over 1000 pieces of software in their store. I don’t think anybody wants to visit it, but maybe the interactive demos in VR will be useful.

It’d be better if Valve lowered the barrier for software to get onto Steam while increasing the level of moderation for absolutely disgraceful shit like Dating Lessons, the VR software from some MRA shitbags who want to turn normal men into people who “won’t take no for an answer.” That garbage is still available for sale a year after I wrote about it.

HTC/Steam VR Vive Pre-Orders Priced at $800

The Vive HMD

If you thought the Oculus Rift was expensive at $600, then you’re going to want to sit down for this. HTC and Valve’s Steam VR kit, the  Vive, is priced at an eye-watering $800 before tax and shipping. Pre-orders go up on the 29th at 10 AM Eastern Like the Oculus Rift, it ships in April.

Like the Rift, the Vive will come bundled with software. Owlchemy Labs Job Simulator and Fantastic Contraption by Northway Games. Both look like good fun that demonstrate the differences between Valve’s VR solution and Facebook’s Rift though Job Simulator isn’t exclusive to the Vive and will also be available for other VR setups.

Unlike the Rift, which is shipping with an Xbox One controller, the Vive custom controller setup is ready at launch and is designed for manipulating objects in 3D space. The Vive does not seem to include any audio solution, where the Rift had a built-in headset.

There is also a benchmark program available on Steam to find out if your computer is ready for the Vive before pre-ordering.

The price isn’t anywhere near as bad as it might have been, some people were expecting the Vive to be over a thousand, but it’s still out of reach for most people at $800.

 

If I were wealthy enough to pre-order either the Vive or Rift, and had a room to dedicate to the experience, I’d choose the Vive over the Rift. The Vive just has more to offer and the holodeck type of experiences it has in addition to the cockpit-style experiences of the Rift as long as developers support OpenVR instead of just the Rift SDK.

It doesn’t change anything about the announcement, but I wanted to point out that the language in HTC’s announcement is ridiculously bad:

We are proud to announce, in partnership with Valve®, the unveiling of the consumer edition of the ViveTM virtual reality system powered by Steam®VR.

[…]

Taking Vive one step further, with refreshed branding and an updated head strap, the Vive consumer edition builds upon the innovative features that were introduced into the Vive Pre. 

Calling it the “consumer version” with “refreshed branding” is just insulting. It is useful to differentiate this version of the Vive from the versions developers have had access to in the past, but people do not give a crap about the logos or iconography of a system changing. Call it improving the hardware design if that actually changed, but don’t call people “consumers” in your announcement post.

The Difference Between Two Realities

Speaking of VR, the two leading virtual reality head-mounted displays (HMD) are very different in how they’re intended to be used.

Although the Oculus Rift has head-tracking, it is intended more for playing games in a seated or standing position with extremely limited amounts of head movement. You can think of this as being limited to a cockpit in a jet or the passenger area of a car or mech. The player can look out, and control movement of the vehicle they’re in with a gamepad, but if they get up and walk around they’re still trapped inside that vehicle or cockpit. This is perfect for games like Elite: Dangerous and the Eve: Valkyrie game that will be included with the Rift.

You can also display something with a more traditional third-person camera viewpoint outside of the avatar and have player movement bound to analog sticks on a gamepad or some other controller. That is what you have with Lucky’s Tale:

Many traditional 3D games involve a lot of player movement and a first-person perspective, so being limited to one position in the physical world isn’t quite as immersive as being able to move in a physical space and have that movement be reflected in the virtual world. This is more of the holodeck, or room-scale style of VR. I received a brief demo of this at Valve a few years ago. It is amazing when experienced in action. Valve’s SteamVR system offers this in addition to the ability to play cockpit-style games in a seated or standing position. It’s the main difference between the two headsets. Some games can work on both types.

Holodeck experiences have their downsides. Players need a fairly large space that is empty of obstructions in which to move. You’ll also need to install devices that Valve and HTC are calling lighthouses to define the physical space in which you’ll move and track your physical movement in that space. It’s not something everyone has space for, and although you can adjust the amount of physical space for use with this system you basically need a multi-room house or office to set up that experience. Valve had a few dedicated rooms for it.

It’s been almost impossible to demonstrate that room-scale experience without using it. The Northways, Colin and Sarah, have a video up that demonstrates the perspective of a player in the HTC/SteamVR Vive HMD while playing their Fantastic Contraption:

That’s a clip from a longer stream that you can watch here. The only difference between this and the real thing is that she can’t see the people on the couch while playing, and it’s way more fun to play in-person than watch on a stream.