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Oculus dethroned: Valve's SteamVR is the new virtual reality frontrunner

Hayden Dingman | March 6, 2015
There's a new frontrunner in virtual reality. At least for now. For the first time since virtual reality became "a thing" again, Oculus has been dethroned. SteamVR and the HTC Vive now reign supreme as the device I'm most looking forward to, following a demo during GDC.

That's thanks to two base stations, christened Lighthouse, that were settled atop the bookcases I mentioned earlier. The current versions are large blocks, like surveillance cameras almost, though Valve assures me the final versions will be much smaller and work on infrared. This requires line of sight though, which means higher will still be better. Those of us without high bookcases are looking at potentially mounting the Lighthouse stations on the wall.

It would be worth it.

Wandering virtual worlds

I started in a white room, with some pictures of various demos arranged along the walls. This was to get me familiar with the hardware — walk around, use the controllers, make sure I felt comfortable.

I held up my hands. I pulled the trigger. A big red balloon popped out of the end. I gasped.

The technician laughed. I judged that my reaction was pretty common. It was incredible though — more realistic than anything I've seen in VR up until now. That's in part due to the two screens powering the Vive — 1200x1080 resolution per eye and a 90Hz refresh rate. You can still barely see the pixels, especially in a plain white room, but it seemed better even than the Crescent Bay prototype I saw in September (though, again, it's been a while and I'd have to compare both side-to-side to know for sure). Valve wouldn't share any other details on the headset itself — I asked whether it was a PenTile screen or similar and was told Valve wanted to focus on the experience itself for now, with tech specs coming later.

Just know it was impressive. And I'm a VR vet so this might not mean as much, but not once did I feel nauseous during these demos.

First up was an underwater scene, titled theBlu (developed by Wevr). Like Ocean Rift, I was underwater — this time standing on the deck of a sunken ship. The "walls" were cleverly disguised by the ship's railings and a fallen mast, though getting too close to the wall causes a white grid to pop up anyway, which Valve called the "chaperone" system.

I turned around just in time to see a massive blue whale float by, completely dwarfing any object I've seen in VR before except perhaps the dinosaur in the Crescent Bay demos last year. The whale's eye alone was as big as my head.

Next up was Owlchemy Labs's Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, a tongue-in-cheek game where you work in a restaurant because in the future all menial labor has been taken over by robots. Each controller became a hand, and I was able to reach out, pick up items, turn them around, throw them into a pot, throw them onto the ground — whatever.

 

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