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Reality-checking HTC Vive and SteamVR: 4 crucial questions for the virtual reality headset

Hayden Dingman | March 3, 2015
The Vive headset marks HTC and Valve's first foray into virtual reality. Can it compete with Oculus Rift and Samsung's GearVR? The devil's in the details.

Which brings us to point number two.

What will it cost?
90Hz screens. Seventy internal sensors. Two base stations. Two wireless controllers with their own set of sensors.

Yeah, it sounds expensive. Oculus has said it's aiming to sell the eventual consumer Rift at $200-400, depending on component pricing, and that's (as far as we know) without the inclusion of a controller or separate base stations.

Fortunately, you won't need a HTC smartphone to run the Vive. While the Gear VR relies on Samsung's high-end Galaxy phones for power and a display, HTC Americas president Jason Mackenzie confirmed that the HTC Vive will be a standalone device that connects to your PC in a VR-focused interview with Greenbot's Florence Ion.

Wired or wireless?
But as far as actual performance is concerned, it all boils down to one question: Is the HTC Vive a wired device like the Oculus Rift or wireless like the GearVR?

If that sounds like a small difference, well, it's not. It completely changes the way you interact with virtual reality, speaking from my own experience with both the Rift DK2 and the GearVR. And it changes the overall possibilities.

Here are the pros and cons of each, laid out.

Wired: One of the biggest benefits to a wired headset is it's cheaper. Why? Because it lets your computer do all the legwork. There's already a graphics card inside my computer, and a fairly powerful one at that. I can load up any virtual reality demo, my graphics card will churn out the necessary visuals, and I'm ready to go.

This means you don't really need to build any graphics power into the headset itself, which lowers the cost to consumers. This is why the Oculus Rift DK2 is $350 while the GearVR requires a $200 headset and a $700 phone.

On the other hand, you're wired. Have you ever tried moving around with wires attached to the back of your head? It's not a great experience. When I tried the Crescent Bay Oculus prototype at Oculus Connect last September, we had to have a technician in the room with us to make sure we didn't accidentally tangle the wires by turning in circles, or simply trip and rip the wires out completely.

Do you have the funds to hire a fulltime technician to hang out in your house? Me either, which is why I'm confused by images of the Vive with wires clearly protruding from the top. If Valve and HTC want me to be able to move around a 15' x 15' space, wires will be a massive hindrance.

Wireless: So a wireless set solves the movement problem--you're no longer restricted to slow, careful motions in a defined path.


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