It wasn’t pretty, and my heart may still be beating irregularly afterward, but we got our order in. But what is this HTC Vive? Does it have to do with beehives? Some new thing the kids are doing these days?
The HTC Vive is one of the several VR headsets that lead the way today. The Vive stands out from the pack by including a forward facing camera that reads your surroundings, giving you the ability to physically walk around in a limited capacity.
Virtual Reality (VR) has come a long way since the ill-fated Nintendo Virtual Boy burst onto the scene over twenty years ago. Even at the time, gamers were less-than-thrilled with the Virtual Boy’s monochromatic graphics and crude 3D. We had gotten other attempts at home 3D gaming before, like the Sega Master System’s 3D glasses and while fun and interesting they were really nothing more than a novelty. There was no true immersion, and nobody expected that because the technology simply wasn’t available at the time.
Things have improved quite a bit since then, and around 2012 a little company called Oculus started a Kickstarter campaign for the first dev kit version of the Rift. With a renewed approach based on newer technologies, interest in VR grew once again.
Since those initial demos, VR has erupted back into the industrial limelight. VR divisions have opened up in many huge companies with a focus on content creation for this new medium, and this is all based on dev kit demos held at major conventions and expos. Sony, HTC, and Oculus are three of the frontrunners so far. And this renewed interest in VR as a business is all without a SINGLE consumer model having been released to the public. Facebook was so impressed by the possibilities that they bought Oculus. Sony is a juggernaut that will try to corner the home video game console VR market with a PS4 add-on, and I have no doubt that they will with their established foothold and the fact that the Vive and Rift both require fairly powerful standalone PCs to operate.
Google introduced specs for “Google Cardboard” which allow users to buy a third party set of goggles that attach to most smartphones so that people can get a taste of VR, but there just aren’t that many mobile VR content options at this point. Both HTC and Oculus will begin shipping their consumer releases in March/April, but with high early-adopter prices nobody really knows just how successful VR can be as an entertainment industry.
Even though the price for the HTC Vive debuted at $800, early attempts to preorder greeted potential buyers with “out of stock” notifications within minutes of the 7am on-sale time. HTC via Twitter says the issue was due to a server anomaly, but I think everyone is surprised by just how willing early-adopters have been to jump on the VR train. Yes this is probably akin to buying an $800 CD burner upon first launch, but CAN YOU REMEMBER how awesome it was to have a friend who could BURN CDs??? HTC reports that 15,000 Vive headsets were pre-ordered within the first 10 minutes. Uh, yeah I think there’s a lot of interest here.
The Oculus Rift ($600) pre-orders are also so-backlogged that anyone who attempts to pre-order now will be placed on a July shipment, 3-4 months later than the initial buyers. All of this lends itself well toward VR manufacturers, as there will now be a waiting audience with VR headsets in hand. What is lacking is VR content, and while Google Cardboard’s low entry-cost has sparked many filmmakers to begin producing for the new medium we still don’t have that many marquee items ready (I long for a full VR version of Portal…) for the launch of the Rift and Vive.
At any rate, while there are differences between the Vive, Rift and Sony’s Morpheus, this is only the beginning. Beginning in March, the consumers will begin to drive the demand on content and how these headsets are used.
Which headset will take the lead? Maybe Oculus and HTC will co-exist. Maybe one will perish. Maybe Sony’s approach to lower-cost entry will take the cake? But the cake is a lie. Either way, VR is in much better shape now than it was when the Virtual Boy came out, and sometimes excitement makes you buy an $800 CD burner.