High-powered virtual reality — not the smartphone headsets — is coming this year, with the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive all having 2016 release dates. At MWC 2016, HTC didn’t say exactly when their Vive will ship, but they did announce the price. It’s rough — $800.
That’s $200 more than the Oculus Rift, but the comparison isn’t that clear cut. The Vive VR system will come bundled with a pair of wireless controllers with vibration and trigger buttons, while the Oculus Touch controls will be sold separately from the Rift (it’ll come with an Xbox One controller instead). The Vive will also now come with a microphone, allowing users to respond to calls and send preset text message replies using voice commands. That makes the Vive seem a little more like a general VR platform instead of strictly a gaming platform, making it more similar to the direction the Oculus Rift has taken since being purchased by Facebook. Also included are base stations for room tracking, which in theory would allow you to move around a room while playing a VR game (which might not always be a great idea).
The HTC Vive’s recommended specs suggest a PC with at least an NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD 290 graphics card and an Intel Haswell i5 CPU. The graphics card requirements in particular limit both the Vive and the Rift to high-powered tower desktop PCs, most of which are owned for the sake of gaming. Having such a high initial price tag on something that can only be used by a relatively small group of people could spell trouble for first generation VR. In this way, Oculus might have an advantage now that it can work with an Xbox One, while the PlayStation VR is nicely positioned by working in tandem with the successful PlayStation 4.
That’s to say nothing of the most important part of the entire VR sales pitch — the actual games. There’s still a paucity of VR games getting visibility for any of the three platforms, although Oculus certainly has an advantage with games like EVE Valkyrie, a spacefighting sim. That game is confirmed for PlayStation VR, too, but not for the Vive. Granted, VR development isn’t that closed off yet — the only thing barring games coming out for all VR platforms is money paid by those platforms for exclusives. Currently, Vive isn’t doing that, relying more on an open platform spearheaded by Steam.
For a limited time, the Vive will ship with two games called Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives and Fantastic Contraption. The former is set in a world where robots have taken over all jobs, making human work a sort of museum attraction (I think 2050 might be a bit optimistic), while the latter allows you to build complex Rube Goldberg-like machines. They’re more tech demos than fully-fledged games, though, somewhat like what Wii Sports was for the Nintendo Wii.
That makes the Vive seem like it has more of a “If you build, they will come” approach to developers. Given that anything developed for Oculus can easily be made to work with the Vive, that’s probably true. The issue is with VR at large — if the buyers don’t come, neither will the developers. Given the high prices of these VR systems out of the gate and the high minimum specs required for them to work, first generation VR might be in for a rough time. After all, it’s been proven true time and time again — while there do need to be early adopters to get a technology off the ground, it’s almost always better for most of us to wait until the tech gets refined and cheaper one or two generations later.
If you are one of those brave early adopters, we salute you. You’ll be able to preorder the HTC Vive starting February 29 for $800. Ship date hasn’t been confirmed, but HTC says it will be in early April.