With Virtual Reality becoming the next platform of tomorrow, we see a lot of OEMs clamoring to make an impact in the market. Over the last year, many companies have released hints and rumors of the work they’ve been doing in the field with a few of the major market holders even releasing their versions of what a perfect VR system should be like. These include the Facebook owned Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive headset, the PlayStation VR by Sony, Microsoft’s HoloLens and even Google’s Project Tango.
Even though VR is in its very early stages, it’s interesting to see the unique touch each of these companies have added to their products. Each of them are trying to lay the basis of the perfect VR system for tomorrow and to get the edge in the highly competitive electronics market, as Google and Apple did with Android and iOS respectively.
After years of hype created by the Oculus Rift, Valve suddenly became the frontrunner in the VR race when it announced SteamVR last March. The SteamVR is a complete Virtual Reality System that is real, works well and has managed to overcome most of the problems that once stood in the way of VR going mainstream. It is the culmination of years of research done at Valve in motion tracking, 3D imagery, VR environment and positional tracking.
What is SteamVR
SteamVR is a complete Virtual Reality System that defines a standard of viewing and interacting with virtual items such that it seems real to the user. It consists of three main hardware components that allow viewing, tracking and interaction with items in a virtual plane. Following are the details about the 3 major components of SteamVR
1. VR Headset
The first component of the SteamVR is the Virtual Reality headset. Valve partnered with HTC and built what is known as the HTC Vive. Like other VR headsets, The Vive contains two screens with a resolution of 1080×1200 each, displaying data at a very high refresh rate (90Hz). What this means is that the screens shift through individual frames very fast; much faster than the human eye or mind can process so that the frames seem to appear as a fast moving video. Two curved lenses are positioned between the eye and the displays that create rounded field of view and help focus the eyes on the displays, creating a 3D illusion. The headset connects to a PC which can run games or other virtual reality software.
2. Valve Lighthouse
Valve Lighthouse consists of a pair of base stations that emit lasers. These base stations are placed at corners of the room where you intend to setup your SteamVR. These base stations use lasers to track the HTC Vive Headset position in the room.
The lasers make contact with the sensors placed on the surface of the Vive and the data is then relayed to the computer or processing device to be processed along with the data from the base stations. One thing to note here is that the tracking system using in the SteamVR is very precise and quick to respond. It is also used to determine the area of the room in order to provide better VR experience. This way, you can be sure that you won’t bang your head against the wall while playing a Virtual Reality game.
3. The Controllers
HTC Vive Controllers are the last thing in the SteamVR system. If you have ever seen Nintendo Wii remotes, you can see hints of design on these Vive controllers that resembles a lot with them. There’s a thumb-pad located on the stick of the controller which can also be used as buttons or to provide movement inputs into the VR. However, the primary button which performs majority of the actions is placed at the back of the controller. You can easily press it with your index finger.
System Requirements and Pricing
Valve hasn’t released any specific system requirements for SteamVR yet. But because VR requires high refresh rates pushed to two displays, it’s going to be fairly demanding.
Even though it’s been a year since it announced the SteamVR, Valve has remained quiet on its pricing or about when it will be available for purchase (though we expect it to be out soon considering Valve recently released its own VR animation software). It is expected that it will cost quite a bit more than its competition like the Oculus Rift and the PlayStation VR mainly because the laser-based tracking system is likely more expensive than the camera system Oculus and Sony have been using with their headsets. SteamVR also includes a pair of controllers that will add to the cost.
The SteamVR showcases years of research and development that Valve put into developing and producing a good virtual reality experience. It has helped the Virtual Reality come a long way and has tackled quite a few roadblocks that hindered the expansion of the platform. Many prominent game developers tried the new SteamVR at the 2015 Game Developer’s Conference, and came away as true believers. We believe the system has a lot of potential but, like every innovation, it will have some issues and bugs that Valve will need to rectify before it launches the SteamVR.
To find out more about the SteamVR, keep visiting the SteamVR page on Steam Universe.