Valve's HTC Re Vive is a Formidable Opponent to Oculus Rift

Hands-on time with Valve's entry to the VR marketplace shows that Oculus' early start wasn't enough to fend off competition.

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We've seen a lot of hype around Valve’s entrance into the head mounted display market since they made the announcement at GDC earlier this month. HTC will be the first major company to release a virtual reality HMD in winter of 2015. I remain skeptical of their choice to partner with HTC on this project, but this could be the first of many hardware partnerships if Valve’s Steam machines are any indication.

WEVR had a private conference room at VRLA where a select few folks were able to experience the HTC Re Vive. I was lucky enough to get in for the last demo of the night, and it was definitely worth the two-hour wait. Inside were two large tripods with sensors facing each other on opposite corners of a 10x10-foot square. I was asked to stand in the center of the square on a piece of tape and they proceeded to set me up. The current prototype requires that you wear a belt with a USB hub attached to the back. On with the HTC Re Vive, which has two velcro straps on either side to comfortably situate the HMD on your face. Next came the headphones, and lastly they handed me two Valve controller protoypes that were similar to Wiimotes. Strapped in, I was ready to go!

Deep and Colorful

The demo was a truncated version of the GDC one. First, they let me get oriented with the platform in the demo’s menu screen. The controllers each have trigger buttons and haptic touchpads that are very similar to the touchpads found on Valve’s Steam controller. The controllers are also visible in VR, in a way very similar to the Sixense STEM system. Holding down the left trigger button caused balloons to inflate from the left controller. You could then swat at them in mid-air with either controller. The menu screen also had a color palette menu, letting me point my right controller at the top of the left one to change the color of the balloon. This was definitely the first “a-ha moment” of the demonstration.

Next, my attention was directed at the four mesh walls surrounding me. The one in front of me indicated where the actual real life wall was, so I walked up and touched it. Clearly their sensor technology is very advanced, and I was blown away by how intuitive and elegant the menu experience was. I walked back to the center of the room and pointed my right controller at the play button in the center of the menu.

On top of the menu demonstration, two experiences were showcased. First was WEVR’s theBlu, an underwater sea experience. The demo begins at the bow of a sunken ship. In this demo, you are able to walk around, lean over the side, and interact with the fish by swatting at them with the controllers. The controllers were visible in this demo, but in a translucent manner to not interfere too much with the immersive experience. A couple bigger fish began swimming by, and then some stingrays and hammerhead sharks. Then, I heard a noise from behind me. I turned around, and there was a massive blue whale whizzing right by my head. I ducked to avoid his giant barnacle-covered fin. The whale let out a couple more calls and then disappeared into the blue. It was a very cool experience, but I am not sure that it couldn’t have been accomplished with the Oculus Crescent Bay Prototype.

The second and final experience was a Virtual Reality Paintbrush. This really showcased Valve’s controller prototypes and provided an experience that I have yet to see from Oculus. Your right hand controller acts as the brush, and the left hand controller was a color palette, as well as a menu with different options for the brush. You could paint leaves, stars, and various other shapes. You could also select which type of paint for different texture effects. I had a blast painting in 3D. The folks in the demo room were laughing at some of my crude drawings, but this was a truly immersive experience that I believe showcased how VR could be used as a creative tool. The key to this experience was Valve’s controller prototypes. Haptic touchpads really make a lot of sense in VR as they give your hands a sense of where they are on the controller. The tracking of their motion sensors was also very impressive. Sadly, it was time for me to leave VR and return to downtown Los Angeles. I thanked the folks from WEVR and was on my merry way.

Virtual Competition

The landscape for virtual reality head mounted displays becomes more and more cluttered by the day. There were even more HMDs being demoed on the show floor at VRLA, but I have a firm belief that there will be only a few products left standing at the end of this gold rush. Valve’s take on VR is definitely one that has staying power, but it remains to be seen how it will go to market. Not many people have a 10x10 foot space in their home that they can solely use for VR. It is not clear how they can go to market with the large sensors on tripods, and it remains to be seen how much this product will cost.

One real breakthrough Valve has achieved is their VR human interface device. The Valve controller prototypes are a very natural way of interacting with VR, while still allowing for traditional gameplay mechanics. The user interface and menu systems showcased in the demo blow away anything else I have seen for VR. I bring up human interface devices every time I speak with Oculus or VR developers because I feel like it is the missing link in the chain. Valve has shown us their vision for how we will interact with VR content, and we are still waiting on Oculus to show us what they got. The fact that you can see the controllers in VR, and feel the haptic feedback on the touchpads really makes Valve’s HTC Re Vive an experience to remember.

The HTC Re Vive will have a first mover advantage accompanied by the brand loyalty of Gabe Newell's followers. I would be worried if I were Oculus. The momentum seems to have shifted to Valve and they already have a huge distribution network for VR content in Steam. This VR war is going to be fun to watch. Hopefully increased competition like this will lead to innovation and a better overall user experience for customers.

CEO

Asif Khan is the CEO and majority shareholder of Shacknews. He began his career in video game journalism as a freelancer in 2001 for Tendobox.com. Asif is a CPA and was formerly an investment adviser representative. After much success in his own personal investments, he retired from his day job in financial services and is currently focused on new private investments. His favorite PC game of all time is Duke Nukem 3D, and he is an unapologetic fan of most things Nintendo. Asif first frequented the Shack when it was sCary's Shugashack to find all things Quake. When he is not immersed in investments or gaming he is a purveyor of fine electronic music. Asif also has an irrational love of Cleveland sports.

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From The Chatty

  • reply
    March 23, 2015 4:00 PM

    Asif Khan posted a new article, Valve's HTC Re Vive is a Formidable Opponent to Oculus Rift

    • reply
      March 23, 2015 4:06 PM

      Zuckerberg thought he was paying $2 billion for best in class hardware/software, and then out of left field comes Valve

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        March 23, 2015 4:11 PM

        Facebook paid 2b for some of the best engineering and graphics talent in the world, along with ground breaking hardware. I don't know why anyone would criticize that acquisition, it was smart on both sides. Valve doesn't automatically win just because they entered an industry that every single large consumer electronics company is going to be forced to enter anyway.

        People just don't get how big of a thing VR/AR will be.

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          March 23, 2015 4:12 PM

          They've got an assload of talent. A whole bunch of people I know that are industry vets at there now. Nothing to sneeze at.

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            March 23, 2015 6:09 PM

            I'm sure the competition does, too

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            March 23, 2015 6:12 PM

            That doesn't help them much outside of its Oculus gaming division. Game developers don't translate well to their other divisions. I hope to god that Oculus makes some good games

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          March 23, 2015 4:24 PM

          The other thing that's playing in my mind is all the talent that left Valve knowing that this thing was already being built and chose to go to Oculus. There is knowledge and perspective in that decision that I will never have. It's definitely the long view from Oculus.

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          March 23, 2015 4:29 PM

          Which is still vaporware unless a product is released. The first to market with a sub 200 headset may actually have a chance at mass market appeal but until then it is still the same ol' shit they been promising since the 90's.

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          March 23, 2015 4:41 PM

          And they got it. The roster is amazing at Oculus. On the other end Valve was basically sharing information with Oculus. Regardless of the intentions of FB and HTC.

          I'm convinced that Valve and Oculus really want the VR scene to succeed in a way that goes beyond money.

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          March 23, 2015 5:04 PM

          Prior to the acquisition, people thought Oculus must have had some magic that no one had. Then a year later, 2 other firms just up and created their own divisions that created headsets that are close to, if not better than, Oculus Rift in some ways (Morpheus and Vive). At the very least, it shows that it's possible for other firms can reasonably become competitive in this space, even a division at a 300 man private company.

          My post above didn't say it was a bad move. Just that the high price tag for the acquisition seemed to be because Oculus was some kind of exclusive industry pioneer who had no peers. And that's turning out not to be the case.

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          March 23, 2015 5:05 PM

          "People just don't get how big of a thing VR/AR will be."

          This more than anything. It's going to change so much, and most people don't realize we are standing on the edge of something so huge.

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            March 23, 2015 5:07 PM

            What is it going to change specifically? I'm hopeful, but nobody has yet been able to answer why it's going to overcome specific obstacles in the industries it's going to upend.

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              March 23, 2015 6:10 PM

              I see AR as the big thing, more than VR at first.

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                March 23, 2015 6:28 PM

                So do I. AR is a tech I'll be able to use anywhere, anytime, without blocking out the outside world. VR is cool, but comes with specific conditions: you have to wear a helmet; you'll be disconnected from the real world, which means you'll only be able to use it when the kids are in bed and in an environment where you feel safe; some people will find it disorienting...

                AR will be like a filmy curtain dropped over all the things I do in everyday life.

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              March 23, 2015 6:12 PM

              The primary obstacle being that people don't want a big thing on their face. My wife makes fun of me just for wearing a headset for chat.

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              March 23, 2015 7:56 PM

              AR more than vr, I think. Reality with a super layer imposed on top of it.

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          March 23, 2015 6:18 PM

          It's pathetic how on certain gaming forums you see daily threads about "IS VR A FAD? OR IS IT GOING TO BE THE NEXT BIG THING?"

          those backwards idiots have no fucking idea what is about to hit them.

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            March 23, 2015 6:25 PM

            Just curious why you think it's pathetic? I think VR is going to be huge among gaming enthusiasts, but even in that group there's been a ton of people saying they can't use the things for more than a couple minutes without getting sick. I don't see it as being anything more than a novelty among the general populace. Something you play when you go over to your nerd friend's house. I do think it will have practical applications in certain industries, but I think that will be a specialty thing.

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              March 23, 2015 6:37 PM

              I think healthy skepticism is fine. I'm more pointing out what looks to me like reactionary panic, like it's this thing that's going to be foisted on poor, embattled gamers they like it or not. Like it's another Kinect or motion controls thing. It's definitely not that.

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              March 23, 2015 6:42 PM

              The nausea has reportedly been almost completely eliminated in the newer units. Famously Brendan Iribe could not use any of Oculus's prototypes for more than 15 seconds. Then he spent 20 minutes using the Valve prototype that just predated the Vive. They know exactly what causes nausea and it just took time to solve.

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              March 23, 2015 6:33 PM

              (I know it's better than Virtual Boy)

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        March 23, 2015 4:22 PM

        i said this before but john carmack is worth 1 billion alone. no exaggeration ok maybe a little

        they got abrash too! and a bunch of good people.

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        March 23, 2015 5:03 PM

        Valve will bring us VR gaming, Oculus will bring us the Metaverse.

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        March 23, 2015 5:07 PM

        Not exactly left field when many people at Oculus previously worked at Valve on VR. And the things Valve showed off were in early prototype state when those folks worked at Valve.

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        March 23, 2015 6:24 PM

        looking at all that hardware, this Vive solution looks to be considerable on the higher end of the VR models.

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      March 23, 2015 4:20 PM

      The second Valve announced Vive, Oculus immediately left my mind and Valve's headset is the one I plan to purchase. It seems more high end, and Valve actually seems to have more backing of both software and hardware.

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        March 23, 2015 4:23 PM

        I just want a headset for cockpit type games, racing and flight sims- maybe light fps and adventure or horror stuff. Valve's full room / awareness with the lighthouse(s) setup seems like total overkill to me and the games I want to play in VR, especially when you still need to be tethered to a high end PC. Seems great if you want a proto-holodeck type thing though. I wonder if they'll all be trying to fill the same niches eventually.

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        March 23, 2015 4:26 PM

        Hopefully the competition will drive down prices, but the likely hood of that is pretty slim.

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          March 23, 2015 4:50 PM

          Valve did say their's will be priced "high-end", so I expect Oculus to be cheaper. But from what I know, Valve's headset is better overall.

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          March 23, 2015 5:01 PM

          especially since HTC already said to "expect a higher price"

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      March 23, 2015 4:20 PM

      Thanks for the writeup!

      Yeah the focus on the controllers has come fast and furious. In the early days of Oculus I think everyone was just happy to have an HMD, but those days are over. Either Oculus buys Sixsense and gets a complete product together or they have something deep up their sleeve that they haven't discussed yet. They could be left way behind.

      On the other hand, Oculus seems to be betting on the long game as Carmack has described. The way they see it, first to market is not the winner. They've done a lot of spearheading and seem perfectly happy to let Valve spend some time on that for them. Luckey himself has also stated things to the effect of "anything that expands the potential user base is good for Oculus." I just hope they're right, and that the competition will be long fought and good for me (the end user) at the end of the day.

      Did you get to do any of the Oculus VR Movies developed by their team built for that? One thing I wonder about is if that whale demo has some of the interactivity described by the cinematic team at Oculus. An example: if you hold your hand up and try to high five the whale, does he shrink away or move to connect with the high five? Another thing to consider is something akin to the whale Demo could be recorded and played back pre-rendered with the right software. You wouldn't get the same changes in perspective, but it's content like this that Oculus is ready to tackle with their first release of the Samsung device.

      I am excite. The end of this year will hopefully be an exciting time for VR.

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      March 23, 2015 4:39 PM

      i'm skeptical because valve has no track record for hardware and a very questionable track record for getting projects to market in a timely fashion

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      March 23, 2015 5:08 PM

      Briefcase man, have you tried STEM? How would you compare the two?

      I already find Half Life 2 VR immensely enjoyable with the razor hydras as controllers so I can only imagine what potential valve can think of using the valve universe and VR. The unfortunate thing is that it seems as though most VR experiences will target a stationary setting due to the lack of a reliable, realistic motion solution that does not induce motion sickness. I have yet to hear of a solution that allows natural, realistic traversal through the virtual world with your own two feet!

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        March 23, 2015 5:46 PM

        I have tried the Sixense STEM, and I actually demoed Xsens yesterday. The Xsens system allows for feet movement detection. In my opinion, the haptic touchpad on Valve's controllers makes the overall experience superior to STEM.

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      March 23, 2015 5:50 PM

      At first I felt loyal to oculus because I've been watching the company grow but it's foolish to think they wouldn't be the next Comcast or AOL for VR/AR if given the chance. So I'm stoked about the competition.

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      March 23, 2015 5:53 PM

      Awesome article Asif, nice info, thanks for the pics, I would love to try it out, sounds really good. I agree with your controls and interfaces are going to be a big deal and very important aka make or break the experience, and Valve seems to know what they are doing early on that is for sure.

      I think its real rad you wrote the article and are so involved and up to date with the things we all love in gaming and are also the man behind the ship. Not many higher ups are so involved or have a clue as to what is out there or what the actual users/gamers are doing and to be blunt usually just don't give a shit and don't get their hands dirty.

      Very cool man, thanks, keep it up.

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        March 23, 2015 5:58 PM

        Thank you!

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        March 23, 2015 6:16 PM

        I completely agree about input devices! It's shocking how overlooked input is in modern computing. PCs are stuck with input devices largely invented between 40 and 100+ years ago, partly because they are really good, and partly because not a lot of (serious) work has gone into doing better. Console input systems are much newer but still relatively stagnant over the past 10+ years and not always improvements upon previous controls. The last 5 years has been about motion controls and the Kinect which, while cool, have not really paid off except for niche games. Finally, for a decade now, much of the industry has been fixated on zero-feedback touchscreen interfaces which I personally find to be terribly overrated, especially for gaming. Mobile gaming advocates even try to pass off cellphone-style rumble motors as "haptic feedback".

        I think VR is going to be awesome and to some degree we'll be able to use some of the same input devices we are currently using. But I think VR deserves a renewed focus on input systems before it can start realizing its full potential, especially because as soon as you put on an HMD you are giving up all environmental awareness or even the ability to see the letters ABXY on your gamepad or the keys on your keyboard. Valve seems to have been doing a lot of thinking in this area so maybe that's where it will come from.

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      March 23, 2015 6:03 PM

      Is it wrong that with all this VR shit, all I want is to be able to strap on a headset and have a virtual hangout room to hang out with friends?

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      March 23, 2015 6:08 PM

      damn imagine having to duck behind cover because theres gunfire. or you're driving in some vehicle and you have to fire some shots behind you terminator2 style.

      this is crazy, gamers will be so fit...

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      March 24, 2015 7:59 AM

      I just hope that when they both come out there will be some kind of software standard so we're not back in the Wild West days of the first 3D cards where each one had its own API and it all depended on if the game you want to play supported your card or not

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      March 24, 2015 8:16 AM

      So did you feel any motion sickness with the Valve setup?