Take a breath, because here we go again. Five weeks after Oculus announced that the Rift would cost $599, drawing a wave of criticism from some quarters, HTC and Valve announced today at Mobile World Congress that its consumer Vive virtual reality kit, available for pre-order on February 29, shipping in April, will set you back $799.
That extra $200 gets you what HTC and Valve called “the complete package,” meaning the HMD, two wireless controllers, two wireless base stations, a link box and ear buds, and some games bundled in for a limited time (Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives from Owlchemy Labs; and Fantastic Contraption from Northway Games).
Oculus has not announced pricing for its wireless Touch controllers, which will ship sometime later in the first half of this year. Those controllers would put the Oculus and HTC VR kits closer to parity, price and package wise. The lack of Touch controllers in the first Oculus consumer offering is the object of HTC's not-so-subtle jab when it says "the complete package."
When peppered with questions about the cost, HTC and Valve also talked about the experience the companies were aiming to create, meaning the combination of two base stations, two controllers that are tracked in 360 degrees, and Vive's room scale exploration capability and the Chaperone technology that helps make it possible. (The Chaperone system maps the barriers of the tracking area.) Valve's Chet Faliszek said room scale was the main principle from the beginning, that the companies wanted to put the user in the middle of the content, with integrated input devices, with full tracking, within small or large volumes of space (or seated), and without the user worrying about physical space barriers, or the technology at all.
When HTC and Valve say “the complete package,” that’s also what they mean.
HTC also revealed a few hardware changes and details. You’ll remember that the at CES, HTC revealed a front facing camera that incorporates external objects into the VR experience as an extension to the Chaperone system (you see a blue wireframe that outlines other objects and people in the camera’s view).
The final Vive HMD will be equipped with a microphone, which will be tied to Vive Phone Services, including receiving and accepting phone calls, calendar reminders, and seeing and replying to text messages. The HMD gets a slightly more refined head strap and a polished finish, along with some adjustments to the two face gaskets (two are included in the box), including more eyeglass relief.
There are no changes to the controllers since we saw them last at CES (these included haptic feedback and dual stage triggers, as well as some nice ergonomic changes), but HTC and Valve reiterated that the controller batteries last four hours and can be charged via universal USB.
The base stations get updated motors, which HTC said are quieter. Optimally, the base stations should be positioned above your head, but they can also be on the floor, so long as they are across from one another to help eliminate occlusion.
HTC and Valve hinted that more details will continue to trickle out at appropriate industry events, with GDC being the next target time frame, and where the companies will most likely announce more content updates. When pressed about the zero day content catalog, HTC and Valve said simply to stay tuned. Valve just hosted a Steam VR developer showcase, and we've written about many of those upcoming games. The companies did emphasize that there are plenty of non-gaming content partners working on offerings as well, in fields like medicine, education, and sports, where precision tracking opens up new possibilities.
Vive-ready PC bundles like those for the Oculus Rift are coming, HTC said, but the company isn’t ready to talk specifics (such as who, what and when).
HTC specifically said it is not talking about minimum specs for the consumer Vive -- only recommended ones -- with a GeForce GTX 970 and AMD Radeon 290 representing the low end of what HTC and Valve think will deliver optimal performance. Valve’s Chet Faliszek did say that the companies are working with Unity and Unreal to push the minimum requirements down further for future implementations.
While the price of the offerings from Oculus and HTC will likely continue to be the source of debate, there will undoubtedly be plenty of takers. HTC and Valve see the high-end PC enthusiast and VR enthusiast markets as ripe for the Vive, which is probably not a stretch given that most enthusiasts will either have a system capable of powering the Vive or the Rift, or be a graphics card upgrade away. When pressed about market sizing, HTC and Valve, like so many others we've asked, failed to get specific.
Vive pre-orders begin next Monday, February 29, at 10am EST, with customers receiving the product in early April. It will ship in 24 countries (US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden, Taiwan, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand), it will include a warranty, and all of the charging cords and the tethering cable for the base stations (they are wireless, but wired is an option).
There will be support resources (call centers, chat rooms, Steam communities) for help, but HTC said that the company has gone through many setup trials and feels confident that it will be pretty easy, even saying that despite guidelines regarding base station placement, precision isn’t really necessary. Valve has integrated SteamVR, meaning that any system updates will be pushed out to all systems simultaneously.