Last month, we published an article detailing the FTC addressing predatory warranty conditions, and in so doing, the FTC notified six companies of infractions violating the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. At the time of that writing, the names of the notified companies were not disclosed; however, Motherboard obtained the names via a Freedom of Information Act request, and they are as follows:
Steam today launched the pre-order for their collaboration project with HTC -- the HTC Vive for SteamVR. Those who pre-order get the whole kit-and-caboodle -- the headset, sensors, and controllers -- and a few extra throw-in games. We’ve covered Valve’s VR multiple times, going so far as to explain the “how it works” in-depth here, and we’ve talked about our opinion of the whole thing.
Ivan Sutherland's “Sword of Domacles” head-mounted display lurched above its user as a spider above its prey; the contraption, as most technology of its era, was room-sized. The Sword of Domacles wasn't meant to be a user-accessible VR solution. It produced primitive wireframes of a room's interior and was strictly observational, demonstrated in awkward photos with the wearer's hands neatly clasped behind his back. This was Ground Zero for VR.
Sutherland later joined David Evans to build the University of Utah's Computer Science and Computer Graphics divisions, responsible for students who'd later create the world's first computer-animated 3D graphics. Through Sutherland and Evans – and their students – the foundation for Adobe, Pixar, and Silicon Graphics (SGI) was set, later producing companies like the modern nVidia. All this history of VR is recapped more thoroughly in our “History of Virtual Reality” article.
Oculus VR and Valve are makers of the modern-day HMD incarnates. Billions of dollars are backing these new ventures and, for the first time in history, viable VR solutions don't cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They're also not military-owned, another common theme of previous virtual reality attempts.
Our team has spent a considerable amount of time in virtual reality demos. The technology is an impressive fusion of display advancements, frametime pacing optimization, input latency management, and IR scanning. Just the display tech alone is nearly unrivaled, the Rift packing 2160x1200 pixels into a space smaller than a phone screen. Screen Door Effect issues have been largely resolved or circumvented on each of the major two VR solutions, and timewarp has been navigated with clever GPU processing techniques by both AMD and nVidia. Everything's lining-up to be a serious push into virtual reality and, this time, there's enough money behind the concept that it's not another “3D glasses” fad. Probably, anyway.
But I don't think VR is ready for day-one adoption by the general gaming audience. Impressive – yes; here to stay – yes. But not ready for gamers. The Vive and Rift both experience similar versions of the same problems: Hardware requirements and prices that rival more affordable displays, logistical and use case limitations, and the industry's myopic understanding of game design.
HTC's Vive and Oculus VR's Rift are the two big players that we're focusing on today.
Intel has plenty of floor presence at CES – building-sized booths, et al. – but the most interesting thing they brought to CES may have been in a separate demo suite. The suite was loaded with the latest laptops from each of the industry's most prolific manufacturers, one of which – a GT72 from MSI (we’ve reviewed them a few times) – hung mounted to a mobile VR rig. We’ll get to that in a moment.
We were first introduced to the new Razer Blade Stealth, an impressively light and thin laptop with a 1440p display and a USB type C port. The type C port can be used as a charging port for the laptop or as a Thunderbolt 3 connection. Intel used the USB C port as a Thunderbolt link to connect to the Razer Core, an external graphics card enclosure (we’ve looked at these before, too). The device inside the Razer Core was an AMD graphics card and the connection was announced by the software each time we removed or replaced the cable. Just for kicks, we also flipped the USB C connector because that's still fun to do that.
The latest HTC Vive demo plants players within the photorealistic outcroppings of Mount Everest, an atmosphere which serves more as an “experience” than an outright “game.” Mechanics are effectively boiled-down to look at stuff and move the sticks, with the full bore of virtual reality graphics processing stealing the spotlight. Developers Solfar Studios stitched together tens of thousands of frames from the real mountain, accurately height-mapped the mountain, and firmly represent Everest’s actual crevices, ravines, and spine-like ridgelines to the Vive wearer.
This is the final iteration of the HTC Vive. We previously published a deep-dive on the headset’s technological inner-workings, but substantial changes have been made in just the few months following. Core concepts and objectives remain largely unchanged, yet execution and design have received additional development focus thanks to delays from initial Xmas ’15 launch targets. The Vive isn’t the first HMD to push back launch into 2016, either; Oculus VR’s Rift will post its public pre-order page on Wednesday, 1/6, finally nearing its own launch target of 2Q16.
The VR juggernauts are going head-to-head, then, with launch dates fully aligning and graphics vendors supporting all viable technologies. Our initial user impressions are above, GN’s Patrick Stone joining for a different perspective. Carry on for the split-author impressions editorial.
Patrick Stone covers all Oculus Rift sections (demarcated with parenthetical notation); Steve Burke covers the HTC Vive.
At PAX Prime, thanks to the folks at Valve and HTC, we got another first-hand experience with what may be the best option in personal VR to-date: the Vive.
Our first encounter with the Valve/HTC Vive was at GDC 2015, the headset’s first showcase, and we were limited on information and recording permission. HTC and nVidia brought the Vive to PAX Prime this year, the former bringing us into their conference room for another lengthy, hands-on demonstration. We took the opportunity to talk tech with the HTC team, learning all about how Valve and HTC’s VR solution works, the VR pipeline, latencies and resolutions, wireless throughput limitations, and more. The discussion was highly technical – right up our alley – and greatly informed us on the VR process.
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