The HTC Vive’s release date and price has finally been formally announced, weighing in at an eye-watering $799 – that’s about $200 more than the Oculus Rift.
But why is HTC’s rival VR headset so much more expensive than its Facebook-owned rival? As far as we can tell, it’s all down to the tech.
The Oculus Rift’s specs – whilst impressive – don’t match up with some of the more sophisiticated positional tracking that the Vive has. In a nutshell – you’re paying extra for the ‘Lighthouse’ technology that the Vive uses to be able to ‘see’ where you are.
The Rift offers 360-degree positional tracking and shows the user a 110-degree field of view. This means you can ‘look around’ fully within the headset, and the natural field of view is equal to our regular peripheral vision!
The Oculus manages to track its wearer thanks to a combination of accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer – all three work in sync to determine the position of you and your head.
Will It Ever Get Cheaper?
“The recommended spec will stay constant over the lifetime of the Rift,” says Oculus in a blog on its site. “As the equivalent-performance hardware becomes less expensive, more users will have systems capable of the full Rift experience. Developers, in turn, can rely on Rift users having these modern machines, allowing them to optimise their game for a known target, simplifying development.”
Simply put: this might seem like expensive, high-end tech right now, but it’ll form the foundation of the Oculus software over the platform’s entire life… so we’ll see the barrier to entry get cheaper… eventually.
The HTC Vive
The Vive is a stronger bit of hardware than either of its competitors. It’s not that the PSVR or the Oculus Rift aren’t as good as the Vive (because they certainly are), it’s just that the Vive stays in our head as a more visceral 3D experience. There’s something about the way the tech works, the way the handheld controllers operate, the way the Vive really transports you to another world that we just find spell-binding.
The Oculus and the PSVR are designed to be used sitting down. While you can do that with the Vive, it’s primary purpose is to have you standing, to have you fully engaged with the alternate reality its beaming right into your eyes.
The upside of this is that you can enjoy VR experiences in a premium way, but the downside is that you’re going to need a lot of space to install and erect the various devices that need to be put up around your VR play zone. But there’s some innovative tech under the hood of the Vive that will – hopefully – ensure everything you do in VR is safe and protected…
What Is ‘Lighthouse?’
‘Lighthouse’ tech gets its name because of how it works – rather than using a camera to determine where the objects in the VR space are, it uses non-visible light. Like its namesake, the Lighthouse box simply fires out a flash of light into the 3D space like a radar. An array of LEDs inside the Lighthouse box flash up to 60 times per second, and a laser sweeps a beam of light across the room.
Those sensors dotted all over the Vive pick the light of the LEDs, and the headset begins timing the millisecond it gets hit by this light. Then, it waits until it gets hit by one of the lasers, and uses the data it collects to determine where the photosensor that was hit is, and when the beam was in contact with the headset. That way, the headset can instantly calculate its exact position relative to the basestations.
So Why The Price Difference?
You’ll probably pay about £689 for the Vive in the UK, versus the Oculus which you can pick up for £499. That extra £180 is likely down the the manufacturing costs of the Lighthouse boxes the Vive uses, as well as the positional tracking controllers it uses.
It’s also likely that Oculus is set to make a small loss on many of the units it sells – an effort of keeping the price down – after Oculus’ founder Palmer Luckey’s tweets regarding how ‘insanely cheap’ the Oculus is actually selling for.
It’s worth noting the ‘recommended’ specs for the HTC Vive, too:
Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent, or greater
Processor: Intel i5-4590, AMD FX 8350 equivalent, or greater
Video Output: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2, or newer
USB Port: 1x USB 2.0 or greater port
Operating System: Windows 7 SP1 or newer
This’ll take a more powerful PC to run than what most of us are using now (estimates suggest that less than 20% of current PCs will be capable of running the Rift – we assume that’s lower for the Vive). It’s not cheap to get in the door with VR – not cheap at all – and we just hope the efforts of myriad software developers, engineers and tech pioneers aren’t lost because of the high price entry point.