BARCELONA, Spain –– HTC surprised the audience, and joined an emerging field in consumer tech, by introducing a virtual-reality headset on Sunday called the HTC Vive. The headset is a partnership with the popular gaming company Valve.
The Vive looks similar to Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset, with one key difference: The device, along with a pair of “base stations” that you place inside your room and handheld controllers, can track your physical motions, so that you can move around a room and have your movement reflected in the game.
(A side note: A developer tried selling something similar to the base stations last in 2013, though his Indiegogo campaign was not funded. I thought the idea was cool.)
Tech companies are devoting increasing resources to virtual reality headsets, as screen technology has improved and the experience has become far more immersive and convincing than the Nintendo Virtual Boy of old. Samsung recently announced its own virtual reality headset, the Gear VR, which uses the screen of your smartphone; more recently, Microsoft introduced the Hololens, an augmented reality headset that won rave reviews from initial wearers. Oculus, the company behind the Oculus Rift VR headset and the starter of the VR wave, was purchased by Facebook last year for more than $2 billion.
HTC will have to distinguish itself from those headsets; a spokesperson said that the company had signed partnerships with HBO, Google, and Lionsgate, in addition to several gaming studios. The ability to have your movements tracked onto your avatar in a game, however, could be key. Other headsets require a traditional gaming controller to move your character, or else ridiculous treadmill-lke apparatuses. Setting up a couple base stations in your basement, or on the tennis court, might just prove more appealing.
HTC also announced a new smartphone, the HTC One M9, as well as a new fitness tracker, the HTC Grip, a partnership with Under Armour.
The Vive will be released by the end of the year, according to HTC, though developers can request early kits now. More information can be found at the official website of the Vive. We’ll be trying out the Vive later this week; make sure you check back for our first impressions.