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The HTC Vive is a virtual reality headset developed by consumer electronics company HTC in conjunction with video game developers Valve. The HTC Vive was the very first VR headset produced by these companies, but it would not be the last.
Created and developed by HTC and Valve, the Vive might never have happened if it wasn’t for chance encounters. HTC Chief Content Officer, Phil Cheng, stated that the company didn’t have any plans to go into VR hardware. He described the path into VR and the collaboration with Valve as serendipitous in the first instance.
Once HTC and Valve put their heads together, the Vive began to take shape. It was announced by Valve in 2015 at the Game Developers Conference that year. HTC showed off the prototype device at the Mobile World Congress a month later in March 2015.
In the initial announcement, the HTC Vive was referred to as the SteamVR hardware, as it was being designed to link in with the SteamVR software. Steam being the virtual storefront owned by Valve. Interestingly, Steam and Valve never closed compatibility for SteamVR. This means that lots of other third-party VR headsets work with SteamVR.
The research, design, and development of the HTC Vive was carried out by both HTC and Valve. There wasn’t a particularly clear split of responsibilities between the companies. However, Valve, as a video game developer, did offer functionality and playability advice. One of the earliest decisions made by the development team focused on how to track movement. At the time, most other VR headsets were using dot tracking systems. This involved a stationary camera picking up LED lights on the headset and controller.
For the Vive, HTC and Valve decided to go for a laser tracking system. This meant that they needed a base station that would emit infrared lasers that the headset could pick up.
Laser tracking is much more accurate, but it was difficult to get right. The first prototype saw a headset covered in exposed sensors and wires. Naturally, this wouldn’t do, so it was back to the drawing board. Six months after pairing up, HTC and Valve invited developers to their headquarters to try out the very first HTC Vive. It was nowhere near consumer ready, but this process allowed the company to gather key feedback.
By mid-2014, headsets were delivered to developers and HTC’s production line had begun work on more Vives. After announcing the headset in 2015, development and production focused on finessing the headset. This involved reducing the size and weight as well as better distributing the center of gravity.|
Pre-orders were opened up a year after the announcement in February 2016 with the first consumer units being shipped in April 2016.
The HTC Vive consists of a headset, controllers, and base stations. There are some additional accessories that can be bought, but they are not necessary for operation.
The headset has an OLED panel for each eye with a refresh rate of 90 Hz. This makes the whole VR experience smoother and less jarring on the eyes. The screens are large enough to give you 110-degree vision. This wide view is great for scoping out the field of play and spotting enemies. The other great thing about such a wide field of view is that you don’t have to constantly move your head around.
The front of the headset is covered in infrared sensors that receive the infrared laser pulses sent from the base stations. These sensors are covered, so there are no more exposed electronics. Instead, they look like lots of little divots all over the headset. One of the coolest features of the HTC Vive is the front-facing camera built into the headset. This is used as a safety feature. When the camera detects walls or obstacles in real life, a virtual wall appears on the display. This system, known as the Chaperone, helps to reduce injuries and accidents.
The controllers look something like a hoop on a stick. The handle is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in the hand. It also has a huge amount of different input methods including a trackpad, buttons, and triggers. The hoop of the controller is covered in infrared sensors that interact with the base stations. The 24 sensors are accurate to a fraction of a millimeter, which is incredible.
The base stations are also known as lighthouses. They emit infrared pulses at a timed interval which are picked up by the headset and controllers.