Valve and HTC revealed their partnership this week, the result of which is the HTC Vive VR headset. With the Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus both much better known to the public, the Vive has a bigger hill to climb to get some mindshare from the VR-curious crowd.
What Vive offers that the others do not is the Lighthouse tracking system.
Valve President and Internet Hero Gabe Newell compared its fundamental importance to USB in while speaking to Engadget. The system, he explains, is “a tracking technology that allows you to track an arbitrary number of points, room-scale, at sub-millimeter accuracy 100 times a second.”
You’ll set it up by distributing a couple of these base stations around the room you’re going to be in while you use virtual reality. These base stations communicate with the headset to help communicate where you are in the room, where your body is in relation to the headset, and things like that. If you get close to a wall, a grid pops up to stop you from hurting yourself or your fancy toys, as our own Todd Haselton experienced when he had the chance to check it out in person.
Valve’s plan is to give the technology powering Lighthouse away to anyone looking to use it:
We’re gonna just give that away. What we want is for that to be like USB. It’s not some special secret sauce. It’s like everybody in the PC community will benefit if there’s this useful technology out there. So if you want to build it into your mice, or build it into your monitors, or your TVs, anybody can do it.
While this isn’t exactly the same as walking around in a hologram, this sounds like the closest we’ve gotten yet to holodeck style tech. The HTC Vive is cord-bound to a PC like the Oculus Rift, but if Lighthouse is adopted by companies like Oculus and Sony, it could help move the tracking aspect of VR forward very quickly.
This tech could give the Vive a big head start over the other options to start with, setting it apart from the competition in a very real way. At least until everyone starts taking Valve up on their offer.