SteamVR is more than just the HTC Vive, it’s an entire virtual reality initiative from Valve

Announced at this year’s MWC, HTC Vive is a new virtual reality headset formed from a partnership between HTC and software developer Valve. At the time it was beleived to be an exclusive partnership, but thanks to Valve boss Gabe Newell speaking on the matter at this year’s GDC, it appears that we can expect more headsets to use Valve’s tech.

SteamVR is more than just the HTC Vive, it's an entire virtual reality initiative from Valve

HTC Valve Vive VR Headset

“You should think of the Vive as the first in the same way there are multiple Steam Machines,” said Newell when talking to Engadget. “We’re building tools and hopefully they’re valuable to hardware partners who want to do it.

“In some cases, we’ll take the leadership role in shipping stuff. But we’re really just building tools for other people to continue. So you’ll see more headsets.”

From Newell’s words it’s clear to see that the HTC Vive isn’t going to be the only SteamVR headset on the market. Think of the partnership similar to that of Samsung and Oculus VR’s in the Gear VR, except in this case HTC has decided against using its phone as a screen and Valve’s tech currently outstrips Oculus’.

For Valve the dream situation for VR is to have it rolled into its Steam ecosystem. It’s about delivering tools to developers and manufacturers and helping them fill the competitive VR market, it’s the reason why Valve is giving its tech away for free to interested hardware manufacturers.

“To be honest, we’re going to make our money on the back end, when people buy games from Steam. Right?” Newell continued. “So we’re trying to be forward-thinking and make those longer-term investments for PC gaming that are going to come back a couple years down the road.

Valve is aiming to defeat motion sickness with SteamVR

Valve’s push in the VR arena is to improve technology and reduce latency to create a better experience for users. So far that seems to be working reasonably well. Valve’s Lighthouse technology – which uses beacons and sensors to detect where you’re stood inside a 15 x 15ft square – and it’s high refresh rate of 90Hz is unlike anything currently available.

Steam VR Prototype - Valve to unveil SteamVR at GDC 2015

It’s probably why Newell can claim that Valve has solved the problem of nausea caused by VR devices, stating during an interview that “zero percent of people get motion sick” when using SteamVR headsets.

Many companies are trying to solve this problem, the latest being AMD and it’s new SDK LiquidVR. Designed to work with various VR devices, AMD’s SDK reduces motion-to-photon latency to below 10 milliseconds, thus reducing motion sickness from head movement. Although, it seems that LiquidVR is exclusive to AMD GPUs and CPUs.

Another avenue to reducing motion sickness and general disconnect between your brain and your eyes is interactivity, and Valve is in the process of solving that too.

Shown at GDC, Gizmodo got a glimpse at early prototypes of HTC Vive’s VR controllers. While it’s unclear if these controllers will be uniform across all SteamVR devices, it’s clear that the technology already works. These wand-like devices are peppered with sensors that relay back to Valve’s wall-mounted motion trackers. In fact, their design and purpose isn’t too far from the technology that underpinns Sony’s PlayStation Move controllers.

SteamVR and HTC Vive prototype controllers

Despite all this innovation, if wireless headsets can’t reduce latency enough – and let’s face it, few people will want a wired VR experience – motion sickness is a problem that will still remain. Programmer and VR torchbearer John Carmack thinks of it as a “nightmare scenario” if people start buying devices and discovering it makes them sick. “The fear is if a really bad VR product comes out,” he said speaking at GDC this week,”it could send the industry back to the ’90s”.

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