So-called "virtual reality" has been a dream of the gaming industry for so long that it almost feels surreal that the technology is almost (sort of) a real, regular thing now. Championed as the Next Big Thing as far back as the 1990s by everything from movies (Lawnmower Man, Disclosure, Virtuosity) to television (V.R. Troopers, a certain notoriously-silly episode of The X-Files) the technology came to be seen as a parody of itself with early demonstrations that failed to match the hype and the slow-motion trainwreck of Nintendo's ill-conceived Virtual Boy console.
But now, we're told, VR is finally ready to break out for real this time, and new corporate players are jockeying to be first in line. To wit, the Steam-affiliated Vive has now revealed the details for its consumer-grade edition - including its price and pre-order information.
The Vive, which comes advertised as "Powered By SteamVR!" will become available for pre-order at 10am ET on Monday 2/29 with full commercial availability at $799 starting in early April of 2016. The initial consumer package will include the headset, SteamVR functionality, two wireless controllers and room-scale motion sensors to allow players access to a "fully immersive virtual environment." In a statement, HTC Chairwoman and CEO Cher Wang said:
“Since announcing Vive this time last year, we have worked tirelessly with Valve to deliver the best VR experience on the market, winning multiple awards and receiving critical acclaim from media, consumers and the industry. With the Vive consumer edition we are now able to realize our ultimate vision; bringing Vive into homes around the globe so that people can experience immersive virtual reality in a away that fires the imagination and truly changes the world.”
Additionally, the system will come pre-packaged with a pair of "fully-fledged VR exeperiences," to allow players an immediate first taste of what the technology can do: Job Simulator is a humorous parody experience that places the player in the role of a future citizen learning what "jobs" were in a world where technology has supplanted all labor, while Fantastic Contraption encourages users to build strange machines from computer-generated geometric shapes. HTC's ambitions for Vive, however, extend well beyond the realm of gaming, as outlined in the announcement itself:
"In addition to these launch titles, HTC is working with developers to foster the creation of content that spans multiple sectors including entertainment, retail, education, design, healthcare and automotive that will ultimately transform people’s lives."
While retailers and the games industry remain ever-bullish about VR as a new frontier (or, at least, a new profit-niche) some remain skeptical. This wouldn't be the first time that the technology was aggressive pushed, and previous would-be game-changers like motion control, 3D and holographic tech have arrived with similar fanfare only to remain tied to a handful of apps or one specific platform. For VR to move units beyond luxury-tech enthusiasts with disposable income, it will have to demonstrate that it offers a wide variety of experiences that meet or exceeds the needs of multiple market sectors. Time will tell if that's the case for any of the myriad VR options starting to hit the market, though the Steam integration is certainly a leg-up for Vive in particular.