If you were curious about what the next big “thing” in gaming, look no further than this year’s GDC. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Valve announced its own VR system: a headset known as The Vive as well as a room tracking software, codenamed “Lighthouse.” Valve isn’t the only company showing off new VR tech this year. Samsung, Sony, and Microsoft all pushed their VR programs hard. All of these, of course, are in competition with the first-to-market system that was pioneered by Oculus, which was purchased by Facebook last year. Here’s the rundown of what’s on the way.
Sony’s VR – Scheduled to release in early 2016, Sony’s Morpheus is a headset that works in 1920xRGBx1080. That’s actually a pretty high resolution on its 5.7″ OLED screen that refreshes at 120Hz at an 18 millisecond latency. The price so far is unknown, but I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it at E3. The headset will work with the PlayStation Move (remember those Wii-mote looking things with glowing balls on the end?), and from the sounds of several first-hand experiences, the Morpheus is pretty accurate. The main drawback, though, is the fact that programming the headset on a console is going to be difficult. The games need to be rendered twice at different angles and when developers are already trying to push the graphics game hard, it’s unlikely we’ll see graphic on the Morpheus on the same level we’d see them on a standard TV screen just using the PS4 on its own. Then again, as Ben Kuchera points out, that might work in its favor since Sony won’t have to partner with anyone for the hardware and since the developers know what’s inside the PS4, they know what they are programming towards. You can read several hands-on accounts at Engadget, Polygon, and IGN.
Samsung’s VR – Samsung, in collaboration with Oculus, revealed The Gear VR Headset. The Gear is a headset that holds a Samsung S6 and S6 edge smartphone in place to act as your screen. Previously the headset was only compatible with the Galaxy Note 4, but this new edition revealed at GDC will work with their new products. To go along with the smartphone idea, there is a Gear VR play store available. While a lot of the previous content was demos and shovelware, actual games are finally reaching the platform. These games include Protocol Zero and Darknet. The games will work with an android-compatible controller. We can expect to see this new VR set available sometime in the future, though no date has been announced. It’s probably a good bet its release will be close to the launch of the S6 and the S6 Edge. Read the hands-on at PC Magazine, The Verge, and Android Central.
Microsoft VR – The Microsoft VR/AR system, the HoloLens, deals a lot more with augmented reality than most other systems. The headset, which was announced back in January, will be “an untethered holographic computer running Windows 10,” according to the press release. It continues, “Developers in the Windows ecosystem will be able to create games to reach the masses through a system where they can designate their game’s distribution even for future devices – devices like Microsoft HoloLens.” While this absolutely Microsoft sees as the future of home computing, they also fully believe it can and should be applied to games. Yes, that includes console games. At the GDC presentation Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox video game division, spoke about the Hololens only briefly. “I know that with any consumer electronics device that gets to scale, gaming and entertainment is going to be critical.” For now, all we know are the vague details given, but you can read a really good hands-on experience at Engadget.
Valve’s VR – Finally, let’s end this with a brief overview of Valve’s VR headset. At the moment, the HTC Vive is the only Valve headset shown at GDC, at least that we know of right now. “We’re building tools and hopefully they’re valuable to hardware partners who want to do it,” Gabe Newell told Ben Gilbert of Endgadget. So far, hands-on articles have absolutely been glowing. Partnered with their Lighthouse technology, gamers may be able to freely walk around the room (in a space of about 15×15 feet) and have those movements track in the game. The Vive headsets have a 1200×1080 resolution on each display with a 90Hz refresh rate. You can read the hands on stories at AnandTech, The Verge, Polygon, and Engadget.
With so many companies trying to pioneer through the virtual reality market, you can bet we’ll be seeing a lot more devices and many more games for the next two to three years at least. Will VR be the future of gaming? Time will tell. For now, at least, many developers are trying to make virtual reality a reality. And at GDC virtual reality is absolutely on its way.