HTC planted its flag in the premium virtual reality market this week at CES with its announcement of the Vive Pro, a higher-resolution model of the unique Vive headset with built-in headphones and a wi-fi adapter for cordless play. The Vive Pro is a pure subsequent step for HTC and its companion Valve, and the new options make good sense this a few years into the product’s lifespan.
None of these particular person options will revolutionize the VR market. But collectively, they might notably influence HTC’s main competitor, the Facebook-owned Oculus.
HTC and Valve have competed with Oculus and its Rift headset just about since the daybreak of recent VR. For the previous couple of years, each platforms have aggressively vied for market share in the high-end area — which, up to now, has catered to house owners of highly effective gaming PCs.
But over the years, Oculus has diversified its product lineup. It labored with Samsung to launch the low cost, phone-powered Gear VR, even earlier than the Rift’s launch. At final yr’s Connect convention, the firm introduced a standalone Gear VR counterpart called Oculus Go, and a prototype codenamed Santa Cruz, a self-contained headset that doesn’t require exterior monitoring.
The Vive Pro, nevertheless, raises an essential query: if HTC is overwhelmingly targeted on the high-end VR market, will Oculus’ multi-tier strategy unfold the firm too skinny? If Santa Cruz goes to market, Oculus will have four consumer headsets, a enterprise technique that at occasions has been troublesome to parse. The Oculus Go and Gear VR are very comparable, however from what we’ve seen, Santa Cruz matches nebulously between lower-end cellular VR and high-end tethered headsets like the Rift or Vive. Oculus declined to remark particularly on the Vive Pro.
Oculus isn’t positioning Santa Cruz as a successor to the Rift, however as an adjoining gadget that mixes the Rift’s refined hand and head monitoring with the freedom of the standalone Go. Oculus chief Hugo Barra says customers may have “very similar experiences to what they get on Rift,” however with out all the cumbersome setup and restrictions of bodily motion. It makes use of Oculus Touch-like movement controllers, however tracks movement with inner cameras, so that you don’t want one thing like the Rift’s USB cameras or the Vive’s laser towers.
At Connect, Barra informed The Verge that Oculus gained’t prioritize one platform over one other, and that he’s not too nervous about fragmentation. He says that for now, individuals who need the most high-end gaming experiences can tether to a PC with the Rift, and individuals who need the lowest worth can get the Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Go. Santa Cruz exists someplace in the center.
“Obviously, ultimately, we want every product that one builds in VR to enable this full freedom of movement with hand presence. That’s obviously where we’re pointing at in the future,” Barra stated. “But there’s just so many amazing things that can be enabled with the mobile VR content category that we’re doubling down on that as well.”
This is perhaps a sensible, strategic long-term play, however the Vive Pro threatens to complicate it. The Vive Pro nonetheless requires a PC and people inconvenient monitoring beacons, however wi-fi room-scale VR presents considered one of Santa Cruz’s key options with out its efficiency compromise. If Oculus releases a brand new Rift to compete instantly with the Vive, builders may need no cause to construct for apps and games for a Santa Cruz-like system in any respect.
The Vive Pro doesn’t essentially threaten Oculus’ general place. “Is there a feature spec war? Always. And is HTC ahead this week? Sure,” says Brian Blau, an business analyst with analysis agency Gartner. “But I don’t think that means that the competitive landscape has really changed that much. Even though HTC might be ahead right now, you have to think that Oculus will respond. By the end of the year, we might be having a conversation about the opposite situation.”
But Santa Cruz’s future is far much less clear. So far, HTC has targeted on pushing huge high-fidelity games and industrial purposes the place a PC makes the most sense. The firm scrapped its plans to develop a standalone Google Daydream headset, and though it introduced a standalone headset referred to as the Vive Focus, it’s solely being launched in China thus far.
Instead, with the Vive Pro, HTC makes a convincing argument for Vive as VR gaming’s default platform. Oculus has doled out plenty of Facebook’s cash for Rift-exclusive games, but when HTC makes the Vive engaging sufficient for high-end gaming, builders may determine that this cash isn’t value limiting their potential viewers.
Oculus has a transparent vision for wi-fi VR headsets that allow all the things from gaming to movie to social networking. But it hasn’t confirmed us a robust plan for getting there. Meanwhile, HTC’s extra measured give attention to PC-powered VR might push Oculus into robust decisions about the place to place its cash and developer recruitment efforts.
“Rather than spreading themselves thin, I think it is important for Oculus to differentiate between the models they release. The collective goal is for all VR to be untethered and wireless — but after that I think the challenge is to clearly present a difference between their models at the higher end,” explains Ben Arnold, an business analyst for market analysis agency NPD Group. “A big part of who wins will be determined by how compelling the content is… I believe hardware matters, but as these platforms mature, the platforms will be the draw. Consumers will decide which hardware form factor is best for them.”
Facebook has no scarcity of cash, and Oculus might simply hold constructing totally different headsets till one platform breaks into the mainstream. No headset has gained the VR platform wars but, and we don’t know whether or not it can attraction primarily to players who’re used to shelling out a lot of cash for hardware, or individuals who need lower-end headsets for video and different purposes.
We additionally don’t know what a shopper model of Santa Cruz will appear to be. Oculus might find yourself mixing its wired and wi-fi classes — with a model of Santa Cruz that could possibly be optionally plugged right into a PC, for instance, or a Rift with a wi-fi adapter and inside-out monitoring, which might take the Vive Pro’s added comfort one step additional.
VR is a medium with huge potential, and nowhere is that extra clear than right here at CES each yr, the place we get to see how the know-how is being pushed to new and thrilling ends. But proper now, VR can also be a very small market. Now that HTC has made its play with the Vive Pro, Oculus might have to decide on between holding out for the broad promote it sees on the horizon, or getting the largest attainable viewers proper now.