In a high-tech landscape purring a little, where smartphone models succeed with the only novelty of the extra pixels, where Moore’s Law only be respected, when video games boil down to suites, many see virtual reality (VR Shakespeare, Molière among RV) as a new Eldorado. The proof is that Facebook did not hesitate to spend two billion dollars to provide Oculus and its famous helmet “Rift”.
A pioneer in the field of virtual reality “general public” (read less than 40 000 euro), the Rift is now more than a helmet among others. It is particularly challenged by the live HTC designed with the help of Valve, one of the biggest names in the videogame industry. One example is to him that we owe among other series Half-Life and Portal, or the Steam platform. In short, that partner HTC knows the video game is an understatement. The announcement of the helmet has caused a stir at MWC 2015 and we could not wait to get their hands on it. This is done, but before getting to the heart of the subject, a few reminders are necessary.
Passive or active?
Today there are two main types of virtual reality helmets: we will call the liabilities and assets. In the first case, we place a smartphone in front of the lenses and that’s when the phone that can display images. This is the principle of the VR Gear Samsung, the Google Cardboard and other less famous brands such as the French from Homido. The advantage of this technique is to be cheaper (30 to 200 euros) and above all completely devoid of son, however, the computing power is much lower since it is the smartphone that does it all.
Helmets ‘active’ machines also have integrated monitors behind the lenses, the calculations are performed by a – big – PC which is connected to the helmet by at least one HDMI cable since no wireless solution is currently able to handle two HD streams without latency. These assets models generally use additional sensors to better calculate the user’s movements and locate it in space. This also serves to reduce the effect of motion sickness, that is to say the heart ailments. It is this second category belongs the HTC Vive.
HTC has invited us late last week ahead to try her baby still in the prototype stage. The brand, still a bit chilly on the final result of his gadget, has left us a photograph mockup of the helmet, but not configuration of the testing room. If the design of the helmet is off, the accessories are still far from being finalized … they were printed in 3D.
Regardless, we must remember that “live experience” requires four accessories: headphones strict sense, which includes two screens 1200 x 1080, two transmitters / laser sensors in two corners of the room of twenty square meters to locate the user, two joysticks comparable to Wii or PlayStation Move, and a fairly beefy computer, equipped with the occurrence of a high-end graphics card: the GeForce GTX 980.
The son run around the room, but the demonstrator tells us that in the final version will be only one, mainly for video. We pass us the helmet on the head, then headphones for sound. The latter will be integrated in the final version, but since there is a removable jack on the headset RV. It’s always better when it was offered a high-end headphones. Finally, we pass the handles. The magic immediately.
Building on our past experiences, we expected to have to fumble a few seconds and will be guided by the demonstrator to take the controllers in hand. There is nothing, we are asked to look down the two levers appear in the virtual world and they caught the totally natural way. Before launching a demo, it is surprising to see how HTC and Valve have managed to calculate the point with such precision positioning of objects in the virtual space.
We then amuse inflate balloons with which we play just as naturally, sound effects included. HTC One way of showing us how physics is managed. Another demo will go further by inviting us to cook, it is equally surprising to be able to juggle with tomatoes, opening the door of a refrigerator, and throw it across the room vegetables in a pan. Again, the interactions are perfectly instinctive, simply pull the trigger on the back of the joystick to enter the subject and to release it to fall.
Continuously, the physical is computed, the velocity of the projection on the weight of the object. We also note the presence of a button on the handle, squeeze the middle or ring finger, which should ultimately strengthen the sense of grip.
This is a delicate point in virtual reality, that of movement in space. Difficult indeed whether one is far from a wall with the helmet before the eyes. HTC around the problem by displaying a virtual grid indicating that one is close to a wall. This avoids bumping into the walls, but one wonders how the setting is made.
remains that once one has understood that, really are afraid to walk in the virtual universe. HTC invites us on the wreck of a boat, one moves on the bridge, looking around before seeing a whale real size. On a board game, fun to approach each soldier to admire the detailed animations. This also opens good perspectives for strategy games.
The firm then shows a drawing application. For the first time, we can draw in a 3D world. The color palette and tool in one hand, brush in the other. Tools or brush is changed through this touchpad on each of the controllers, is dipped his brush into the color and free us to design in 3D. You can then wander around his work, as you would around a sculpture.
We walk in an interactive room showing us different decoration. Finally we are teleported into the Portal universe, where we are asked to repair a robot before come face to face with GLaDOS that we can finally see life size. 30 minutes have passed, it seems that he has spent five as the service is impressive.
Màj July 21, 2015: The Valve Time YouTube channel released a video commentary of the demo “Portal” above. It is reproduced below and lets get a little better on the experience.
A few pixels, but that it feels good
We regret maybe the screens lacking a bit of definition, pixels appear indeed slightly when you are in the menus or loading screens … because we have that watching it. Once in the “application” they are immediately forgotten. It is surprising that for the first time, no effect of motion sickness, no headache does make sense, sometimes only a few loss of balance.
This is so far the only virtual reality experience where one feels no discomfort or nausea in the worst case, even though we tried it a few weeks last Rift prototype. A wellness due to the consistency of real and virtual universe at very precise tracking of the user and especially the refresh rate of 90 Hz (90 frames per second) of the two screens allowing to ignore the gap between what the eye sees and what the body feels.
Long live the
Finally. No procrastinating: Vive is the best virtual reality experience to date. True, but many questions remain unanswered: what first price subject? HTC responds evasively to the question, we are told to deliver the best possible experience, high-end phone, before concluding after numerous reminders: “we will line virtually on Oculus” … and we do not know the So good prices Rift.
also what about the catalog? We know that Valve is behind so we can expect that the company offers at least one game for the live, but which one? Half-Life 3? One can always dream. What about space? Will it absolutely a part more or less dedicated to virtual reality? This will be complicated in Parisian apartments … One thing is certain, the Taiwanese much above account: asked about sales volumes, he drops us a “this is not for us a niche market.” Finally, if HTC currently offers the best experience, how long does it last?
The handle of the Oculus Rift (image: Oculus)
A timing that owes nothing to chance
Strangely, the demo sessions of Vive were spread last week, just before qu’Oculus holds its Keynote to present final version of the Rift … and its controllers, which we had not previously heard speak. In recent resume more or less the trappings of those of HTC, with a stick in place instead of trackpads. Both companies are therefore now set about equal commands. Oculus also announced a partnership with Microsoft and thus makes the Xbox One. The advantage is still Valve (in terms of park), but it’s a first-rate partner for Oculus also.
It was also just before E3 officially opens its doors where Sony will extensively discuss his Morpheus helmet. Like the others, Sony wants to bite a piece of virtual reality, the Japanese would attack again the market with a well-stocked catalog. Nonetheless, in the present circumstances HTC should have the advantage to be first on the market, since the helmet happen according to the manufacturer at the end of 2015, where the rift happen in the first quarter of ‘next year.