It’s a big week for virtual and augmented realities: not only have HTC and Valve announced that the HTC Vive virtual-reality headset is available for preorder (for $799), but Microsoft also revealed that its HoloLens augmented-reality tool will ship to developers by the end of March.
The HTC Vive aims to compete at the higher end of the virtual-reality market against the Oculus Rift, which costs $600. In contrast to other virtual-reality offerings, the device is capable of detecting the user’s body, in addition to their head; in conjunction with innovative software, that boosted detection could make games and apps even more immersive.
On the hardware front, the HTC Vive features a screen for each eye, each measuring 1,200 by 1,080 pixels, with a refresh rate of 90 frames per second. There’s a gyro-sensor, accelerometer, and “laser position sensor” that work in concert to determine the position of the user’s head, with the VR imagery adjusting accordingly. A pair of Steam VR base stations also tracks the user’s physical location within a 15-foot square.
Those developers and other software professionals interested in developing games for the HTC Vive can check out the SteamVR plugin for Unity3D, Unreal Engine 4, and other game-development engines. There’s also the OpenVR API, which opens the door to development without a specific hardware vendor’s SDK, and (of course) the SteamVR SDK.
In contrast to the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift, which represent the cutting edge of commercial virtual reality, Microsoft’s HoloLens wants to seize the augmented-reality market.
Instead of projecting a virtual world over the viewer’s eyes, augmented-reality headsets layer holograms onto the surrounding (real world) environment. It’s a technology ripe with potential, provided developers find innovative uses for it. To that end, Microsoft has announced a handful of apps that will accompany the headset once it ships to developers at the end of the month. (In addition, there’s a page dedicated to the software.)
Those apps include HoloStudio, which will allow developers to create 3D objects; Skype, enhanced to allow developers to see each others’ holograms over long distance; and HoloTour, which will offer 360-degree views of virtual landscapes.
Over the past few months, Microsoft has shown off the capabilities associated with all three apps. The big question now is what developers will do with the platform—and whether they’re willing to shell out $3,000 for the hardware.