Earlier today VRFocus reported on a rumour that Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC was soon set to reveal its very own virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD). The report was hardly surprising given that many companies have offered low-cost, smartphone-based HMDs in the past year and that HTC was set to host a pre-Mobile World Congress (MWC) press conference in Barcelona, Spain later on in the day. As that conference drew to a close, it began to look like such an announcement might not happen. Then came the twist; not only was HTC working on a HMD but it was doing so in partnership with Valve, the company behind Steam and the developer of Half-Life.
Valve has of course teased the reveal of ‘Steam VR’ for the 2015 Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, USA this week. The initial reaction to the reveal of HTC’s device, named Vive, was that the company had played its cards earlier than many thought it would. Some assume that the HTC Vive is the Valve VR HMD. This kind of partnership isn’t unheard of; a strikingly similar agreement can already be seen between Oculus VR and Samsung, who worked together to create the Gear VR smartphone-based HMD. But there are a number of other factors that suggest the Steam VR story doesn’t simply stop at one new HMD.
Many will remember Valve’s Steam Machines concept, announced two years back as a means of making PC gaming more accessible. This essentially consists of a line-up of Valve-branded PCs designed for videogames and manufactured by a range of third-party companies. The concept is set to make a return at GDC this year. Valve’s approach of enabling hardware manufacturers to create accessible machines could well be the philosophy that Steam VR is based upon. What if HTC is simply the first to show its VR HMD from a wide range of Steam VR compatible products? Steam VR could be giving companies the tools to make immersive VR, perhaps with a range of input options and more, and then it’s up to the companies to sell their kit.
For example, HTC’s website for the Vive notes a pair of Steam VR ‘base stations’ that deliver user tracking. The wording suggests that Valve might not have had a direct hand in the HMD so much as the extra features that make it so compelling. The extent of HTC and Valve’s partnership is yet to be fully detailed, so keep in mind this is purely speculation at this point.
It’s also telling that the pictures of the Vive, which are admittedly of a developer kit, don’t exactly have Valve branding plastered all over them. The strap for the device has HTC clearly marked out on it but Valve’s name is nowhere to be seen, although VRFocus is yet to go hands-on with the device to confirm this. Based on the currently-available assets, however, it would be impossible to tell the company had any part to play in it based on image alone. Again, this is just speculation, but it almost seems as if Valve is distancing itself from the Vive as a standalone product.
It’s also important not to forget that Valve has its own VR HMD already. It could be that the company partnered with HTC for mass production and access to its supply of components but there doesn’t seem to be as much as a reason for the company that created Steam to seek help with production as Oculus VR did with Samsung. On top of that, Valve also has its own Steam Machines. It’s very possible, then, that the company may still have its own HMD to display at GDC and that would certainly explain the lack of branding on the Vive.
There’s undoubtedly much more to learn about Steam VR at GDC. That might mean new HMDs or other hardware. For now, the HTC Vive is the face of Steam VR. Whether or not that remains the case in a few days’ time remains to be seen.