Updated: Feb 6, 2019
Valve Software, the technology partner that made the HTC Vive possible, is offering “new core components” to VR hardware manufacturers, including custom lenses “designed to support the next generation of room-scale virtual reality.”
Earlier this year Valve started freely licensing its innovative SteamVR Tracking technology. This tech has been critical to the HTC Vive’s functionality as it lets people explore entire rooms while completely immersed in a virtual world. We saw the technology employed in a prototype from LG earlier this year and HTC is building on it to bring a whole host of accessories into VR. Meanwhile, Valve is preparing to unleash a second generation of the technology which could make it far less expensive while enabling entire warehouses to be tracked.
Now Valve appears to be aiming to court additional manufacturers for VR headsets with a widened selection of components including new custom lenses. Its press release, included below, describes support for both LCD and OLED display manufacturers. While Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift both use OLED panels, low-persistence LCDs are used in some of the lower cost Microsoft headsets debuting at the end of 2017. Valve seems to be offering manufacturers another option besides Microsoft in adopting these LCDs with “custom hardware and software manufacturing solutions.”
Valve also “developed custom lenses that work with both LCD and OLED display technologies and is making these lenses available to purchase for use in SteamVR compatible HMDs.” Combined with Valve’s software, the lenses are designed “to be paired with several off-the-shelf VR displays to enable the highest quality VR visual experiences. These optical solutions currently support a field of view between 85 and 120 degrees (depending on the display). The lenses, which are designed to support the next generation of room-scale virtual reality, optimize the user’s perceived tracking experience and image sharpness while reducing stray light.”
For those unfamiliar, Microsoft and Valve are employing different approaches to tracking technologies for VR headsets. Microsoft’s “inside-out” solution is more convenient because no external hardware is needed, but it won’t fully track hand movements when they are out of the view of sensors embedded on the headset itself. Valve’s “outside-in” technology typically requires mounting a pair of boxes to your walls, but enables headsets to be tracked through the entire area alongside other objects. This works even if holding your controllers behind your back. So while Valve’s approach requires a little more setup, it’s possible that with extended use across many virtual worlds, Valve tracking might provide a more immersive and reliable solution. To be clear, this is conjecture still as we need to stress test Microsoft’s controllers to see how often the out-of-view tracking limitation comes up.