When you take a look at the landscape of VR, you see there are two major ways to experience it. There are high-end experiences like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, which require tethering to high-powered PCs. And then there are low-end experiences that heavily rely on smartphones, like Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR.
Back at Google I/O, the Mountain View company announced what could be a new middle ground: standalone headsets. One of the companies confirmed to be working on a standalone Daydream headset was HTC, who would be making a standalone Vive headset.
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On the outskirts of Augmented World Expo 2017, Wareable caught up with Rikard Steiber, HTC's senior vice president of virtual reality, to talk about its Daydream headset. Steiber said the company's goal is to deliver the most immersive experience possible in all kinds of realities, and this is the next step in that quest.
"We want to bring virtual reality to the world," he said. "I think we're starting to see three main classes of devices. Today you have the high-end PC-powered device, where Vive is leading the way, and then on the low-end you have Cardboard." There's a spectrum of experiences, and within each tier there's a quality spectrum.
For instance, in the low end you have Google Cardboard on one end of the mobile VR experience and Gear VR on the other. That same spectrum is mirrored in the high-end space. However, within those two is a new middle-ground that doesn't require either mobile phones or a high-end PC or video game console.
"We believe there will be a market for several different use cases where you need something better than mobile VR - where it doesn't suit flipping around your phone - but maybe you also don't want the PC next to it." While this new emerging middle ground isn't as powerful as high-end VR, HTC believes it can fill several different types of use cases. It could even be easier for consumers to jump into a VR experience.
And while high-end VR enthusiasts may prefer the high-end experience over this new middle-ground, Steiber said the company thinks the time is right to expand. "Over time, technology progresses and we now think we can create something good and innovative enough with Google," he said. "We wouldn't do it if we didn't think it'd be an awesome experience."
One of the more recent technologies HTC has been pushing is its Trackers, which has been landing in the hands of developers. While a ton of developers have been working on ways to utilize the Trackers, some of developers have found some unique and weird ways to embrace the devices. Steiber says the company has been "very surprised" by how the development community has taken to them, and he even has a favorite.
"My favorite one is the team who put the tracker onto the back of your phone, and the phone became a window into the virtual world. So you could watch your friend in VR through the phone, but he or she could also see you in the 3D space so you could interact."
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The developers were utilizing that for a VR game in which you shoot aliens, and it turned the player in normal reality, peeking into the VR world with their phone, into a sidekick. While the main player was in a VR headset, his friend could play sidekick on their phone.
When HTC isn't pushing developers to adopt new technologies to improve VR, Steiber says the company is pushing developers to use VR for good as part of its VR for Impact campaign, which is allied with the United Nations. "This technology has the opportunity to create empathy and help people visualize what's going on with third-world countries and what's going on with climate change," Steiber said, pointing out that with great power - and great technology like advanced VR - comes great responsibility.
That's why when HTC meets with developers, and partners in its Vive X accelerator program, the company pushes them to think of ways they can use their technology to change the world, like creating more immersive experiences that can better create empathy and communicate the plight of others. So while HTC encourages developers to develop better tools to create empathy, it's also teaming up with the likes of Google to make immersive VR more available and better suited to multiple needs.