Taiwanese smartphone maker unveils first developer version of product it thinks will appeal to gamers and entertainment sector

In 2015, Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC took the unusual step of diversifying its business into virtual reality headsets a product it thought would appeal to gamers, the entertainment sector and contribute to part of a new business sector.

HTC finally unveiled its new headset, the Vive VR, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the result is a vision of VR much more comprehensive than other companies products and with a price to match.

The company seems confident that theres a market for the product, although initially it will only be bought by enthusiast gamers. Unlike Samsungs smartphone-powered Gear VR, the HTC Vive requires a high-end PC to send HD signals to the headset 90 times per second.

What makes Vive special is the fact that it comes with a pair of sensors that track your position in the room. With most VR systems, its only the movement of your head which is tracked. This means you can look around, but you cant so easily explore the environment.

And while being able to walk around your room is HTCs greatest victory with Vive, its also the thing that could cause it problems down the road. For one, you need a device which beams lasers across your room. Theyre invisible and safe, but the device must be connected to household power and be mounted in such a way as to give it a full view of your room. All this equipment will add cost and complexity and likely dissuade some.

The kit you will eventually be able to buy will include two handheld controllers. These can be used as anything from guns to paintbrushes. Indeed, one of the HTC demos did exactly that, giving you a 3D canvas that you could paint on and move around simply by walking around your room. HTCs really clever feature is that it knows when youre approaching a wall or other user-defined boundary and can warn you so you dont get hurt.

Demonstrating the headset at HTC, the Vive showed off an underwater game featuring fish swimming with you on the deck of a sunken boat. A gigantic sperm whale finishes this demo off, swimming up to you and allowing you to see his enormous body in glorious detail. This version of Vive has improved screens too, which help make the experience even more involving.

For all the logistical complexity of VR, the results can take your breath away; though HTCs Vive may end up being one of the most expensive headsets, it has the most flexibility and real potential to change home entertainment.

The HTC Vive Pre is aimed at developers, and as such HTC isnt yet selling this product. Those who wish to develop for the platform can apply to the company for a development kit, but theyll need to show theyre serious about making software for it. A full-scale consumer version will go on sale later on this year.

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