One of the problems with virtual reality is that it’s going to cut you off from the world around you, but HTC and Valve have already figured out one solution to help you keep your bearings.
The HTC Vive head-mounted display, which is up for preorder and ships starting in April, has a front-facing camera that can instantly show you what’s in front of you. But phone manufacturer HTC and its partner Valve, which created the Steam VR tech that powers the Vive, didn’t want to take you out of the game just so you don’t accidentally trip over the ottoman. Instead, the companies devised a solution where you can bring up a little virtual tablet that patches in a live feed from the camera. This is one of the many tricks that Vive’s designers have put into the headset to enable real people to use room-scale VR, which has you walking around in a room while in a game, in real situations. That’s a hurdle the company has to get over to convince people to pay the $800 for Vive on top of the $1,000 for a capable PC.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs is predicting virtual reality and sister technology augmented reality (where you enhance the real world with virtual images) could reach $110 billion in spending by 2020. And providing comfortable solutions to simple problems like “will I be able to quickly check on my kids while in VR” is crucial to enabling that market to grow.
Former Microsoft developer and current YouTube personality Jerry “Barnacules Nerd” Berg posted a lengthy video going over some of the features of the Vive, and he included a segment that shows how the front-facing camera works. You can see the relevant portion in the clip below:
— Jeffrey Grubb (@JeffGrubb) March 2, 2016
This camera could also, eventually, enable Vive to do some simple augmented reality where it mixes virtual imagery with the real-world camera. We haven’t seen any software do that yet, but the Vive is still young and HTC and Valve are emphasizing this as a virtual reality device.