HTC today announced a new variant of its Vive standalone VR headset which is aimed specifically at the Chinese VR market and will tap the company’s Viveport content platform as the official app store for the headset. Meanwhile, in the US & EU markets, the standalone Vive headset is backed by Google’s Daydream ecosystem.
Battle of the App Stores
Google and HTC announced the Vive standalone VR headset earlier this year. There, as with Valve in their tethered headset business, HTC teamed up with Google to make the headset part of the Daydream family, backed by Daydream apps in the Play Store.
In China however, HTC wants to head the headset’s content store itself. Thus, a very similar Vive standalone headset is planned to launch in China, with the company’s Viveport VR app store designated as the “official content platform,” of the device.
In the US & EU markets, Viveport for the tethered Vive headset has fallen into a supporting role as a sort of ‘alternate’ app store, with Valve’s Steam platform handling the vast majority of content distribution for the headset. In China, HTC’s Viveport plays nearer to center stage, and the company clearly wants to continue growing that role, on both desktop and mobile.
Standalone headsets are fully self-contained, rather than reliant on a smartphone to power the VR experience. That means they can be more powerful and potentially longer lasting, since they don’t need to conform to the specifications of a smartphone thin smartphone with a tiny battery.
Both the US and Chinese versions of the Vive standalone headset are based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835-powered VRDK reference headset and are likely to feature very similar, if not identical, external designs. While HTC hasn’t revealed any specs for the headset, you can get an idea of what to expect from our recent analysis of the Qualcomm VRDK. We also went hands-on with a prototype version of the headset earlier this year.
One big question (which we’re trying to get answered) is what tracking technology the Chinese Vive standalone headset will rely on. We know that the US & EU variant will benefit from Google’s WorldSense tracking tech by virtue of being backed by the Daydream ecosystem. Great inside-out positional tracking for standalone VR headsets is still not easy technology to come by, so the choice of tracking tech could have important implications for the end user experience.
Another question on our mind is whether or not owners of the Chinese Vive standalone headset will be allowed to opt into accessing the Daydream VR ecosystem instead (and
vive vice versa for the US & EU version); after all, the headset is very likely to be based on Android.
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In its announcement, HTC says it is “building up a rich library of VR experiences for the standalone VR market.” So far it’s unclear to what extent standalone VR content will differ from today’s mobile VR content made for smartphone-based headsets.
“China is the leading mobile market in the world today, and has the momentum to lead the global VR market as well,” said Alvin W. Graylin, China Regional President of Vive at HTC. “Partnering with Qualcomm to deliver an easy to use and more affordable Vive VR system will enable us to make premium standalone VR widely accessible to the masses in China.”
There’s no word on when the Chinese Vive standalone headset will come to market, or how much it will cost, though with the US & EU version confirmed for 2017, we expect the Chinese version to hit a similar window. As for pricing, Google gave us a (not so enticing) ballpark earlier this year.