Prior to Valve’s developer expo Steam Dev Days earlier this year, little was known about the company’s hardware R&D in the VR space. However, the now famous Steam Dev Days demo room which housed Valve’s latest development prototype, was home to some pretty staggering virtual reality experiences according to the developers lucky enough to try it.

It was after this event that the term ‘presence’ really got a foothold amongst the community as a way to describe a virtual reality experience that was accepted by your mind as an alternate reality (within boundaries of course). The unit leveraged 2 x 1080p OLED panels in portrait mode that employed low persistence of vision at a reportedly high (90Hz+) refresh rate to achieve this state of presence. The VR Headset also used an onboard camera to track special QR Codes placed around the walls to provide reportedly excellent positional tracking. In fact, it was Valve who convinced Oculus that low persistence of vision was the answer to the issue of motion blur and stuttering they’d previously attacked by extremely high refresh LCD panels.

Now, a new version of the VR Headset has appeared at a recent Boston VR Bender where Valve demoed the unit to attendees. Subsequently, images of the new headset in use have sprung up on social networking sites that reveal what’s changed.

The unit has ditched the requirement for QR codes and a camera mounted on the HMD itself for a system more analogous to the system first revealed by Oculus VR at CES 2014 with the Crystal Cove prototype (and now employed in the company’s forthcoming Developer Kit 2 aka DK2). The HMD, previously uncovered with internal components on display now sports a new external casing, covered with what look to be trackable spots on all surfaces. In the pictures, a desk mounted camera can be seen that presumably tracks the spots and provides positional tracking information as input to the experience. It’s certainly not pretty but is does mean that the prototype HMD has become portable and no dedicated QR covered demo room is required.

It’s interesting that Valve clearly is continuing with the development of this prototype despite the exit of many of their VR R&D team’s members – chief among them being Michael Abrash who recently joined Oculus VR as Chief Scientist.

Were you at the Boston VR Bender? did you get time with Valve’s VR headset? What was the experience like? Drop your thoughts in the comments below or fire us an email at info@roadtovr.com – we’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to ‘MyNonpornOculusAccnt’ (probably of of my favourite usernames BTW) of the /r/oculus subreddit for the find. You can find more info on the Boston VR Meetup which continues today here.

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded RiftVR.com to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.
  • Bob Nichols

    There are some more pictures posted on the meetup site:
    The wide angle shot was taken early in the evening and I’d say only about half the people that showed up were in that photo (I’m easy to spot).

    Valve had 3 Prototypes at the event. There were somewhere between 10 and 12 demos made over the weekend at the game jam. I got to try out 2 of them. After trying the VRELIA dual 1080P HMD at SVVR, I was astonished at how light the Valve Prototype was. The first thing that came to mind both times I tried it was the weight (or lack there of). Shaking my head back and forth quickly resulted in absolutely no motion blur. I did not get a sense of presence, but I think that had to do with the demos that I tried. I’ve tried 9 different other VR & AR HMDs over the past two weeks and It’s hard to put into words, but after you try the Valve Prototype you think to yourself “yeah, this is how VR is supposed to be”.

  • Webb Travellor

    I still don’t get what was so wrong with the old magnetic type trackers (i.e. Polhemus)– I had and tried several different 6 DOF trackers back in the 90’s that seemed to work great. Using a Liquid Image MRG2 helmet with a magnetic 6 DOF tracker with mouse emulation, playing Doom & Quake and other FPS games was incredible back then (moving head for looking/crouching/leaning, using joystick for actual foot movement and trigger). I never had anyone have issues with motion sickness or latency (maybe because the typical resolution for a game back then might be 800×600 or 1024×768, and the game play was monocular (one image for both eyes)???)… It was all hella fun…