Valve’s new SteamVR Home Beta just launched and it represents a vast improvement on what has gone before with fully 3D, customisable environments, a glut of new social features and a fully featured Steam interface. Will you ever want to leave VR?
Valve launched its SteamVR Home in beta form on Friday and it represents their vision of both how to bridge the gap between the desktop steam interface we all know while integrating meaningful and functional social interaction with your friends whilst in VR. It’s the most comprehensive and wide reaching update that SteamVR’s UI has seen and it’s extremely promising.
Anyone who has used the HTC Vive on a regular basis will be familiar with Steam VR’s base interface, the ‘construct’ from where you can browse, buy and launch games immersively. This interface has received countless updates since its release, but the core experience hasn’t really advanced. You could plop in low resolution spherical images as your backdrop to customise your space and you could skin your motion controllers if you so chose, but in general it wasn’t a virtual space you wanted to spend much time in. With SteamVR Home however, Valve want you to re-consider that position, adding in a raft of new features to keep you and your friends stay in VR for longer.
The first major update adds support for fully 3D, navigable environments. Gone is the flat, unconvincing spherical photo, now you have the ability to select from Valve or community supplied 3D scenes. These new environments are powered by the same underlying technology that drove Valve’s impressive photogrammetry experience ‘Destinations’, which formed part of Valve’s The Lab that launched alongside the HTC Vive last year. As with Destinations, you can navigate to fixed points within the space, with the world made up from a mix of photographic and geometrically rendered assets. It’s a huge improvement, but more than just a visual overhaul, this new technology provides a great canvas for SteamVR Home’s array of other features. Assets to create these new environments will be added to SteamVR Workshop with tools there enabling content creators to build and submit new environments.
Once you have your base environment looking the way you want, you can import 3D props to place in the scene and, should you feel creative, scribble into that 3D space using Home’s integrated ‘Tilt-Brush-like’ 3D painting function. Once you’re happy, you can then invite any friends who also own SteamVR compatible headsets into your virtual home and spend time customising your avatar with a fairly comprehensive set of options, all via the now familiar floating ‘holographic’ style Steam interface.
From a functional standpoint, the new beta also adds UI options to reduce the time you spend traversing Steam itself. The ‘Quick Links’ feature holds your most used games, applications and your friends list in a triptych of at-a-glance tiles. These can then be embedded into your Home scene at your discretion.
How to opt into SteamVR Beta:
1) Open Steam on your desktop
2) Find ‘SteamVR’ in your Library under ‘Tools’
3) Right click and go to Properties
4) Select the Betas tab and pick SteamVR Beta from the dropdown
It’s an important move from Valve and shifts SteamVR from a functional yet somewhat uninviting venue for the base VR experience to something much more inviting, collaborative and ultimately much more enjoyable. There are clear parallels of course to the work being done elsewhere in the VR space, not least Valve’s direct rivals in the VR ecosystem Oculus and Facebook. But unlike other options for social VR, SteamVR Home is integrated into a tool mant of us use daily and in a way that’s seamless and non-disruptive. Doubtless we’ll see Oculus Home evolve along similar lines, with applications like Spaces better woven into the fabric of the experience, but right now Valve has a march on its rivals and is leading the way.