Unity’s Vision Summit conference in Los Angeles wrapped up weeks ago, but videos from the event’s breakout sessions are just beginning to find their way onto the internet. One such recording is of Valve’s Alex Vlachos who delivered a seminar at the summit titled “Using Unity At Valve.”
The speech itself was meant to help developers unleash the full scope of Unity’s development tools. However, it was during the question and answer portion at the end that Vlachos dropped a bombshell with relevance far beyond the development scene alone:
“The question was, ‘will we have support for chaperone on the Rift’ and the answer is yes,” Vlachos said. “We already do. Unfortunately we don’t have tracked controllers supported on the Rift so there’s no way to draw your bounds. But you can configure one of the standard setups and then you’ll get the standard dimensions of bounds. Once we have Touch controllers we can get them integrated then you’ll be able to walk around the room with your Touch controller…walk around that volume and define that space.”
The quote adds an interesting new dynamic to the Rift vs. Vive debate, which centers around whether each headset will allow people walk around an entire room in VR with equal freedom. To break it down for those who might be unfamiliar, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two highest profile PC-powered VR headsets in the industry and they are both shipping in the next few months.
The two devices use completely different tracking methods and operate with different sensibilities. Rift was designed for seated experiences; while the Vive, and its bundled hand controllers, puts an emphasis on allowing users to walk around and use their hands in VR. Vive can be used for sit-down VR experiences too and Rift should allow people more freedom of movement around a room and use their hands when the Oculus Touch controllers arrive later this year. But just how much freedom will the Rift add with an additional camera and hand controllers? To describe this freedom, the phrase “room-scale” is used and the big question is whether the Rift will be able achieve parity with the Vive’s holodeck-like experience.
The limitation for Rift support in SteamVR’s world, according to Vlachos’ quote, is in the ‘Chaperone’ system. This is Valve’s protocol for guiding you through an open VR experience and keeping you from accidentally walking out your bedroom window. Traditionally, the play area would be set by walking your space’s perimeter with a Vive controller that is tracked by the Vive’s system. Rift, however, has no equivalent controller available just yet. To set a room-scale Rift experience developers can “configure one of the standard setups and then you’ll get the standard dimensions of bounds,” Vlachos said.
What the statement also demonstrates is that the very Valve-like tendency to keep its platforms open and inclusive will remain intact as we move into the VR revolution. Valve’s name is attached to the Vive, but it is also on the Steam distribution platform. Steam is a far more important area of focus for Valve. The company has no reason to make Steam experiences difficult to access on Rift and, fortunately for the industry in general, Vlachos’ comments make it clear that it has no plans to try.