Valve announced on Tuesday that Steam VR will support a “Direct” display mode in addition to the “Extended” option it has been using since its inception. The new mode will be available on the HTC Vive Pre and all subsequent headsets to follow. The goal of this update is to create a more streamlined communication path between your Vive and PC when it comes to image information. Direct mode is available now through the Steam VR beta.
Extended Mode causes your computer to treat Vive as if it is an additional monitor and not a separate device with unique display needs. This meant Vive might get bombarded by image information you didn’t want while experiencing VR (pop-ups, flashing screens, random warnings, etc.), because your computer was unable to tell the difference between it and any other screen.
Direct Mode, however, manipulates the computer’s operating system and enables it to see the Vive as a unique display method, rather than just another monitor. This means that the flow of image information can be controlled and streamlined in a way that can help make sure presence in VR is never broken.
According to the announcement on the Steam Community blog:
“SteamVR’s Direct Mode allows direct communication with the Vive’s displays, bypassing the operating system’s typical display communication path. This results in a more consistent experience for Vive users, as its composited view renders independent of other desktop application windows. For example, flashing displays upon headset detection, confused display destinations for desktop applications, and fullscreen compositor warnings are all resolved by Direct Mode.”
It is unclear whether or not Direct Mode is eventually replacing or simply supplementing Extended Mode for the Pre. However, the installation steps for Direct Mode might reveal it as the new status quo for Steam VR. To enable Direct Mode, all you need to do is update your drivers to 361.75 (NVIDIA), 188.8.131.52 (AMD) or newer, and make sure you are running the most recent update of the Steam VR beta. There is no mention of a more detailed setup process, which may indicate that Direct Mode will be standard operating procedure for Vive headsets going forward.
In addition to the practical benefits of a more direct route to your eyes, Direct Mode will also make it easier for the Vive to go into a standby mode and conserve power when not in use.
Valve’s biggest competitor in the headset market, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, eradicated its own Extended Mode last August. Last June, Oculus announced a partnership with Microsoft that would allow for native integration of its headset in Windows 10. The goal for these headset rivals seems to be a future where PCs are capable of recognizing HMDs for what they are, and treating them appropriately.
The HTC Vive is still in the development stage leading up to its commercial release in April. Pre orders start at the end of this month.