Back in March when HTC Vive debuted and Valve entered the PC-powered consumer virtual reality race against Facebook’s Oculus, HTC promised the “Vive Developer Edition will be launched this Spring, with the consumer edition available by the end of 2015.”
A new statement from Valve this week may have broken that promise while raising a lot of questions about the consumer hardware. Here’s the statement via Ben Gilbert: “HTC will offer the first commercial Vive units via a limited quantity of community and developer systems with larger quantities shipping in calendar Q1 2016.”
The statement led outlets like Gizmodo and Re/Code to post “HTC’s Virtual Reality Headset Has Been Delayed”. While that’s probably true, the statements in March and August are vaguely worded and you might be able to argue this is merely a clarification of the launch plans for the Vive. Still, how many units will be available in the initial launch? How hard will it be to get one? The new statement makes no mention of 2015 so will “the first commercial Vive units” be available this year? Will there be any differences in the hardware between the first units and those shipping in larger quantities? How much will it cost? How long will the delay be between pre-order and receiving the hardware?
HTC is reducing its workforce by 15 percent because the market for its Android phones dried up. Just a few weeks ago I posted “If you care about seeing robust competition in the VR space and are pulling for Valve, cross your fingers that HTC can stay focused long enough to ship Vive on time and at a reasonable price compared to Facebook.” I had my fingers crossed and I still do because I want robust competition in VR and I was pulling for the underdog, but going to market first was a huge advantage for the SteamVR and OpenVR platforms. Valve had a chance to standardize the VR market around the use of hand controllers and walk-around experiences. Going to market first would allow Valve to focus early developers on the most immersive kinds of VR experiences and could have been the boost needed to make OpenVR a kind of industry standard.
However, Oculus has been laser-focused since its inception on producing a low cost VR headset and HTC’s need for immediate profit and the inclusion of VR-specific hand controllers in Valve’s solution could make a gap in price between the headsets more than minor. And what happens if HTC endures another quarter like the last one? Will HTC’s launch timeline for Vive slip behind Rift? In that scenario the Vive could hit the market in large quantities at the same time Oculus Touch is hitting the market.