The virtual reality headset Oculus Rift has been available since 2014, but all of the hardware available for it has been “Development Kits”, that is, not really for consumer use. This year, though, we’re going to see not only the release of the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, but also its biggest competitor - the HTC Vive.
The Vive is a head-mounted display, just like the Oculus Rift. From a practical perspective, there actually isn’t that much difference between the Vive and the Rift. The headset tracks your head’s position and orientation so that you can look around the virtual world just by moving your head. The Vive can also track your movement around a room, and comes with specially-designed controllers for use in VR games.
The Vive’s big advantage here is that it was developed in cooperation with the world’s biggest PC game seller - Valve. The easiest (and usually cheapest) way to buy most PC games is through Valve’s Steam software, and Steam is already offering test software for use with the Vive to make sure your computer is optimized for virtual reality.
Of course, the big news is not that the Vive will be available in April, but what it will cost. Consumer VR gear has always been expensive, but the Vive’s $800 retail price is a big pill to swallow. In addition to that, VR requires a fairly high-power graphics card for your computer, which will add at least a few hundred dollars more to that price if you don’t already have one.
With the release of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive this year, in addition to Sony’s Playstation VR headset for the Playstation 4, 2016 will be the first year that VR is really available to buy. But, at such high price points so far, we may still be quite a few years away from it becoming something everyone has in their homes.