Is this the Beginning of the End for the HTC Vive?

oculus rift headset vs htc vive headsetA little history…

Things were looking rather grim for Oculus at the end of 2016. SuperData Research estimated there had only been 243,000 Rift units sold verses 420,000 HTC Vive units. Even with Oculus releasing their Touch controllers near the end of the year, it seemed like much of the community had already written Oculus off. The new controllers were supposed to bring the Rift into direct competition with Vive’s Room-scale tech, but launch did not go smoothly. Full room-scale was still officially experimental and thousands of users reported glitches with the tracking.

Oculus Touch Off to a Shaky Start

uncertainty ahead traffic sign on gray sky
This all caused something of a small panic around Rift circles with people suggesting Oculus’ constellation tracking was fatally flawed and would never be capable of room-scale at all. It seemed to be the last nail in the consumer relations coffin for Oculus. The company had already taken much flak for funding exclusive VR titles that could only be played on the Rift, and the Zenimax lawsuit was still casting it’s shadow across the companies future. Vive seemed set to remain king of the PCVR hill and nobody thought otherwise. But Oculus would not go down without a fight.

Storm in a Teacup

storm in a teacup white cup and plate with spoon on lightening and stormy backgroundAs quickly as the tracking glitches arrived, they were swept away in a series of patches. The new motion control games came thick and fast. RoboRecall blew everyone’s collective mind. Even Vive users resorted to hacking the Oculus store just to get a taste of what was being called the first AAA VR game. Rift owners found that large area room-scale was achievable with just 3 sensors. Finally, Oculus undercut HTC by dropping the cost of Rift with Touch to just $599USD, a full $200USD less than the Vive . The battle was back on!

Why the Vive is as Good as you Think

At first glance, it may seem the Vive is going from strength to strength. Releasing some cool new trackers to bring more foveated rendering grapics with eye viewing a specific pointobjects into the virtual world, and the Deluxe Head Strap. There is an eye tracking attachment in development that will allow foveated rendering and the new Knuckle controllers are set to be the new standard with full 5 finger tracking.

But, all of these new upgrades have issues. The trackers will, at best, result in a whole bunch of new peripherals that are only suited to one or two jobs. Eye tracking is great for developers working on foveated rendering, but from a consumer stand point it probably won’t see widespread use in games until a year to two’s time. By then we will be staring down the barrel of VR generation 2. The Deluxe Head Strap will set you back at least $100USD and early adopters found the foam on the back disintegrated in contact with water. Reviews indicate that at best the comfort level only matches that of the Rift. So, that’s $100 to bring an already more expensive product up to the same comfort level as the competitor? Finally, while the Knuckle controllers looks awesome, they are made by Valve, not HTC. Let’s talk about why this is a bad thing.

Steam VR v. HTC Vive

htc headset with valve logo on wood floor and microchip backgroundNot everyone realizes that the Vive was actually a joint venture between Valve and HTC. Valve developed Open VR and the Lighthouse tracking system, and Vive builds the hardware. So, for a start the main trump card HTC has, Lighthouse tracking, is not even their tech. The upcoming LG headset, which will shortly be followed by other major brands, will use the exact same tracking technology. The Knuckle controllers will also most likely be compatible with these new systems.

The main implication of this arrangement is that HTC only makes money from selling hardware, the Vive and it’s add-ons. Steam wanted VR to be an open platform and prevented HTC from developing exclusive software to go with the Vive. Recently HTC circumvented this agreement by opening Viveport, an exclusive software environment only accessible on the Vive, similar to OculusHome. But Viveport can only save them if they continue to dominate the market. That will be difficult for two reasons. 1: Other major brands are about to jump aboard the Steam VR train, and  2: Oculus price cuts.

Why You Won’t See a Vive Price Drop

the price is with price is right logo

Oculus has a different business model, the Software ecosystem. Their model is all about making money from selling software for the Rift, not selling the Rift itself. This is why Oculus was able to drop the price so drastically less than 12 months after the original release. The more Rifts in homes, the better. HTC on the other hand famously and proudly proclaimed they were selling the Vive for a profit from launch. This would explain not only why many Vive users experience broken hardware (dead pixels, broken lighthouses, shoddy controllers and disintegrating head straps), but also why HTC will never be able to price match with Oculus.

HTC has Been in Trouble for Years

htc stock declie with white arrow on red numbered backgroundThis is what has happened to the HTC stock price in the past 5 years. It’s not a pretty picture. In August of 2015 their stock price was so low that the company was valued at less than the value of their actual physical Assets. A signal that investors have zero faith in the company’s long-term earnings potential, either in the form of eventually turning a profit or even getting acquired by a larger firm. The price has barely shifted since then. They recently had to sell one of their factories just to keep up funding for VR and with their latest smart phone failing to score a decent slice of the market there is little reason to believe things will get any better any time soon. 

Signs of the End

We quoted SuperData’s sales estimates at the start of this article. 243,000 Rift units verses 420,000 Vive units. The more little old cartoon guy holding a yellow the end is near signrecent numbers, however, are looking quite a bit different. A June 2017 report by Research firm IDC estimates the Rift has sold about 520,000 units, compared with 770,000 of HTC’s Vive. Which this does show the Vive still in the lead. Have a think about what these new numbers mean. If both estimates are accurate, then in the past 6 months Oculus has sold 277,000 to HTC’s 350,000. Much closer numbers than last year. Also, Oculus just announced the new all-in-one Rift package will be set at a price of $499USD, close to half the price of the Vive. With both systems now performing practically the same; how do you think those numbers will look in another 12 months?

We have little doubt that VR is here to stay. The overall numbers just keep getting better and VR’s future is looking to be on very solid ground this year. But with LG, Microsoft, Apple, Acer and ASUS among others about to enter the market, the Vive’s days as Steam VR’s poster boy look well and truly numbered.

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23 Responses

  1. Miko Vanara says:

    I got the Rift. I’m hoping to be able to play fallout and skyrim on it someday, even though they were made for Vive/PS. If Bethesda can get their heads out of their asses and start working with Oculus/Facebook, the Rift will sell even more. They goofed and missed out on a huge percentage of the VR market. I even considered selling my rift for a vive, just to play Fallout. But I’m holding out for Steam to make it compatible. Also, I really like the finger tracking on the Rift. It makes it for a more realistic experience. I can point to things for other players which is cool.

    • Roger Anthony Essig says:

      it will be compatible there’s no way to make it incompatible. Google tried it with google earth and it was solved by hex-editing a file and changing a 0 to a 1.

    • Openminded Skeptic says:

      All steam games are already or soon to be playable from inside the oculus home. Saw that in need just the other week.

    • Luis Doria says:

      Bethesda is owned by Zenimax which sued Oculus for stealing their code and has put a court order for a cease and desist for the Oculus (this is in court for consideration but no verdict yet). Point is, Bethesda will not give Oculus support unless something changes. However, Oculus supports OpenVR so you can play these games anyway

  2. superg05 says:

    have a had a rift was so limited and easy for it to lose tracking i’ll stick with my ViVe thanks

    • Jim Totaro says:

      so limited? I don’t find it so limited, and I never lose tracking.

      • Shitizens United says:

        Same, my whole living room is a 360 tracked play space.

        • superg05 says:

          with how many trackers

          • Tars Talsma says:

            I think i got the Rift 2 or 3 weeks ago and by now I have 3 trackers and got a 3.5m x 3m play area, if i can move some furniture around i will be able to go 3.5 x 3.5 play space i recon.

            Last weekend I finished wall mounting the trackers between 2m-2.5m up, hiding the cables in some cable trays to make my living room somewhat less… Techy/Nerdy 8^)

            I have them all effectively connected and running on USB 3.0 without issues (using a PCI-E USB card, each port having its own bus), 2 on a 5m 3.0 active repeater cable.
            The headset itself is attached with a passive 2m USB3.0 and a 2m HDMI High Speed extension cords.

            This really gives a great experience for me so far.

            I’m not against HTC, Valve or VIVE at all, but the Rift was a better deal for me at the time.
            Though i think with the extras (cables, USB expansion card, extra tracker, cable trays etc.) i still am a way below the VIVE costs.

            But, to be honest, i ran the experimental 2 sensor room scale setup without tracking issues either on a 2.5mx2.5m play space. I just wanted to go… larger >:-)

    • Kenneth Harcourt says:

      Poorly set up, then…

    • Mike says:

      Also never lose tracking on the Rift.

    • Cristianfx says:

      how many trackers?

      • superg05 says:

        just what it came with i 1 wasn’t going to pay extra for more trackers like people where to try and get almost some of the tracking coverage of the vive and i also wasn’t going to pay extra for motion controllers. i did like the built in ear phones though its not like i hated it but it just didn’t work well for me i thought about buying that new bundle but it i would be wasteful when the new headsets are released i don’t mind revisiting the company especially since my games are locked to that platform something else i hate they don’t give you your software serials like steam or has that anti-competitive policy changed?

        • Cristianfx says:

          so you are comparing 1 tracker vs full vive setup? …. we are not talking about personal preferences. its about hard and soft facts.

    • polysix says:

      You’ve never had a rift in your life. Clearly. I’ve had both, rift is fine on tracking and BETTER than vive on EVERYTHING else. (and half the price)

  3. wheeler says:

    As a Vive user, I welcome many competing SteamVR HMDs. The Vive has served the gen 1 / enthusiast crowd pretty well but HTC has certainly left us wanting and has shown astonishingly little improvement over the past year. There are still many QC issues, their support and RMA is still a nightmare, and things like Viveport / Vivepaper / “Link” etc etc have all of us wondering what the hell they’re thinking. And regarding price: yes, of course they have to make a profit on hardware, but surely they’ve reduced manufacturing costs over the past year?

    Now I’m not really at all supportive of what Facebook is trying to pull right now, but HTC really needs a kick in the ass. With Valve taking on the trouble of making and selling Knuckles themselves I have to wonder if they agree. Thankfully there are several more SteamVR HMDs in development right now (a good thing regardless of whether or not HTC has their act together–some day VR HMDs will be sold like desktop monitors). In November Valve will have lighthouse 2.0 basestations available in production quantities, so I would assume that a compatible HMD will shortly follow. If the new SteamVR systems are priced at $600 there will be good competition not only between SteamVR HMDs but between them and the Rift when it goes back up to $500 (+$60 for a third sensor) in a couple of weeks.

  4. Lance says:

    Rifts weak point is the tracking…not that it doesn’t track, it’s all the cords, usb ports and the sensors you have to place on a flat surface….lighthouses are much easier and better.. but both systems are close to being equal except price..

    • superg05 says:

      exactly i would barely move and would get the notification on visor

    • polysix says:

      BS. I’ve had both. Rirt tracking is more than fine (now). Vive had many other issues and felt awful for the money. Stop reading what others say and own them before passing judgement.

      There was NOTHING easy about me drilling into hard concrete to mount my base stations vs plonking my sensors down on my desk where they’ve stayed and worked fine since.

      They are not close to being equal mr know it all, you’ve clearly not touched rift have you? Vive is like a dev kit next to rift. It’s clunky, it has awful SDE, really bad MURA, ridiculous ‘circle’ FOV, front heavy design (the DAS is not a solution until its packed in for free), no built in phones which make VR a pleasure not a chore, rift honestly feels like 1.5 gen next to my sold Vive. The touch controllers are way better too, esp the sticks vs pads.

      • Lance says:

        I have the deluxe audio strap which makes it more comfortable now…plus the knuckles controllers are completely awesome…dont get me wrong I want all of them to succeed…it will help drive the cost down due to competition…and oculus just made their headset alot more appealing…but there is nothing wrong with the vive, yes it’s expensive but I’m very happy with my just hoping both system figure out you need full peripheral view to give you the ” I’m there ” feeling…maybe in a few years

  5. polysix says:

    I’ve had Dk2, Vive, PSVR (in that order) and sold them all (DK2 was obv understood to just be a dev kit and I used it for that).

    I now own a rift thanks to the sale and it’s hands down head and shoulders above the others, esp above vive on ergonomics and quality. PSVR has awful tracking but decent ergonomics.

    Vive is a dev kit, there’s not arguing about it, when I had it – an early buyer – it was still a facebrick, bad strap, poor touch pads, loads of SDE, glitchy basestations etc… only some of that has changed.

    Rift meanwhile feels like a luxurious/finished product by comparison. Is way more comfy to wear for hours, much better controllers, better lenses, less SDE, actually looks higher res even though it’s not and oculus home/rift use is really slick vs the janky steam VR + gremlins.