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In Brief: Valve Software's VR Ambitions

By Norman Chan

They're not going to make hardware.

Valve held its Steam Dev Days conference last week, a developer-only event where game makers could "meet in a relaxed, off the record environment." But that didn't stop the gaming press and interested gamers from trying to pry as much information as they could from the two days of talks, especially when it came to Valve's sessions on its virtual reality efforts. Michael Abrash and Joe Ludwig, both who have written and spoken extensively about VR research, have now shared their Dev Days presentations (PDF). Abrash's 44-page presentation is essential reading for anyone who's interested in VR; while last year's talk clue us into the challenges of solving latency and motion judder, this year the emphasis is on defining the concept of "presence," and how it differs from "immersion."

Abrash also gave insight into Valve's hardware prototypes--including a QR-code plastered room for positional tracking and the use of a global display with 95Hz refresh rate. Valve reiterates they're not interested in making VR hardware right now, but are sharing their R&D with companies like Oculus VR and other interested hardware makers. But if Abrash's projections are to be believed, the earliest we'd see consumer-grade VR head-mounted displays that meet his criteria for presence is 2015--and we're still hoping that Oculus will have a consumer product this year.