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HTC Vive Solves Virtual Reality's Biggest ProblemThis is shaping up to be the most important year in the tumultuous, not-quite-there-yet history of virtual reality. A number of companies, from Facebook and Samsung to Google and Microsoft, are making significant pushes into the technology, which has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades but has largely failed to materialize as a viable consumer product. The latest piece of kit, the HTC Vive announced this weekend, is the product of a collaboration between the Taiwanese phone giant and Valve, the purveyor of the most important software distribution platform on the PC, Steam. Virtual reality, or VR, has a long tortured history. Until three years ago, the technology was more or less moribund. Then Palmer Luckey (now 22), reignited interest with a series of prototypes for a new device called the Oculus Rift, which improved significantly on the old technology by taking advantag

e of advances in components for phones. His company, Oculus VR, was acquired by Facebook last year for $2 billion. Related Stories Tech Review: The Oculus Quest Is Virtual Reality's Best Bet Yet     Press Room TIME and Felix Paul Studios to Produce Historic Virtual Reality Series on the International Space Station  Most of Oculus advances, which are now being adopted or emulated by the likes of Sony and Samsung, are in how images are displayed to users wearing the headset. Long story short, a VR system has to display two sets of imagesone for each eyeat very fast rates or the viewer will get nauseous. But the HTC Vive, which the companies say will be available later this year, solves the next most vexing problems: once a viewer is seeing 3D space, how do they maneuver and manipulate the environment around them. Aside from content that is compatible with VR, these are the biggest outstanding questions. Once youre there, what can you do and how do you do it? Early development kits for the Oculus employ a standard console controller to move around, but that can be disorienting. Sonys Morpheus prototype for the Playstation4 uses a set of controllers that look like ice cream cones with lightbulbs on top with similar results. And Microsofts recently unveiled HoloLens, which projects images onto the real world, uses hand gestures and arm motions. Its still unclear which approach will win out. HTC says its system will come with a base station that can track a users movements in 3D space. The company also hinted at a specific controller, perhaps a set of gloves, to enable users to manipulate virtual objects. Details are still scant, but this could solve the problems of mobility in a simulated 3D environment. If Valve and HTC have indeed managed to do that, virtual reality may finally be ready for prime time. See The Incredibly Goofy Evolution of Virtual Reality Headsets

1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information. Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis 1993 "Reality +" at the Virtual Reality Systems 93 show was described as a next generation, multi-player virtual reality entertainment system that gave a high sense of movement in a computer-generated world revealed in a head-mounted display. Alex Brandon—AP  1993 The 3-player Budweiser virtual reality mask at the Food Marketing Institute's International Supermarket Industry Convention and Educational Expostion in Chicago. Mike Fisher

—AP  1993

A Virtual Reality contraption at the Sci Fi Channel booth at The National Cable Television Association annual convention, in San Francisco. George Nikitin—AP  1994 Soldier training using a virtual reality-simulated 3-D shootout at an Army facility. Ben Van Hook—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images 1995 A visitor checking out a virtual reality head-set at the G7 Information Society Showcase taking place at the European Parliament. The head-set was linked to a camera elsewhere in the building which the visitor could control through head movements. STR/Reuters 1998 A researcher at Tokyo University's Intelligent Modeling Laboratory wearing 3-D glasses, extending his hands to touch carbon atoms in the microscopic world at the laboratory's virtual reality room. Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images 1999 Visitors enjoy virtual reality driving with 3-D goggles and driving simulators for the presentation of Japan's automaker Nissan at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo. Kazuhiro Nogi—AFP/Getty Images 2003 A visitor to the " Ars Electronica in a dish installation " Humphrey II" , which allowed virtual free flight through a 3D reconstruction of the city of Linz.  Peter Zschunke—AP 2005 A girl wore a full color head mounted display with a built-in camera as Japan's machinery maker Hitachi Zosen and Shimadzu unveiled a wearable computer, consisting of the HMD and a palm sized Windows XP PC with a pointing device at a virtual reality exhibition in Tokyo. Yoshikazu Tsuno—;AFP/Getty Images

2006 Lt. David Shipley of the Adams County Sheriff's Department watched an interactive video that replicated the experiences of a schizophrenic patient having auditory and visual hallucinations while attempting to refill a prescription at a pharmacy. Karl Gehring—The Denver Post/Getty Images 2008 Valeria Petkova, right, and student Andrew Ketterer, left, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, tested the 'body-swap' illusion, a method whereby people can experience the illusion that either a mannequin or another person's body is their own body. Niklas Larsson—AP   2012 Raphael Pirker from Switzerland, founder of Team BlackSheep used virtual reality goggles to simulate the sensation of flight in the real world during a demonstration, flying from the perspective of a model aircraft, during a session of LeWeb'12 in Saint-Denis, near Paris. AFP/Getty Images  2012 A man seeking a job was equipped with 3D spectacles with sensors as he trained in Clermont-Ferrand, central France with avatars (background) in a virtual reality cube, at business incubator Pascalis. Thierry Zoccolan—AFP/Getty Images 

2012 Peter Kenny  Jan Torpus, director of Lifeclipper project, tested the immersive augmented reality equipment in St Johanns Park in Basel, Switzerland. Sebastien Bozon—AFP/Getty Images 2013 Professor Karl Oldhafer, chief physician of general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, before liver surgery. Oldhafer used augmented reality, which allowed the liver to be filmed with an iPad and overlaid during the operation with virtual 3D models reconstructed from the real organ. This procedure helped locate critical structures such as tumors and vessels and was expected to improve the quality of transferring pre-operational resection plans into actual surgery. Fabian Bimmer—Reuters  2014 British television presenter Rachel Riley showed a virtual-reality headset called Gear VR during a Samsung event ahead of the consumer electronic fair IFA in Berlin. Markus Schreiber—AP 2014 Tim Draper, Founder and Managing partner of 'Draper Fisher Jurvetson', tried out the latest in virtual reality technology the 2014 Kairos Global Summit at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel in Dana Point, California. Jerod Harris—Getty Images for Kairos Soceity 2014 A man played a game with the virtual reality head-mounted display 'Oculus Rift' at International Games Week in Berlin. The display transfers the eye movements to the game in real time. Daniel NaupoldDaniel Naupold/picture-alliance/   Microsoft's Lorraine Bardeen demonstrates HoloLens headset during an event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. on Jan. 21, 2015. Elaine Thompson—AP 1 of  20

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