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Valve and HTC will let developers apply for a free Vive VR headset 'soon'

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HTC and Valve are being pretty aggressive with their VR headset timing — the recently announced Vive headset is supposed to be available to consumers by the end of the year. But Ars Technica reports that there's some good news and some not-so-good news for developers who wanted to play with it beforehand. Good news: it's going to be free, "at least initially." Bad (or at least worse) news: prospective developers can only get them by applying online, and we don't know how many will make the cut.

Valve's SteamVR page currently says that a developer edition of the Vive will be available this spring. As with just about any VR headset, some developers have either been approved or gotten kits early. But spokesperson Doug Lombardi now tells Ars that "more info and 'sign up' forms will be available to all interested developers, big or small, via a new site coming soon." How soon? Hopefully next week, apparently, though we can't be absolutely certain it will be accepting applications at launch.

The sign-up site could be online by next week

This strategy is a direct contrast to its competitor Oculus. Oculus sent its very first units to Kickstarter backers, and anyone can pay $350 for a development kit on its site, although non-developers are discouraged from doing so. It's more like Sony's more tightly controlled Project Morpheus development kit, which has been distributed only to select developers. It's less common to publicize an online application for anyone who's interested.

As for the cost, there's no "normal" for VR headset development yet. We don't know a lot about the Morpheus development kits, but for reference, Sony has reportedly both charged thousands of dollars for PlayStation 4 kits and loaned them out for free. Anyone can buy the Samsung- and Oculus-produced Gear VR for about $200, though that also requires a separate phone. A lot of people have gotten to try Oculus' headsets as a result, but that also potentially gives people a sub-par first impression of VR.

With controllers and a laser tracking system, there's a lot more to Vive than the headset, so a widely available development kit could cost quite a bit more than the Rift. And while Oculus hasn't announced a consumer edition of its Rift, Valve and HTC are promising something within the next eight months — letting anyone pay for a semi-finished product when a final one is within sight might not make much sense.