This week, Valve announced that it was partnering with HTC for the Vive headset, a virtual reality display that Valve co-founder Gabe Newell promised made "zero percent of people" motion sick. Very little was known about the Vive before release, but Valve's virtual reality prototypes have been something of a legend in the VR community — especially the "VR room," a room covered in barcodes that created a precise location-tracking system.
While it wasn't as exciting as the actual Vive, Valve had a few pieces of its history on display at the 2015 Game Developers Conference. Turns out it took a lot of experimentation to get from barcodes to lasers.
- Valve's first efforts at motion tracking involved putting QR code-like tags all over a room's walls; a camera on the headset read the codes, got a precise location, and moved the wearer accordingly.
- Valve's early headsets were noted for having very low latency, compared to the relatively blurry Oculus Rift. This is a small, one-eye prototype.
- This was Valve's "first glimpse of presence," and it's the headset that got a lot of people talking about VR when Valve showed it off at Steam Dev Days in 2014.
- This version of Valve's headset appeared in public a few months later, in mid-2014. Instead of having a head-mounted camera track barcodes, an external camera tracked dots on the headset, more like the Oculus Rift.
- Like the Vive, the dot-tracked headset came with a controller that was also covered in motion-tracking dots.
- After the dots, Valve moved to its current laser-tracked system. "Our first approach to this was to just hot-glue the sensors to one of our dot-tracked headsets," reads the placard.
- Another step towards the Vive, this one with integrated sensors.
- And now we're almost up to the present, with the prototype controllers that accompany Valve's Vive demo.