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Doom VFR review: A rip-and-tear delight… but only on the right VR setup

Enlarge / In screenshot mode, Doom VFR looks a lot like normal Doom. (credit: id Software/Bethesda)

The first time I ever tested a modern VR headset, I played Doom.

My 2013 PAX West demo came courtesy of Oculus executive Brendan Iribe, who put a duct-taped, unfinished VR headset over my eyes before booting a modified version of Doom 3. Almost instantly, I praised the immersion. I oohed and ahhed at my ability to rapidly turn my head to line up demon-killing buckshot. I appreciated the lighting and perspective tricks used to convey how much chaos was going on all around me. There really was nothing like it at the time.

Oculus continued demonstrating this build of Doom 3 at other events to drum up excitement for its eventual headset, a fact not lost on the folks who happened to own the Doom license. The ensuing legal battle between Bethesda and Oculus has been legendary, but no lawsuit could wipe away that intrinsic link created between Doom and VR by this formative demo.

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VR headset sales are slowly rising out of the doldrums

How long until one of these Lawnmower Man setups is in every home in America? (credit: New Line / Time Warner)

For all the hubbub and sometimes lofty predictions surrounding virtual reality's wide consumer launch last year, the immediate sales figures and impact of the technology have been decidedly muted. As hardware prices come down and software offerings begin to catch up, though, the market for high-end VR headsets is slowly creeping out of the doldrums.

Worldwide shipments for high-end, tethered VR headsets (excluding cheaper "phone holsters" like Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream) exceeded 1 million shipments for the first time in the third quarter of 2017, according to market analysis firm Canalys. Sony's PlayStation VR took a near-majority of the market with an estimated 490,000 shipments, followed by 210,000 for the Oculus Rift and 160,000 for the HTC Vive (140,000 more units went to various other headsets, such as China's DPVR).

The absolute numbers for VR headset sales still aren't all that exciting compared to other successful consumer electronics—both the PS4 and the Xbox One sold a million units in their first day of availability, for instance, and Apple shipped 3.3 million iPhones in its first six months back in 2007.

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New Blade Runner VR game foretells a Sega CD-styled story revolution

SAN JOSE, Calif.—In bad news, Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab is not the kind of "VR film" that should have you rushing to purchase a high-end VR rig and exploring the edges of the Blade Runner universe. The dialogue and story are first-draft fluff. The acting is stilted. Its connections to the new film are tenuous at best. And the series-lore payoff is equivalent to a cartoon character opening a wallet to let a single fly buzz out.

So why talk about it at all? Because this 25-minute experience is the most polished execution of VR-for-film I've ever seen, and it may herald the true beginning of VR films with actual human actors.

Oculus

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Valve announces the first big SteamVR 2.0 feature: waaay more space

Enlarge / Only two base stations? P'shaw. Next year, SteamVR will let developers do way more with four. (credit: Valve)

Every major virtual reality platform has its pros and cons at this point, but one of SteamVR's clear leads is space. Right now, owners of the HTC Vive can set up two of its infrared-powered "base stations" and move, dance, shoot, sculpt, and adventure around a maximum of 132 square feet—assuming you have that much to spare in your den or basement, anyway.

But as more commercial groups (from arcades to industrial design firms) bite on VR's most extreme use possibilities, Steam's VR design side has clearly been working to give them more extreme floor space to work with. On Tuesday, the company hinted at an eventual SteamVR 2.0 product by announcing quite a leap in scope: nearly 10 times the square footage.

The catch is that the entire SteamVR pipeline must be upgraded to take advantage of this jump, including new "SteamVR Tracking 2.0" base stations that will begin rolling out to developers at the start of 2018. Developers will need to test these tracking boxes with head-mounted displays (HMDs) that are compatible with the new trackers' standard, dubbed TS4321—meaning, not the HTC Vive currently on store shelves. These tracking boxes work the same as the original infrared-crazy base stations, and they add support for "modulated light carrier input."

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HTC might (and totally should) sell off its Vive division, and I know who should buy it

htc vive valve acquisition

HTC isn't having a ton of luck in the smartphone market these days, but its Vive virtual reality headset is actually doing really, really well. Now, the company is reportedly considering a move to spin the VR business off into a separate entity that it can sell to the highest bidder. This is seriously fantastic news for early VR adopters, especially if one company in particular decides to throw in a bid.

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