Valve's SteamVR Beta Shows Why 2014 Is A Big Year For Virtual Reality

Although the Steam Developer Days Conference doesn't actually start until tomorrow (it runs from January 15-16), Valve's nevertheless has decided to tease one of the innovations it plans to debut at the show. SteamVR is now in open beta, and allows users to interact with Steam using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Valve programmer Joe Ludwig made a post in the SteamVR App section of Steam's website explaining how users can try the new interface for themselves:

"As of the most recent Steam Client Beta steam now supports an experimental VR mode. If you own an Oculus Rift dev kit you can try it out by starting Steam with "-vr" on the command line. Then press the Big Picture button to enter Big Picture + VR mode.

The first time you run you may need to do the following:

  1. Run Steam in the desktop client without the -vr option
  2. Find "SteamVR" under "Tools" in your library. (If you don't have it installed, install it.)
  3. Bring up properties on SteamVR and opt-in to the "Beta Update" beta. Let the update download.
  4. Quit the Steam Client again and start it with -vr"

Polygon additionally reports that users will need to download the latest update for SteamVR in order to bypass a bug with Oculus that prevented it from working properly alongside Steam: 

  1. Go to "Library", "Tools", and download SteamVR
  2. Opt into SteamVR Beta. Make sure it's up-to-date
  3. Set Steam to start in Big Picture mode.
  4. Create a shortcut to Steam and add -vr to the launch options
  5. IMPORTANT: Set the Rift as an extended monitor and make sure it's the secondary.
  6. Start Steam using your modified shortcut. 

Now, SteamVR itself isn't terribly impressive. From what I've heard, it's basically just Steam's Big Picture Mode projected through the Rift Headset. What it represents, though? That's a whole different story.

There's no doubt that 2013 saw a surge in the popularity of virtual reality. News about the Oculus Rift has been at the fore ever since the company first hopped onto Kickstarter, and the debut of the Crystal Cove Prototype at this year's Consumer Electronics Show only served to drive the hype up even further. The rift wasn't the only technology that made its debut last year; a whole host of other organizations like Tactical Haptics are also jumping on board, as well. 

Now that all the technology's out there, 2014's going to be the year when development studios actually start leveraging it. That Valve, a company known for innovation, stands ready to jump into the VR industry is no accident. Likely as not, the VR team at Valve sees the writing on the wall; they know that this'll be the year when the technology really takes off. This is evident by Valve's release of SteamVR, which follows right on the heels of the studio's revelation that it plans to launch a standard interface for VR controllers later this month.

We'll find out more about Valve's plans for Virtual Reality at the Dev Days conference, which will feature a wide array of different panels on the emerging technology. I'll be covering it as best I'm able, as well, so stay tuned. It'll be a big show this year, I know it.