Virtual reality equipment, especially the big, standalone ones, is no small matter, both in size as well as in price. The headset kit alone, which usually comes with controllers and sensors, costs upwards of thousands of dollars. That’s still not counting a VR-ready PC rig, if you don’t have one yet. That is partly why VR is pretty much still an exclusive club that very few can afford. Reducing the build costs of equipment goes a long way in making such equipment more accessible. Which is why Valve is working on a next gen base station for its SteamVR platform that will not only be smaller but also cheaper.
In the usual process of development, which a certain company in Redmond is said to be breaking, version 1 of a new type of device is, more often than not, big and expensive. Version 2 takes those lessons learned and checks if they can be made more efficient. Which also includes seeing if things can be removed without significantly affecting performance.
That does seems to be the case for SteamVR’s next generation of base stations. These stations contain the sensors necessary for tracking the location in 3D space of a VR headset as well as the controllers. They also contain spinning motors for more precise movement. This is where Valve will be doing some cost-cutting.
The base station included in the HTC Vive, practically SteamVR’s reference device, contains two motors. The prototype they’re working on only has one. This allowed Valve to nearly halve the size of the base station and also reduce its build cost. While only a small part of the kit, the costs do add up.
Valve does clarify that, being a prototype, the base station could still change in the long run. The current iteration, however, represents where Valve’s at and its vision for the future of SteamVR. A future where more base stations could offer a “house-scale”, in contrast to room-scale, view of the real-world environment translated to VR space.