What’s the future of VR headsets made by Valve, which launched the expensive, bulky, and impressive Valve Index in August 2019? The best information at the moment seems to come from Valve itself: data mining discoveries and patent applications add to something that looks like a brand new Valve VR system with some form of functionality without integrated wire.
Sources close to Valve’s business confirmed to Ars that the information in nature is legitimate, at least when it comes to the products. made at Valve’s headquarters, even if these products are ultimately not marketed.
A new unclear “ism”
Overview of this week’s news is courtesy of virtual reality industry journalist and YouTube channel host Brad Lynch, who received advice after following months of Valve patent applications. The advice came in the form of a device named “Deckard,” which has been mentioned in the publicly accessible branches of SteamVR since January. Ars can confirm the legitimacy of “Deckard” as a codenamed device used inside Valve’s headquarters.
The information Lynch gleaned points to several iterations of this codenamed new helmet, including an updated “proof of concept” version referenced in June, as well as the ability to activate an “internal valve menu” that makes appear two new SteamVR menu options. . These options, called the “prism” and “autonomous system layer”, have not yet been significantly activated, so their names and meanings remain a matter of speculation. The latter term, “stand-alone,” implies that the hardware can run on its own, as opposed to, say, being plugged into a computer or tracked by Valve’s heavy SteamVR tracking boxes.
The word “stand-alone” describes Facebook’s Oculus Quest platform, which can either connect wirelessly to a powerful PC or run software using its own weaker built-in hardware. Lynch points to a DLL that can be found in the SteamVR public filesets, which currently includes calls at around 160 MHz of wireless signals. However, its speculation about it doesn’t necessarily confirm anything about an upcoming Valve VR wireless system, as that speed matches the Wi-Fi 6 controller found in the Oculus Quest 2 headsets.
Perhaps the most tantalizing mention of “Deckard” came from a string Lynch discovered in a SteamVR Linux ARM binary, which alludes, but does not outright confirm, to some form of processing built into a new headset. Valve VR, as opposed to sending calls to a connected system like a gaming PC.
Several virtual reality concepts were in preparation
Sources previously told Ars Technica that Valve had at least two VR headset design concepts in the works, and at the concept stage they diverged. During this pre-production phase, a prototype concept looked more like the Valve Index in terms of requiring some sort of connection to a PC and existing SteamVR tracking boxes. The other revolved around a processor built into the Oculus Quest with aspirations to ditch external tracking boxes and embrace Quest-like “reverse tracking”.
The sources also suggest that Valve previously struggled to get some form of reverse tracking to match Oculus Quest’s performance, and the company brought in at least one outside firm to work on a competitive option. The effectiveness of such a system could very well have changed since Ars heard these reports.
Lynch’s video tries to connect the dots from previous patent filings on what might happen in a future Valve VR headset model, and in at least one respect, her report is on the right track: updated optics. The sources of Ars indicate public documents filed by companies like Facebook on the future of optical VR technology, which involve lenses that can be closer to a user’s face and provide better performance, better weight distribution, and more comfortable virtual movement. They suggest Valve is moving in a similar direction regardless of what shape their next helmet might take.
Neither Lynch’s report nor any of Ars’ reports revealed that Valve developed an upgrade for existing Index headsets via the front trunk port (“frunk”) on its face. Valve representatives did not immediately respond to Ars Technica’s questions about the Codenamed Deckard device.
“These are some really cool debugging commands that [Valve is] throw in there without encryption, ”Lynch said incredulously at the end of her report. Lynch says this although Valve has a habit of letting their dedicated fans uncover clues inside Steam and theorize about what might happen next. The fact that some of this hidden information since January suggests that Valve isn’t necessarily about to pull the trigger on a massive VR announcement, and Valve has already started dedicating some manufacturing lines to its Switch-like Steam Deck system, which is likely stretched by the realities of modern chip shortages. Stacking a new VR system on top of it doesn’t necessarily seem likely at this early stage.
Still, the fact that Valve is moving forward with a compact all-in-one PC – which rocks an AMD SoC and a default installation of Linux (in particular, the upcoming “SteamOS 3”) – fits the findings perfectly. by Lynch on XRDesktop, a virtual desktop environment developed by a developer funded by Valve. Lynch points out that this app environment has received updates that reference AMD and SteamOS 3 drivers, which would make it much easier to transplant the SoC from Steam Deck into a standalone VR headset. (This month, Valve dispelled rumors that the first-gen Steam Deck is a suitable VR system, but that doesn’t mean that a VR-optimized version of its AMD SoC ultimately couldn’t keep up.)
As with our other reports on Valve’s unannounced hardware and software, we have to point out that the company has a long and bloody history of ideating, prototyping, and killing projects before they’re announced. . Public calls inside SteamVR files do not guarantee commercial launch. Even so, Valve hinted at both the Valve Index and “Half-Life VR” ahead of their official announcements. This leaves us somewhat at ease in the hope that an updated Valve VR product, which offers standalone VR functionality without any Facebook login requirements, will also amount to a possible retail launch.