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HTC takes its Vive virtual reality headset on a road trip

A truck loaded with stations for demoing the advanced VR headsets makes its first stop of a global tour at San Diego Comic-Con.

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HTC's Vive headset was developed in partnership with software maker Valve. It's expected to go on sale later this year. Nick Statt/CNET

SAN DIEGO -- HTC wants to ease the public into virtual reality before it launches Vive -- one of the most advanced virtual-reality headsets -- later this year. So it's loaded up a truck with demo stations and will be touring select cities, starting with San Diego Comic-Con.

Here at the annual comics and pop culture convention, attendees can line up to try the Vive and all-new wireless versions of its wacky touch controllers, which look like microphones with mushrooms on the end. When wearing the headset, the controllers and their many sensors tap into a system called Lighthouse, which allows for unprecedented tracking of movement inside the virtual worlds the Vive simulates.

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The Vive's new wireless touch controllers rely on a system called Lighthouse that uses 32 sensors to track your hand movements and physical body inside a virtual world. Nick Statt/CNET

Wearing the Vive inside a spacious room in HTC's truck located on San Diego's Island Avenue, I was able to walk around and interact with objects with fidelity and precision. I could paint in virtual space, follow a cooking recipe by picking up and placing items inside a boiling pot and even attempt a robot repair inside a futuristic facility. Facebook-owned Oculus VR is also working on similar technology, called Oculus Touch.

Announced back in March during the annual Mobile World Congress confab in Barcelona, Spain, the Vive is a high-end VR headset manufactured and designed by HTC, but powered by software from esteemed video game company Valve. The Seattle-based game company known for the Half-Life series of games designed the Lighthouse tracking system, as well as the headset's software, SteamVR, named after Valve's popular online storefront for games. The device will be compatible with a variety of Steam games and newly designed VR-specific titles and will require a connection to an external PC.

HTC plans to announce pricing and specific release information later this year. The company has already handed out hundreds of software toolkits to kickstart the development of new games, thanks to Valve's close ties with the game industry.

VR is a now a central theme here at Comic-Con, which draws upwards of 130,000 people to the San Diego bay front every year for a genre-blending pop culture extravaganza spanning comics, television, film and video games. Fans come out mostly to dress up, buy merchandise and catch glimpses of big names behind franchises like Star Wars. But Comic-Con has also become a testing ground for new technologies as companies experiment with ways to engage fans beyond simple trailers and panel Q&As.

HTC is just one of many companies using Comic-Con to get VR out in the wild. Legendary Pictures partnered with Google to distribute Google's low-cost Cardboard VR headset to as many as 50,000 Comic-Con attendees alongside a smartphone app featuring VR experiences for the upcoming "Warcraft" fantasy film and "Crimson Peak" horror movie.

For those interested in trying out HTC's Vive for themselves, the company has announced a list of dates when it will be stopping its truck:

  • July 9-12, Island Street and Sixth Avenue, San Diego
  • July 17-19, Forecastle Festival (invite only), Louisville, Kentucky
  • July 21-23, Navy Pier, Chicago
  • July 25-28, specific location to be announced, Kansas City, Kansas
  • August 2-8, The International, Seattle
  • August 5-9, Gamescom, Cologne, Germany
  • August 13-16, specific location to be announced, San Francisco
  • August 20-23, specific location to be announced, Portland, Oregon
  • August 28-31, PAX Prime, Seattle
  • September 4-9, IFA, Berlin, Germany
  • October 28-November 1, Paris Games Week, Paris

Check back for more of CNET's coverage of Comic-Con as it begins winding down for the final two days.