Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shoe is on the other foot as Google Earth VR is released for HTC Vive but not Oculus Rift


Google just released Google Earth VR on Steam for the HTC Vive (reviewed here), and it's an amazing (and free) app that lets you explore famous sights around the world in VR.  However, it appears that Google Earth VR will work only on HTC Vive and not the Oculus Rift (reviewed here), leaving some Oculus Rift users complaining ironically about exclusivity.


HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are the two primary desktop VR systems for PCs, and the two camps have adopted contrasting philosophies for their headsets.  HTC and its partner Valve have argued that VR is in its infancy and it would be better for the industry to have open systems, so that users of each headset can use the software for the other headset without restrictions.  Among other things, this will maximize the market available to developers, thus giving them a greater incentive to develop VR software.

Oculus and its parent company Facebook disagree.  Oculus and Facebook believe that the Rift's software should be exclusively for the Rift headset.  Early on, despite Oculus founder Palmer Luckey's promise to the contrary, Oculus implemented a hardware check that required a user to have an Oculus Rift in order to run the Rift's software.  When users protested, Oculus backed off and removed the hardware check.  But it continues to believe in exclusivity and have not made the Rift software cross-compatible with the Vive.

As a result of Oculus' philosophy, you generally need an Oculus Rift headset to use the Rift's software, although a compatibility layer called Revive allows the HTC Vive to run some software for the Oculus Rift.  Meanwhile, HTC Vive software on Steam work not only on the HTC Vive but also on Oculus Rift (subject to controller compatibility).  That is, except for Google Earth VR.

Unlike other apps on Steam that work on both Vive and Rift, Google Earth works only with the HTC Vive.  It doesn't work on the Rift even if you are a developer who already has Oculus Touch.  This puts Oculus users in the awkward position of complaining about exclusivity.

We don't know yet if this incompatibility with Touch is only temporary.  Some redditors have suggested it might be the lack of a 3D model for Touch controllers that's preventing the Rift + Touch from being used in Google Earth VR.  If so, then the restriction will likely be lifted when Touch is released on December 6.

But it's also possible that Google supports an open headset standard (perhaps to allow Daydream to use Gear VR software and vice-versa) and this could be a subtle way of reminding Oculus about the problem of exclusivity.
UPDATE: Issue has now been fixed by someone familiar to the Vive and Rift communities.