At last year’s CES, HTC announced the Vive Pre. Now a virtual reality hype fueled year later they’re back. HTC has had a busy year laying down all the groundwork for its VR ecosystem. They’re now looking to make it flourish by focusing on developers and fine-tuning its user experience.
At CES, HTC announced that they will allow VR users to bring a variety of real-world accessories into their environment. Things like plastic guns, tennis rackets or even a firehose will be making their way into virtual worlds run on a HTC Vive VR headset. That and Wireless VR looks to be the focus for this year.
The Vive Tracker
The Vive Tracker, is a tiny device that’ll let developers track just about any object in virtual reality. It weighs just under 85 gramss, is under 4-inches around and about 3.8cm high. You can think of it as a miniaturized version of the Vive touch controller’s top portion, which is where most of the motion tracking magic happens. The device can be mounted to an accessory via a simple connection. And at under 85 grams, it won’t add much heft either.
Once connected, the Tracker enables motion tracking for the accessory. HTC demonstrated eight different integrations during its showcase at CES. Including a VR glove, VR camera, several rifles — both realistic and futuristic — and training devices for Major League Baseball players and future firefighters.
“To foster the long-term growth of VR, we want to make it even easier for developers to prototype and market more immersive controllers and accessories,” said Daniel O’Brien, GM, US and EMEA, Vive, in a prepared statement. “The Vive Tracker is the first step in growing an ecosystem of third-party accessories that will change how we interact with virtual experiences and provide consumers and businesses with an unlimited amount of content opportunities.”
The company said it plans to give away up to 1,000 of the Trackers to developers in an effort to help kickstart the use of the devices. Application information for receiving a free device for development will be announced at a later date.
The company also has yet to set a price or firm release date, only that the Tracker is coming in the second quarter of the year.
The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap
HTC also showed off an upgraded, deluxe Vive strap that includes built-in headphones and a more comfortable feel. The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap hasn’t been priced yet. But will begin shipping to retailers in the second quarter of the year. It will also be available to order directly on Vive.com.
The strap, which replaces the sort of floppy, velcro strap the Vive came with. Is designed with adjustable headphones that deliver 360-degree “VR audio.” The strap also now has a customisable sizing dial on the back, making it easier to adjust the fit of the headset and, in theory, more comfortable once done.
Featuring interior padding, a new 3-in-1 cable path and an easy-to-adjust sizing dial, the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap makes it easier to put on and take off the headset by effortlessly adapting to any wearer. Integrated on-ear headphones provide superior sound with height and angle adjustments for maximum comfort and convenience.
The design appears to have taken some of the better elements from the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR headsets. Which is one of the Vive’s biggest shortcomings.
Wireless VR Headsets
While the company didn’t have any of its own wireless hardware to show off, it did showcase the TPCast. A wireless adapter for the Vive that was incubated through the Vive X accelerator program. It’s not hard to see why HTC would choose to focus on launching a wireless feature. It’s simply hard to believe you’re in an actual virtual world when you’re tethered to a computer.
The TPCast will be available globally in the second quarter of this year for USD$249. It promises a 1.5-hour battery life and the ability to deliver 2K video resolution at 90Hz. With less than two millisecond wireless transmission latency. With a five-hour XL battery is expected to be released down the line.
“Our approach to wireless and VR is the same approach that we’ve taken with the Vive. Wireless will be open-standard and we look forward to supporting any company that can demonstrate a low-latency solution to wireless VR,” said Daniel O’Brien, GM, US and EMEA, Vive. “We are confident that wireless VR will be a significant contributor to the Vive ecosystem in 2017.”
Viveport, the company’s global app store announced some new services.
Later this year, HTC will roll out an app subscription service for VR content. The new service is an effort by the company to help customers navigate the now thousands of VR apps available on Viveport. The service is meant to help people navigate Viveport’s growing marketplace and discover new apps in a library that is expected to hit 3,000 titles by the end of the year.
“We’re adding 30 titles a week now,” says Rikard Steiber, president of Viveport. “The challenge is that for consumers, how can you discover great content.” He likened the upcoming service to something akin to Netflix, though it won’t include VR games. Games will be included in the subscription service in China, where Viveport is also the main retailer for games.