Hello everyone! Last year at CES, HTC Vive announced two great products: the Vive Tracker and the Vive Wireless Adapter, that have been great both for innovators and enterprise users. This year the company has made other great announcements, even bigger than the ones of last year, by presenting:
- A new improved Vive Pro headset
- An official Vive Wireless Adapter
- A new version of Viveport, that is more suitable for VR
All these news have generated an enormous hype in the VR community and I’m sure you’ve already read them elsewhere, so I won’t speechify too much in this post and I will concentrate on the main topics, adding a commentary of mine.
Vive Pro has been announced with a super-cool video, that I think you all must see: it features great visuals and an epic music named “Only one king” that makes clearly understand who rules the market according to HTC:
And here you are the HTC Vive Pro: it seems the result of an old HTC Vive that has made sex with a Samsung Odyssey. And in fact, from various point of view, it really seems a Samsung Odyssey with SteamVR v2 tracking. The new Vive Pro Features:
- Two AMOLED display, each with 1440×1600 pixels resolution. These are made by Samsung and are exactly the same of the Odyssey. We have a 3K headset here;
- The same Fresnel lenses of Vive 1 (this news has been spotted by Upload VR);
- FOV 110°, as the old Vive;
- 90Hz, as the old Vive;
- A dual frontal camera: having two frontal cameras may let developers create interesting mixed reality applications. Consider that with a couple of cameras it is possible to reconstruct somewhat the depth map of the environment surrounding the headset and this can be useful to develop some kind of AR/MR applications. They could theoretically be used also for inside-out tracking, but the distance between the cameras seems to little for that. Since the official website talks about the Chaperone highlighting your environment, this environmental reconstruction may be also be used to provide a precise outline of the environment around you so that you know exactly where you are in the room;
- Integrated Hi-fi headphones, that can’t be detached. They are similar to the one of the Odyssey. The official website states that audio of the device features “Alert Mode and Conversation Mode – so you hear your surroundings while being immersed in any realities without the need of taking off the headset”. This seems a very interesting feature;
- Internal audio amplifier to have a powerful audio;
- Two buttons on the left headphone that let you change the audio volume easier; on the right headphone there’s a button to mute the microphone that is very useful for social VR experiences;
- Two microphones, so that the resulting recorded audio is noise free. If you remember, in all my Rift-vs-Vive comparisons, I highlight how the audio from Rift’s mic is far cleaner than the one of the Vive and this is clearly noticeable during social VR experiences: you recognize a Vive user by the noise that you hear when speaks. With this upgrade, Vive gets on par with the Rift;
- A new comfortable head strap, with a knob behind to close it gently around your head. The Odyssey and PSVR have something similar;
- A lighter headset. In this, the Vive supersedes the Odyssey, that is one of the heaviest headsets on the market.
- An overall improved comfort, even thanks to a balanced device;
- A button to make the front part of the headset slide forward and backward so that the user can accommodate his/her glasses inside the headset;
- Lighthouse sensors v2 on the headset, so it may work both with Lighthouse stations v1 and v2;
- Lighthouse stations v2: this will allow a tracking area up to 10m*10m using 4 stations;
- Controllers… that have not been specified better by HTC: we don’t know if they’re an evolution of the current Vive Wands or if they’ll be the upcoming Vive Knuckles. I’d bet for the second ones, though. It would have no sense producing old VR controllers with the new v2 sensors.
- A fancy dark blue color.
As you can see, this is not a new disruptive device featuring eye tracking, foveated rendering and mind reading. It is not an incredibly ambitious project as the Pimax 8K. I see it as “how HTC Vive would have been if it were released in 2018”. It gets on par with the top headset sold on the market (Samsung Odyssey), but adds all the advantages of having SteamVR tracking, as high reliability and high precision of pose detection of hmd and controllers (even if the Odyssey, featuring inside-out tracking, has less tracking precision, but it is easier to install and to use). Furthermore, if Knuckles will be confirmed, it would also feature innovative ergonomic controllers. From now on, Vive Pro will actually be the best headset on the market: it surpasses or gets on par with Oculus Rift on all sides, from quality tracking to comfort, not to mention audio quality.
UPDATE: according to Road To VR, that quotes an HTC executive, this device won’t actually ship with Knuckles controllers, but with an evoluted version of Vive Wands (of course, compatible with SteamVR Tracking v2). Knuckles is a product of Valve and not of HTC, so HTC will go its own route.
If you want to read a good hands-on review, I advise you as always to read the one written by Ben Lang of Road To VR. Anyway, all the reviews from journalists that have tried it are very enthusiastic and praise especially two things:
- The comfort
- The awesome crisp visuals, with the screen-door-effect barely noticeable.
The Vive Pro will be released as an “upgrade” in Q1 2018 and as a “full bundle” in Q2 2018. With “upgrade”, I don’t mean an upgrade-kit in the OSVR sense (so that you take a screwdriver and upgrade your Vive), but the fact that you buy only the HMD and keep using it with your old Lighthouse stations and VR controllers. If you instead want to upgrade all the kit, you can buy the full bundle with the new v2 Lighthouses and controllers.
An exact release date has not been declared, exactly as the price. And I think that this last point may be the one that decides the success of this innovative product. Because this Vive Pro is a great leap forward from the previous model, but, as we’ve seen with Oculus’s “Summer of Rift” discount, the price is very important to decide the success of a VR headset. And in my opinion, all this stuff won’t be cheap. Vive is currently priced at $599 and the price appears a bit high, considering the fact that the Samsung Odyssey, that has far better specifications, costs $450. HTC claims that it keeps the price high because its one is the best headset on the market, but it is continuously losing market shares because of this. IMHO they’ll adopt a strategy so that the original Vive price will drop to around $400-$450 so that it becomes competitive with the Rift, while this new headset will have a price around $600-$700 because it will serve that category of people that need a top-notch headset. The name itself of “Vive Pro” states that it is a device for professionals, so a device with a high-price and high-quality. HTC itself has said that the resolution has been improved because professional claimed that there were problems in reading texts inside VR. The only hope for not seeing such a high price is that the use of Steam VR tracking 2.0, that reduces the hardware costs, will let the prices stay on a lower side. Anyway, considering that the Odyssey costs $450 and has not the costs of external tracking devices, I think that it can’t absolutely cost less than $450.
Many Vive users will wonder if buying the upgrade kit will be worth the expense and everything will depend on the price. If the price for this upgrade will be too high, IMHO it won’t be worth it, since as I’ve already said, this is an interesting evolution, but not a disruptive one. For instance, I wouldn’t pay $400 to buy another headset just to have some more resolution and comfort. And so are many users like me. If there were eye tracking, I’d buy that for sure… but some pixels more are not a compelling reason to buy immediately a new headset (as I’ve already discussed in my post where I make predictions on when we’ll see the Oculus Rift CV2 and Vive 2).
It seems anyway that Vive keeps aiming at a market of professionals and innovators, adding cool features to its device, while Oculus is just aiming at mainstream adoption through the super-cheap Oculus Go, that surely doesn’t shine on the feature’s side. Facebook is a social network and just want users, wants consumers, while seems that HTC and Valve are trying to bet on having high-quality users (professionals) onboard… so these two companies seems to start differentiating their target markets. Furthermore, HTC is betting on a model made by continuous upgrades and add-ons, while Oculus seems not interested in something like that: the CV1 has not changed in any way since its launch, while the Vive is continuously evolving.
Vive Wireless Adapter
Vive Pro has been the big news of the day. But HTC has also announced another very interesting hardware: the Vive Wireless Adapter. What is it? Well, it’s very simple: it is an adapter that you can use to make your Vive or Vive Pro wireless. If you’re thinking “hey, but there was not TPCAST for that?”, yes, you’re right… this is like an improved version of TPCAST officially released by HTC Vive. Honestly speaking, this is a bit strange, since TPCAST is in Vive X accelerator program, so Vive is becoming a competitor for one of the startups of its own accelerator… but I guess that there’s something I don’t know behind that. Anyway, TPCAST itself is announcing at CES an improved version of its wireless kit and the upcoming support for Windows Mixed Reality headsets (so TPCAST will have devices working with all headsets out there).
This Vive Wireless Adapter’s specs have not been fully revealed. We only know that:
- It is rather small;
- It should be easy to be set up;
- It works with Intel WiGig technology (maybe it is similar to that thing that we’ve seen at E3);
- Transmits visuals and audio at over 60Ghz;
- It tries to minimize interferences;
- It should have low latency;
- It has Li-Ion Battery that guarantees “long hours” of fun.
As you can see, everything is pretty vague, exactly as the release date, that is “summer 2018”. The wireless adapter is an interesting piece of hardware and the fact that the amazing Vive Pro may be made wireless with an official Vive kit is surely interesting, but here again, the price is a fundamental piece of information that is missing.
Considering that TPCAST costs around $350, I can’t imagine a price much different from that, so again we’re talking about a solution for innovators and enterprise users. No general consumer would buy a wireless upgrade kit for that amount of money.
UPDATE: if you want to read a hands-on with Vive Wireless Adapter, read it on Road To VR. It seems that it is very stable and graphical quality is great, but it has some little issues with latency.
Along with these two big hardware news, Vive has also made an important software announcement: the upgrade of the Viveport platform. If you don’t know what Viveport is, well, it is most probably because we all like playing games on SteamVR. But actually, Vive has its own store called Viveport. When HTC realized that Facebook was happily lowering the price of its headsets because it could earn money on the software sold on the Oculus Store and that for Vive headsets, all the money from software sales was going to Valve, HTC has begun investing a lot in its own software store to start making money from VR games sales. If you remember, during the Vive Focus launch, Vive China president A. Wang Graylin has talked a lot about the Viveport+Vive Wave platform, that in China, where Steam has some difficulties, will become the main software platform for the Vive’s and Vive partners’ headsets.
Since Viveport is becoming so important in the VR ecosystem, it has undergone a huge restyling, whose purpose has been to make it on par with the new fantastic SteamVR and Oculus Home environments. The result is a store whose interface has been completely studied to be optimal for use inside virtual reality. It doesn’t feature the fancy home-like features of its two competitors, so it is not your personal space in VR where you can host your friends, it is just a good VR store. But it wins on its two bigger brothers with one awesome feature: the ability to preview a game before buying it. The developer, when uploads the game, has to specify how this trial happens: it can be just an environment that the user can try, to feel himself/herself inside the game or also a little interactive piece of the game itself. So, imagine that you select a relaxing application that you are thinking about buying… and immediately you find yourself in a beach surrounded by the soothing sound of waves: isn’t this a good way to understand if that application is good for you? I find this “preview” feature really awesome and I think that every store should implement that.
Viveport is also trying to introduce a new innovative subscription-based pricing model: you pay $7 a month and you can play 5 VR titles that you wish in that month. I find it a very interesting deal: unless you love particularly a game, once you play it once, you don’t use it anymore and paying $1.4 for each game that you try is really a good deal.
The last news regards Vive Video, the VR video player made by Vive: it will feature in v2 the ability to directly stream videos from Vimeo.
Yesterday has been a great day for VR and I make my compliments to HTC Vive for these incredible evolutions. Anyway, I just want to wait to know the prices of the Vive Pro and Wireless Adapter before giving a complete opinion about these pieces of hardware and their potential on the market. As always, as soon I’ll have news, I’ll notify them to you through this blog or my weekly newsletter!
In the meanwhile, if you want to give me your opinion in the comments, I’d be happy of listening to it.
(Header image by HTC Vive)
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