After living through the VR frenzy of 2016, it's almost hard to believe that HTC's Vive Pre debuted at CES just a year ago. Since then, the company released the consumer edition of the headset and reorganized all its Vive business under a subsidiary. Now that it's laid the groundwork for its VR ecosystem, HTC is looking to make it flourish by focusing on developers and fine-tuning its user experience.
For one, you can expect wireless VR to be a big theme for the Vive this year. It's not hard to see why: It's simply hard to believe you're in an actual virtual world when you're tethered to a computer. At CES today, HTC announced that the TPCast adapter, which was developed within its own Vive X incubator, will be available globally in the second quarter of this year for $249. Previously, you could order it only from HTC's Chinese site. TPCast can last around an hour-and-a-half on its own, but there will also be a five-hour "XL battery" pack coming later this year.
Additionally, the company announced that Intel, a new partner, is working on a WiGig wireless VR solution capable of 360-degree tracking. The company is also open to other wireless solutions, assuming they can handle the demanding throughput and offer low latency.
HTC also unveiled the Vive Tracker, a tiny device that lets developers track just about any object in virtual reality. 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. HTC says it's created a "simple connection" for developers to integrate the Tracker into its accessories. And at under 3 ounces, it won't add much heft, either.
Based on the demos I saw at HTC's media event, developers are genuinely excited about the possibilities of the Vive Tracker. Deakin University's James Mullins is using the tracker as part of FLAIM Trainer, a way for firefighters to prepare for battling blazes. As part of that experience, he attached the Vive Tracker to the end of a mock firehose. Based on a short demo, it managed to accurately follow where I was pointing the hose just as well as a typical Vive controller. Notably, Mullins also told me it took only four hours to build in support for the Vive Tracker.
HTC also has some big plans for its VivePort app store. It's launching a subscription-based service for testing out VR apps and games (a "Netflix for VR" as HTC called it), and it's also developing a platform for arcade owners to easily offer VR experiences without dealing with licensing headaches from developers. HTC is hoping for it to jump-start VR availability in arcades.
In another bid to improve the Vive experience, HTC also announced the Deluxe Audio Strap, which adds a bit of comfort to the top of its head straps and built-in headphones. Personally, I prefer the Oculus Rift's integrated headphones to the Vive's dangling audio jack, so I'm looking forward to seeing if the new Audio Strap makes things more comfortable.
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