Last week HTC Vive finally announced the public availability of the company’s Vive Sync collaboration platform for the Vive headset. While the company says compatibility with other VR headsets is forthcoming, the fact that it prioritized Vive is a definite short term differentiator. The Sync platform has actually been in development for quite some time—I got to try an early Alpha version of the application when HTC originally launched the Vive Focus as an enterprise device last year in San Francisco. Let’s take a look at the platform as it currently stands.
HTC Vive Sync seeks to provide a secure and private place to work. In the year since I demoed the early version, HTC added global teleconferencing support, cloud service integration (including Microsoft OneDrive) and support for PowerPoints, PDFs and videos. HTC Vive also built an XR avatar creator, which takes a picture of you and helps you build an avatar lookalike. I will admit that mine really does look like me (see below).
You can invite people to collaborate with HTC’s online calendar manager, which sends out an invite link and a QR code that you can scan with the headset to easily join a meeting. I experienced the convenience of this firsthand when a password link didn’t work for me—I then used the QR code and it worked on the first try. Additionally, Vive Sync supports 3D objects, including FBX, OBJ and even Unity Asset Bundles. This means that most people’s 3D models can be easily brought in and critiqued by other team members.
I had the privilege of being briefed on the new Vive Sync Beta inside of Vive Sync on an HTC Vive Focus Plus. The experience was genuinely much better than the experience I had a year ago—higher quality and more professional with more functionality. The meeting was more engaging than any meeting I’ve had in months, most of which took place over the phone. I got a taste of both the day and night environments, and got to experience sitting at both a small conference-room style table and a stadium-style environment for a one to many type of meeting. All of it felt very natural and engaging. I think HTC Vive and the in-house development team, 2 Bears, did a great job of including natural facial and body movements to make things feel more authentic.
One thing I believe HTC Vive Sync has over its competition is the support for eye-tracking. The HTC Vive Pro Eye features Tobii’s Spotlight eye-tracking technology, allowing the user’s eyes to be tracked while they talk to others. Eye movement is very important for human interactions to feel natural. The ability to tell when someone is looking at you and talking to you, with natural eye and mouth movements, makes people seem much less creepy and robotic. David Sapienza, head of 2 Bears, was in on the meeting and was using both the eye-tracking and mouth tracking technology. Since he was in a Vive, he was even able to walk around the environment. This made his presentation feel even more realistic like we were in a real conference room and he was actually pacing in front of his presentation..
People and teams all over the world are working from home right now. Because of this, many are now considering VR apps like Sync as alternatives to Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Even as people start to go back to work, global travel will likely still be very limited. People will still need to communicate virtually, and its very hard to convey 3D objects over 2D video feeds. I believe that VR conferencing and telepresence apps will continue to grow in 2020 and 2021. HTC’s Vive Sync is without a doubt one of the more polished ones I’ve seen to date. The company hasn’t said which headsets it will ultimately support, but I expect it will have to support Oculus Quest and Rift relatively soon considering the size of that install base. For now, though, the HTC Vive, Vive Pro and Vive Focus are the only way utilize the impressive Vive Sync experience. I hope to conduct more meetings in Vive Sync and in VR in general—these Zoom and Teams meetings are starting to get stale.