HTC’s New Vive Pre VR Headset Makes Huge Leap Towards Consumer Version

By Anshel Sag - January 5, 2016
HTC-VR-1 (Photo credit: Anshel Sag) HTC’s Vive VR headset is the result of Valve’s partnership with HTC to create a premium VR experience. Over the past year or so, HTC and Valve have shown themselves to be a worthy competitor to Facebook’s Oculus and the Oculus Rift. As Oculus prepares to launch their consumer version, known as the CV-1, HTC is releasing an entirely new developer version of the HTC Vive called the HTC Vive Pre. This new version is supposed to be available to developers to help them develop for the final consumer version that will release in April. What makes HTC’s and Valve’s Vive headset so unique from Oculus’ Rift is that it is both a seated and standing VR experience that includes the headset, wireless touch motion controllers, laser emitters and connectivity box. The new HTC Vive Pre is a huge improvement from the original version that had wired 3D-printed controllers and an absolute mess of cables. The first improvement they made was to make the new headset more compact and sit closer to your face; this makes the headset feel lighter even though they haven’t really meaningfully reduced weight. They’ve also improved the wiring configuration and made connecting headphones extremely easy with a neatly placed dedicated cable. They’ve also brightened the headset from the previous versions, and it’s quite noticeable. The headset itself also almost snaps on with the new strap system and it fits on your head extremely snugly, but not too tightly. They’ve also changed the cushions on the headset so that they can be removed or adjusted and they have little cutouts for people with glasses so their glasses don’t press too hard on the side of their head. They’ve also added mura correction inside of the headset through a combination of software and hardware to improve the visual fidelity as well. HTC-VR-2-1200x869 (Photo credit: Anshel Sag) One of the most interesting things that HTC added with the new Vive headset is the addition of a camera that works as a pass through, allowing the user to see their surroundings. I was able to hold the menu button and enable this mode permanently rather than when I get close to walls and enable the ‘chaperone’ system. This allowed me to have a conversation with JB McRee of HTC and actually see him while still keeping the headset on. It also made it extremely easy for me to sit down in a chair and not stumble at all. HTC says that the camera will be completely open to developers and could enable some interesting user experiences where game developers could blend VR with AR and make for some really fun and interesting experiences. Not to mention, it’s a lot safer doing standing VR when you know you’ve got a camera you can see through not to bump into things or people. It also means that people don’t need someone to help them use their VR headset and they can put the controller on and easily find and pick up the controllers without having to remember where they put them. Sitting down, picking things up and overall not bumping into things just became a lot easier in VR. HTC-VR-3-1200x668 (Photo credit: Anshel Sag) On the controller front, HTC has completely overhauled the controllers’ design and made them finally look like final consumer versions compared to the rough looking prototypes and earlier devkit. The new controllers now have multiple menu buttons as well haptic feedback and two stage triggers, similar to the ones in Valve’s Steam controllers. These controllers have always had extremely accurate position and motion tracking and that hasn’t changed at all. They were already so good that it’s impossible to tell if there were any improvements made that weren’t physically visible. They did also change the design of the controllers to be more ergonomic as well as changed the top of the controller to more of a basketball hoop like design rather than the previous controller which looked more like you were holding an ice cream cone with a scoop of ice cream on top. The controller improvements were also accompanied by new base station laser emitters which are now smaller, quieter, and look like very small home theater speakers rather than the laser emitters they are. The change to the base stations mirrors all of the other improvements across the board which finally make the HTC Vive look like a finished consumer product ready for the market. HTC-VR-4-1200x723 (Photo credit: Anshel Sag) While HTC doesn’t have any new demos to show off, they do have Elite Dangerous at their suite in the Wynn hotel which is actually a seated VR experience, something that is much easier to do than a standing VR experience. And frankly, playing Elite Dangerous with the new HTC Vive headset was quite nice and I could definitely notice the brightness improvements that HTC had made to the new headset. Brightness was also a factor with the Tilt Brush application (still one of my favorites) from Google and only after using the same application with both headsets was I able to recognize how the old headset wasn’t quite bright enough. Looking through all of the improvements with the new HTC Vive, it is quite clear that HTC and Valve have worked together quite closely to bring this new developer version much closer to a finalized consumer version through improved software, hardware and aesthetics. The addition of the new chaperone system utilizing the new front mounted camera is a huge step in the right direction and also makes it a lot easier for users to be able to use a VR headset without any assistance. I think a lot of people are going to be very impressed with this new VR experience from the new HTC Vive and are going to eagerly await its April release, even with Facebook’s Oculus Rift launch tomorrow.
Anshel Sag
VP & Principal Analyst| Website| + posts

Anshel Sag is Moor Insights & Strategy’s in-house millennial with over 15 years of experience in the IT industry. Anshel has had extensive experience working with consumers and enterprises while interfacing with both B2B and B2C relationships, gaining empathy and understanding of what users really want. Some of his earliest experience goes back as far as his childhood when he started PC gaming at the ripe of old age of 5 while building his first PC at 11 and learning his first programming languages at 13.