The pioneer in consumer VR is going after the pros, and the cord.
The Vive Pro HTC is showing off at #CES2018 is the VR headset I wished I owned today. The clarity that comes with the higher resolution screens reduces the “screen door effect”but it’s only half the reason. HTC has also cut the 15 foot long cord that tethers us to the real world. Nothing eliminates the sense of presence in VR like stepping on a cable that yanks your head back. HTC Senior Vice President Rickard Streiber tells me that while it may look bulky, because of the way the transmitter sits on your head, the HTC Vive Pro with the wireless pack is more balanced. And he’s right: it feels lighter largely because the headset itself isn’t pulling you forward like it once did.
The 60hz transmission system is different from TPCast’s 3rd party accessory, but claims low latency and a hot-swappable battery pack that extends the 3 hour playing time. And the Pro finally has audio built-in.
The screen door effect is dramatically reduced. It allows for much clearer text and greater immersion. The optics are improved, too, and I didn’t see much evidence of the “god rays” that come with fresnel lenses designed to take something that’s 1″ from your eyeball and make it feel like it’s 10 feet away.
Further, you can go further. The new Lighthouse 2.0 tracking cubes extend Vive’s room scale from 25 square meters to 100 square meters. Streiber points out, “I don’t necessarily think people have a 10×10 meter living room… so it’s more for the professional or arcade market, so I think 5×5 meters is pretty reasonable for consumers today.”
The Pro also adds a second camera to its face, and while HTC tells me this isn’t an end-run around the Leap Motion add-on that tracks your real hands in the virtual world, adapting the “Chaperone” safety system that prevents you from walking into walls is coming, so one of the biggest criticisms of Vive (the wand-like controllers) may evaporate with the flip of a software switch.
Vive is also taking a page from the Netflix business model: Viveport now offers subscriptions and previews to save you from buyers remorse. The remodeled Viveport is designed to resemble the airport of the future, using the metaphor of “taking off” to a new place when you launch an app.