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HTC Vive

VR vs. HTC Vive’s ‘big breakthrough: Just What is the Big Surprise?

You don’t have an HTC Vive right now. You were anticipating that you would do. That’s the promise both HTC and Valve made all the way back in March when it first revealed one of the most anticipated virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs) on the horizon. Sadly, there are still another four months to wait; the HTC Vive is now expected to arrive until April 2016. HTC, however, insists that there’s a very good reason for this delay: a ‘very, very big breakthrough’ that lead the company to revise the first edition of the device.

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Just what this apparent revolution could be remains unclear, though it should be revealed in a matter of weeks as the company takes the HTC Vive to the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show from 6th – 9th January. For now, all we can do is guess, though we do at least have some hints to help us along the way.

Last week supposed images of the new HTC Vive leaked online, including one shot of the new HMD and one shot of the new position tracked controllers. The HMD itself looks largely similar to the older one, though does contain one pivotal new feature; a front-mounted camera that rests in the middle of the bottom of the device. Assuming these images are the real deal, this could have a number of uses, the most obvious being a pass-through device to see into the real world much like with what’s already possible on Gear VR. That’s hardly a ‘very, very big breakthrough’, however.

It could be, then, that the camera boasts some more elaborate features such as hand-tracking. That said, this seems unlikely given that there’s not much use for such a system when position-tracked controllers are a key feature of the device. It’s true that not all experiences on the HTC Vive will be using the SteamVR controllers, but a wide array do and the ones that don’t won’t necessarily need this feature either. Hand-tracking will likely play a big role in VR’s future, but it doesn’t seem like an essential, major addition to a kit that already supports and promotes a similar form of input, especially with such a short time before release.

Crucially, this sounds like a breakthrough on HTC’s side rather than Valve’s SteamVR system. So, while we’d like to think this could be an expansion of the limits of Room Scale user-tracking or an update to its capabilities, this doesn’t seem like the likely option, either.

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When you look at the limitations of current VR, there are some areas that are obviously in need of the kind of breakthroughs that HTC is teasing. PC-based devices, for example, must be tethered to a rig in order to run. If HTC had found a way to circumvent this and deliver a wireless device, it would certainly be one of the biggest advances for the tech yet. This is definitely something that would be worth delaying the device for, but still seems like such a far off concept that it’s difficult to imagine that HTC has pulled it off in the here and now.

There are plenty of other features the company could have improved. It might have updated its display resolution to further combat the dreaded screen door effect, or improved the battery life of its controllers. With the kit launching in the near future, it feels like advances such as this are more likely, as they wouldn’t impact development of titles that are either finished or nearing completion.

Whatever the breakthrough is, all eyes are on the HTC Vive to make the first big VR story of 2016. VRFocus will be at CES itself to bring you the latest coverage of the kit and all others.

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  1. Re: “Hand-tracking will likely play a big role in VR’s future”
    Using a camera to determine the hand tracking seems like a bad idea / inefficient at best.
    The Vive already has the lighthouse setup for the head+controllers.
    Perhaps hand tracking could be with some “gloves” that work, incredibly fast+accurate (+minimal compute), with the lightbase system?

    Also – I wonder if other lighthouse “add ons” might be in development.
    Slap on some simple lighthouse trackable sensors & track more of the person/controllers.

    1. I don’t think anyone was implying that a camera on the headset would track hands. The camera is meant to be used to see-through the HMD and navigate IRL without taking it off

  2. the addition of the camera might simply mean that they will support QR Code as well, but unlike the original design that had them blasted all over the wall, this will be a simpler one.

    Example, print a QR Code on a paper and wear it on your wrist where the watch would be; that way when you look at your hand(s) the HMD will overlay them with something else but it will be from the POV of the HMD and the actual arm/hand rotation would be tracked as well!

    Any way, as I stated under the older article, this kind of update would be a software update, it doesn’t justify the delay of releasing the hardware. The breakthrough has to be in the hardware for it to be held back. These other features can always be added through a software update after release!

  3. Look at the glove I put recently teased, Google Manus VR glove HTC.. It should bring up some interesting results, there is a video too. This or a similar glove input solution was demonstrated at a recent HTC presentation.

  4. I am prediction the big surprise is using 100% wireless. This is not as difficult as you would guess. The PC would render the image, and compress the image quickly. The headset would uncompress the image and apply the liquidvr processing in the headset. The CPU processing power of the headset only needs to be a small fraction of the PC engine.
    The compression method only needs to be a medium efficient low latency algorithm.

  5. Boy, do i hope the big surprise is “wireless”. That’s the only thing I care about right now.

    1. Going wireless would require a power source as well meaning a built in battery something like a 6000mh. This may make the headset heavy and hotter running with a processor and battery. Seems unlikely to me. We dont yet have a good widespread hd wireless standard. For the low latency vr needs i cant see it being solved for a few years. If oculus with there money havent sorted yet i doubt htc have. Would be nice to see.

  6. It has to be dealing with field of view. That is the one thing that will change the experience to spectacular. I won’t get one until they perfect fov. Nothing else could be that important.

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