The Taiwanese company, best known for making slick-looking phones, on Monday at a CES press conference unveiled an upgraded Vive Pro, which like the original requires a high-end PC and a cable attachment connecting the two, but has enhanced resolution, integrated headphones and a number of other improvements.
The Vive Pro will be available this quarter as a headset upgrade to existing customers and as a standalone headset to all consumers. There's no word on pricing.
In addition, HTC showed off the Vive Wireless Adaptor, which can hook onto either the original or Vive Pro and wirelessly connect to a nearby PC. While there have been third-party add-ons that turn the Vive wireless, HTC is offering an official accessory. It will be available in the summer.
The Vive Pro and the wireless adaptor are two features that may help foster more interest from mainstream consumers. While VR, which transports you to a digital world through a special headset, has attracted heavy hitters such as Facebook, Google and Samsung, consumers have been slow to embrace the technology.
That's particularly the case for high-end VR systems such as the Vive or rival Oculus Rift, a headset from Facebook's Oculus unit. The Vive stood out for its ability to let you get up and walk around, the system tracking your motion in the VR world. But the pricey system required an equally pricey PC, and the cable attachments between the two made for a clunky experience.
The Vive Wireless Adaptor solves one of those issues, and will use Intel's WiGig technology, which is like a super-charged form of Wi-Fi able to shoot lots of data across the air to short distances.
"Wireless VR has been on nearly every VR user's wish list since the technology was unveiled," said Frank Soqui, general manager of the Virtual Reality Group at Intel, in a statement.
HTC says it will ship the adaptor in the third quarter. It didn't disclose the pricing.
The Vive Pro, meanwhile, offers a few new bells and whistles.
The highlight of the new system is the improved combined 2,880x1,600-pixel resolution from its dual-OLED displays, which the company boasts is a 78 percent increase over the original Vive.
A sharper display makes the VR experience run a lot smoother, with low-resolution imagery often the cause for people getting sick or disoriented.
It also features built-in headphones, a redesigned headstrap for a more comfortable fit and dual front-facing cameras. An HTC rep says the company hasn't built use cases for the cameras yet, but are opening them up to developers who want to add depth tracking or possibly even room mapping to their games and apps.
"Vive, we truly believe, is the industry standard when it comes to VR," said Daniel O'Brien, general manager of the HTC Vive.
HTC will also support Steam's SteamVR Tracking 2.0 sensor technology, which allows you to move around in a space of 10 by 10 meters.
CNET's Sean Hollister got to try the Vive Pro shortly following HTC's press conference, and found the headset both far comfier to wear and the visuals notably clearer than the original Vive in a couple of demos. (He was also pleased to see dedicated volume buttons on the headset's new built-in headphones, which mean less backing out to menus to adjust the volume during gameplay.)
Still, there were some disorienting tracking issues in both of his demos. We'll have to try the headset again in a real-world environment instead of a busy tradeshow.
While HTC hasn't released pricing or availability information, the Vive Pro is positioned as a more premium product, and will likely be more expensive than the original Vive, which retails for $600, £600 or AU$1,000.
HTC also unveiled a redesigned customer experience, adding a virtual reality version of its Viveport catalog of games and media. The new portal features sample VR previews that give quick interactive glimpses into a game.
Lastly, HTC said it upgraded its native VR video player, Vive Video. Beyond improvements to the user interface, HTC is adding Vimeo videos to the platform.
First published Jan. 8 at 1:06 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:58 p.m. PT: Adds that existing consumers will also be able to buy the Vive Pro later this quarter.
Update, 2:42 p.m. PT: Adds hands-on impressions and photo gallery.
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