HTC Unveils Two new Vive Headsets

HTC is ready to take VR to the next level. At Monday’s CES 2019 press conference they unveiled two upcoming VR headsets. One of them is targeted at Pro users, and the other can be completely PC-free. Will this be enough to establish HTC as the dominant force in the VR market moving forward?

HTC Vive Pro Eye

HTC took to the stage at CES 2019 to talk about the future of VR. They started their presentation by unveiling the Vive Pro Eye. The Eye’s distinguishing feature is it’s advanced eye tracking technology.

HTC Vive Pro Eye

Normally when you play a game in VR the entire scene is rendered in high quality across the VR screen. This approach assumes that your eye can view the entire scene at one time. You’re probably aware that this isn’t how your eyes work. In reality, your eyes tend to focus on a smaller part of the scene in front of you. Everything that is in your peripheral vision is naturally blurred by your brain so that you can focus. Rendering the entire scene at in high quality isn’t going to affect your eyes, but it does affect the amount of computing power that is required. This is the opportunity that HTC wants to address with the Vive Pro Eye.

Eye tracking allows the Vive to use foveated rendering to lower the quality of the scene that is in your peripheral vision. It has the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of computing power that is needed for a high quality experience. An additional benefit is that the Vive Pro Eye can use your eyes as a sort of controller for menus and other experiences.

It’s worth noting that foveated rendering isn’t a thing without the right GPU technologies. Currently HTC has partnered with Nvidia to enable foveated rendering through the latest RTX graphics cards (starting with the RTX 1060).

Outside of adding eye tracking, little is known about the Vive Pro Eye. It’s possible that nothing else is different when compared to the current Vive Pro without eye tracking. It’s also possible that HTC will include other enhancements. We’ll have to wait for more details to emerge.

HTC Vive Cosmos

HTC also unveiled another VR Headset that they’re calling the Vive Cosmos. This headset is a different sort of thing altogether. It can be powered by your PC, but it doesn’t have to be. Alternatively it can be combined with a smartphone for gaming on the go.

HTC Vive Cosmos

The Cosmos uses an advanced camera array instead of traditional Lighthouse sensors. This means that you can bring the Cosmos with you into different environments. It creates the possibility for different types of VR experiences.

HTC’s tease of the Vive Cosmos was very brief. They emphasized that they are focusing on creating a headset that is very accessible. It’s going to be very comfortable to wear and simple to set up.

What should we expect?

The VR market is different than it was in 2016 when HTC first released the Vive. Back then it’s toughest competition was the Oculus Rift (which didn’t ship with motion controllers at the time). The Vive received very positive reviews with most noting that it was the most complete VR experience available. This was largely because the Rift didn’t ship with real motion controllers and the Vive did.

When you look at the world of VR today, things are much different. HTC and Oculus have been joined by other headset manufacturers. There are other intriguing headsets coming soon from companies like Pimax and Valve. Oculus has it’s own slate of new hardware shipping in 2019.

Other than providing names and highlighting a feature or two, HTC was fairly tight-lipped about what to expect from it’s upcoming technology. They also didn’t discuss pricing or release dates. Last year they announced the original Vive Pro in January and then started shipping it in April. Things might fall into place for the Vive Pro Eye along a similar timeline.

The Vive Cosmos is a different story. From what was shown, it looks to be somewhat similar to the upcoming Oculus Quest. One potentially distinguishing feature is the Cosmos’s ability to be powered by a PC or a smartphone. The Quest is purely standalone and doesn’t appear to be designed to work alongside a PC at all.

The Quest is releasing in Q1 of 2019, and my gut feeling is that the Cosmos will not be ready so quickly. I’m taking a complete guess with this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it shipped sometime near the end of the year. We will have to see what happens as more details emerge.

Until HTC is ready to share more, it’s hard to say if their upcoming slate of technology will be enough to put them back in first place. Oculus has done quite well since releasing their Touch controllers for the Rift. Their Go headset has sold well, and the Quest will be tough competition. And then we’ve got options like the Pimax 5K that focuses on higher resolution displays. It would be nice to see the Vive Pro Eye follow suit with higher resolution displays of their own. We will have to see what the future brings.

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