At CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, HTC Corporation has announced both hardware and software extensions of its Vive product line.
Since its introduction, the HTC Vive headset has led the way in "room-scale" virtual reality (VR), allowing users to move around an extensive virtual space. At CES, HTC has shown its plans for 2019, with two new headsets and several significant software moves.
Vive Pro Eye
Vive Pro Eye is a new headset that builds on the existing Vive Pro by the addition of integrated eye tracking. This will enable features such as gaze-oriented menu navigation, and potentially the elimination of a need for controllers. It will also support ‘foveated rendering,' allowing VR software to display detail only where the user is looking, and save computing power by lowering detail elsewhere in the scene.
HTC notes that Vive Pro Eye will offer particular benefits to institutional users. Businesses or developers will be able to gather data about user interaction, which can then be used to improve the VR experience. Enterprise users will be able to improve training applications. Developers can optimize their use of computing resources.
On the user side, Major League Baseball (MLB) is showing MLB Home Run Derby VR, a video game that allows users full menu control without a traditional controller. The game is expected to be available to users this year. "By integrating eye tracking technology into Home Run Derby VR, we are able to transport this transformative baseball experience to any location without additional controllers needed," said Jamie Leece, Senior Vice President, Games & VR, Major League Baseball.
The Vive Pro Eye is set to launch in Q2 of this year.
HTC also unveiled Vive Cosmos, an entirely new VR headset designed to be more comfortable and easy to use. "We found that over 85% of VR intenders believe that ease of use and set up is the most important factor to consider while purchasing a headset," said Daniel O'Brien, GM, Americas, HTC Vive. "We believe Cosmos will make VR more easily accessible to those who may not have invested in VR before and also be a superior experience for VR enthusiasts.""
Cosmos will not use external base stations, relying instead on ‘inside out' tracking - using cameras mounted on the headset itself to provide location tracking, based on details in the user's surroundings. Microsoft's Mixed Reality implementation of this technique was notably less satisfying than the laser-precision provided by external tracking, so it will be interesting to see if HTC can refine the approach.
Cosmos is designed to be driven by either a PC or a smartphone. Details of connectivity, or limitations with lower-powered devices, were not yet available.
Developer kits for Vive Cosmos should be available "in early 2019." More details on commercial roll-out and pricing will be announced "later in the year."
Viveport, HTC's global app store for VR content, has been upgraded to include a new unlimited subscription plan, giving access to "all the best content" at any time. Viveport Infinity lets members "discover and explore hundreds of virtual destinations" at any time.
"Today, we're announcing our next step in Viveport's evolution with Viveport Infinity," said Rikard Steiber, President, Viveport. "When we first launched our Subscription service, we gave consumers the ability to try 5 titles a month. Now with Viveport Infinity, we're offering our members the best value in VR content with 100x more choice, all at one low price."
Starting on "Vive Day" - April 5 - members will be able to download and play any of the 500+ titles in the Viveport Infinity library with no restrictions. This will allow them to try different experiences, including those from both indie developers and triple-A publishers. HTC promises that members will be able to access Viveport Infinity across all current and future Vive devices, as well as on the Oculus Rift and other devices in the Wave Ecosystem.
Vive Reality System
Vive Cosmos will be the first Vive headset to feature the Vive Reality System, which HTC calls "an entirely new design experience for VR." It includes "both operational and experiential elements" that will be seen first on the Cosmos, but will ultimately impact the entire Vive product portfolio.
The project includes a deal, announced at CES, to have Mozilla launch its VR Web browser for Vive, dubbed Firefox Reality. This will include unique VR features such as multi-language voice search, 360 video playback, and support for the WebVR specification and upcoming WebXR standard. Firefox Reality will be the default browser for Vive headsets. (Versions are currently available for Oculus Go and Google Daydream.)
To bring Web content into VR, HTC is also working with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which offers the Amazon Sumerian toolkit for creating VR experiences "without requiring specialized programming experience." Bizarrely, the first demo is being provided by Fidelity Investments: a "VR website prototype" that "allows financial customers to immerse themselves in their investments via new data visualization tools."
"With Vive Reality System we set out to reimagine Vive's core software experience to meet these needs," said Drew Bamford, VP, Creative Labs, HTC Vive. "The tools and environments that make up Vive Reality System aim to make spatial computing accessible to everyone, wherever their journey into immersive worlds takes them. We want VR to feel less like launching apps and instead like stepping between worlds."