HTC Vive Pre Revision Adds Front-Facing Camera

HTC last year teased that the reason for delaying the Vive, the virtual reality doodad they’re making with Valve, was “a very, very big technological breakthrough” inspiring them to wait and release a revised model. Now they’ve revealed what all the fuss was: ergonomic improvements and a new front-facing camera mean that the Vive Pre (as it’s called) can crudely simulate what it’s like to not wear cybergoggles on your face.

“A newly developed front facing camera allows you to do more both inside and outside your Virtual world by blending physical elements into the virtual space,” says the announcement. “Being able to take a seat, find your drink, and carry on conversations without removing your headset is only the beginning of what’s possible.”

As much as I might poke fun, that is an awfully handy improvement. While many cybergoggle systems simply have you waving your head around, Vive can take over rooms and track you wandering around. Being able to check you’re not about to sit down on thin air seems useful. I’m less convinced by the thrill of conversing without removing cybergoggles. Back in my day, if we wanted to look like aloof planet-hackers, we simply wore our £5 sunglasses indoors.

As for other headset improvements, they say:

“The headset is now more compact and features an updated strap design that provides greater stability and balance. An improved visual system with brighter displays and image refinements leads to increased clarity, and an even deeper sense of presence. On the inside, interchangeable foam inserts and nose gaskets mean the Vive Pre fits comfortably and securely to the user. Vive Pre can also be easily adjusted to suit a variety of facial shapes while remaining compatible with a variety of eyeglasses.”

Sounds like the Vive Pre will bring respectable improvements, then, and an earlier model already impressed Graham and Alec. The announcement details improvements to the motion controllers too, if you’re curious.

Vive is due to launch in April. HTC and Valve are shipping another 7,000 models to developers now, so there should be more to wander around and jab at once it arrives. Valve are hosting a ‘Content Showcase’ soon, after this week’s 2016 Consumer Electronics Show wraps up, so we should see more of what’s coming.

This does somewhat steal the thunder of Oculus Rift opening pre-orders tomorrow.

55 Comments

  1. Sakkura says:

    Could be a major improvement to the overall usability of the HTC Vive, even if the core experience of gaming on the headset is hardly affected.

  2. Darth Gangrel says:

    “the Vive Pre (as it’s called) can crudely simulate what it’s like to not wear cybergoggles on your face” Yes, only crudely, of course, because to get the full experience of not wearing cybergoggles on your face, you’d actually have to, you know, not wear cybergoggles on your face. With that said, it’s a good addition.

    • Psychomorph says:

      What would it be like, if reality was a VR experience? With the Vive Pre the reality experience is most realistic!

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      Phasma Felis says:

      That was the joke?

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I wasn’t sure if that was Alice making a remark about this feature or stuff taken from a PR dude’s mouth, so I decided it was the latter, because I felt like pointing out the obvious. Next, some company will let you purchase something where, among other things, you can crudely experience not having internet connection, by taking it away some times. Or maybe that’s already “invented”.

  3. ulix says:

    Thinking about it, it’s actually really baffling that they’ve only now come up with this… if Oculus doesn’t follow suit they’ll have a big disadvantage with their first generation.

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      Dorga says:

      Oculus will probably be cheaper

    • Ethaor says:

      I hear you. To be fair I think any person that sit and talks a bit about the issues of having a goggle on you while still needing to touch and interact with real world, comes up with that simple solution of a face cam. It’s not ingenious, it’s logical. (There were already 3rd party hardware that clipped cams on the front of the OR to ‘see through’ or detect hand mouvement).

      But to actually implement it and make it work as one unit, that must have called for a whole lot of hard work and ingeniousity. Looks like Vive is taking the lead. We’ll see about prices though.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s also surprising given that augmented reality has been a thing on people’s phones for quite a while now, as as a research topic for a long time, including for games.

  4. LittleJP says:

    Well, if that’s the only thing, I’ll probably end up getting whatever comes out first..

  5. Clavus says:

    This does somewhat steal the thunder of Oculus Rift opening pre-orders tomorrow.

    Oculus stole the thunder back (for me at least) when they announced all Kickstarter backers of the original development kit would be getting a Rift for free. Really awesome of them :D

    • Ethaor says:

      Really? Wow, that’s a great gesture, it’s also a good way to place its product and “occupy” the consumer VR space, along with a great marketing move to improve it’s infamous Facebook reputation.

      That’s about 7500 units if memory serves. That’s an awesomely affordable good publicity.

      Still, I’d be very happy had I originally backed the KS. :)

  6. Fersken says:

    A camera feature is something I’ve been hoping for.

    Ars have added HTC to its death watch list. If HTC fold, what would happen to Valve VR?
    link to arstechnica.com

    It also seems we may get an HD-DVD/BluRay situation with competing standards. The outcome of that didn’t exactly favour costumers.

    • Clavus says:

      Technically HTC is only providing hardware for the OpenVR software back-end. Any other company could jump in and build a HMD + controllers that work with the OpenVR system. The Lighthouse tracking is freely available for any hardware maker to utilize.

      • Fersken says:

        Yes, but if Oculus ‘wins’ by being first to market (especially if Valves solution get further delayed), would any hardware maker want to make VR headsets if few games support the open standards?

  7. Ethaor says:

    It’s great that they’re about to solve most if not all of the usability and ergonomic challenges that these VR headsets bring. That’s a huge part of the problem gone.

    Now, to install ultra high resolution screens that haven’t been invented yet, 8K per eye would be a good start.

    • Boozebeard says:

      Even if they had those available enjoy running things at 2fps.

      • Ethaor says:

        Well yes, evidently our PC hardware will also evolve over the years. ^^

      • Windows98 says:

        With the addition of high resolution eye-tracking, foveated rendering might make something crazy-sounding like 8k possible in the not too distant future.

        link to uploadvr.com

  8. EhexT says:

    Now you can see out of your headset (why would you want to? It’s for watching things that aren’t in front of your eyes in the first place) with the only downside being that there is a camera attached to your head. Because we all remember how fondly people took to the idea of being filmed by someone else without consent when google-glass had a camera in it.

    It’s a horrible idea with no actual use. You don’t wear a VR headset if you want to see what’s in front of your face you use your goddamn Mk1 Eyeballs for that.

    • LionsPhil says:

      You’d have to undo the cranial bolts every time you wanted to check the cat wasn’t underfoot, though, and having to run the compressor for your impact wrench all the time would distract from the game audio.

    • Ethaor says:

      Using your goddamn mark I eyeballs would requires you to take the goggles off.

      Having a camera allow you to both see the real world when you quickly need to (sip a cup of coffee, find your joystick, not sit beside your chair, make sure you’re not being mocked by someone that sneaked in the room etc) but it also opens a whole lot of immersive VR possibilities in term of gameplay (track and recreate your hands, use controllers designed to work with the cam, detect your facing environment and recreate it live in VR etc).

      I don’t think it’s a horrible idea with no actual use.

      • Cederic says:

        Plus, and this is a big one, you’d be able to see your computer monitor and use your computer while you’re wearing the VR goggles.

        No?

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        As a simracer the ability to actually see is a godsend. I don’t have the money for one but many in the hobby have button boxes, and good luck feeling your way around one of these things by muscle memory.

        link to encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com

        • Cinek says:

          Yep. That’s pretty much the only use case where it makes sense. Well, this and grabbing drinks while playing ;)

    • fish99 says:

      Being able to press a button to toggle seeing the real world to pick up a drink, or find WASD, without removing the headset sounds useful to me.

      • onodera says:

        As a proud ESDF user I’ve never had any problems locating the keys in the dark.

      • Cinek says:

        If you can’t find WSAD without looking at the keyboard – you have much bigger problem than an availability of a camera on a VR headset.

    • Vandelay says:

      Well, I don’t exactly see people sitting in restaurants, the park or a bar with these things on, so I can’t see it running into the Google Glass issue.

      It certainly does have its uses and it introduces the possibility of AR as well as VR. I would much rather of heard about what software is actually going to be available for the thing though.

    • Dinger says:

      Here’s a thought for you: People are going to die wearing VR Headsets. In some cases, the VR Headset will be directly related to the death. People are already dying from staring at their mobile phones instead of paying attention to their surroundings. Now imagine the ways that transporting your hearing, sight, and concentration out of the room can be dangerous. At what point, when playing Amnesia VR, do you notice that your Room RL is on fire?
      The challenge Oculus set out to meet was how to get VR good enough to be compelling. The challenge that emerges is what compelling VR means for RL existence.

      The camera isn’t useless; it’s fundamental.

      • Cinek says:

        “do you notice that your Room RL is on fire?” – sure. Ever heard of a thing called smoke? You’re clearly a way too hardcore gamer if you think that the only thing fire does is emitting light.

        • Dinger says:

          And yet people get so engrossed with their mobile phone screens that they don’t hear car horns. Heck, you can find videos of pilots so intent on landing their plane that they ignore the gear-up alarm.
          So ask yourself: at what point do you smell smoke?
          Besides, the Vive’s plan is to create a patch of VR in one’s living room. The camera kicks in the video when you approach the edge of that patch. You will want to know if there’s a wall there. It will also help if new objects appear in said patch; otherwise, free-moving VR could be lethal to toddlers.
          To put it in American terms: these are not just nice things to have, these are product liability issues.

          • Cinek says:

            Or – you know – just sit down while you play. Like most of the people do. No problem with running into the furniture. I have absolutely zero interest in walking around a room while playing – if I would – I would at a very least get Wii by now.

  9. Geebs says:

    A gasket is a mechanical seal which fills the space between two or more mating surfaces, generally to prevent leakage from or into the joined objects while under compression

    I NEED THIS ON MY FACE RIGHT NOW

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      Don Reba says:

      A facehugger device would not be complete if it didn’t take over your breathing and stack a tube down your throat.

    • Al Bobo says:

      Condom?

  10. Hunchback says:

    Why all of a sudden everyone and their sister’s dog are making VR goggles? Is that the MOBA of 2016? *ponder*

  11. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    The funny bit is that, from what I hear, they’ll be using only a single camera, i.e. 2D. So the real world will seem less real than the game world.

  12. Xzi says:

    Seems a lot of people are willing to place their trust in Facebook so easily. We’re a day away from pre-orders and they still haven’t even given us a price. Who knows what kind of data-tracking software this thing is gonna come with, too…

  13. racccoon says:

    This is Madly Hilarious..typical Valve..they just wanna fuck up the pc gamers and now they want to make something we do as humans anyway, it seems this is all Valve does..is make shit we already have but we have to pay for it with pain a& monitory loss..
    Yes I am Human, I have eyes, and I have a brain, which has an incredible imagination, why would I want to be subject to stuff that’s just going to mess with eye sight & life. Why??..because Valve has made it so!!
    & if Valve are ever aloud to keep going they will try & rule our arse’s forever. glwt

    • racccoon says:

      oops lol

    • Xzi says:

      Valve isn’t the first nor last company to make a VR headset. And I honestly have no idea what you’re rambling about…if these headsets somehow mess with your “eyesight and life,” then standard monitors must do the same.

      Modern high-resolution displays aren’t exactly the Virtual Boy, which is something that probably did legitimately damage my eyesight, if only slightly. Lol.

    • Synesthesia says:

      are you feeling ok?

  14. Tergiver says:

    Being able to turn, press a button, and quickly ascertain whether your wife’s expression is one of mild distain or extreme anxiety is indeed useful.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Ah the subtle distinction between “my mother was right” and “OMG who is that?” Indeed very useful.

  15. HigoChumbo says:

    “a very, very big technological breakthrough”

    ¬¬

    Ok… I get it’s useful and all… but come on… it’s just webcam…

  16. Al Bobo says:

    THAT’S the incredible breakthrough? I thought about that camera more than two years ago. Maybe I should have sent them some mail. Would have saved them time…

  17. thelastpointer says:

    I would like to announce my first cosplay project: VR user conversing without taking the goggles off.

    It should be easy to pull off.