HTC announced late last year that their collaboration on virtual reality with Valve, the HTC Vive, would be delayed until April because of a major technical breakthrough. The companies have been showing off that breakthrough at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, and it turns out it's augmented reality.
The revision of the HTC Vive, the Vive Pre, adds a front-facing camera that feeds a rough overlay of their real world environment through the headset to the user. It's not an original solution to a problem VR has had for a while — how can you have a drink without breaking the immersion — but reports from those on the ground are that it's effective nonetheless.
When used in conjunction with the Vive's Lightroom wireless trackers, which scan the surroundings with pulsing lasers to get a gauge of your virtual "space", the Vive Pre injects virtual grid lines that appear whenever you're about to approach a wall whilst under the spell of VR. Business Insider's Steven Tweedle, however, wrote that you can toggle between the virtual scene and the view from the front-facing camera by double tapping one of the buttons on the Vive's touch controllers.
On top of the camera, the Vive Pre — which won't be the name for the consumer release of the technology when it ships in April — has gotten an overhaul across the board. Textured buttons, grip pads, softer edges and the ergonomics on the touch controllers have been improved, while the straps have been tweaked on the headset to make it more comfortable and adjustable.
The Vive Pre now has interchangeable nose gaskets and foam inserts for better long-term use, and the entire headset is more compact than its inaugural release. The mobile manufacturer added in an announcement that the Vive is sporting "brighter displays and image refinements" for a "deeper sense of presence", which seems to translate to better colour reproduction and contrasts. That can't be judged without a side-by-side comparison, mind you.
The Lightroom base stations are quieter and more compact now too, with supposedly better tracking. HTC and Valve will be sending 7,000 units to developers, with those demoing at CES and those who are already programming for the Vive likely to be the recipients.
There's no word on when pre-orders will open, how much the Vive will cost, whether it's available without the Lightroom stations (for those who want to just sit down for their VR experience) or touch controllers, or precisely how many games will support the Vive on launch.