As much as we love the version of the HTC Vive that launched nearly a year ago, there are some issues with the hardware that we’ve wanted to see addressed since then. At CES this week, HTC and its partners are unveiling some potential solutions that could tangibly increase the quality of the virtual life of Vive owners.
Of these new accessories, the TPCast peripheral, has the biggest potential to transform the Vive experience, as it removes the bulky tether to the PC. The TPCast device itself clips to the top of the Vive headband and receives video and audio wirelessly from a PC, reportedly at the cost of only 2 milliseconds of additional latency. The kit isn’t completely wireless, though; without a connection to a wall plug, the headset has to be connected to a small 6,000 mAh battery that can sit in a pocket and reportedly provide enough juice for a 1.5 hour play session (a five-hour XL battery is reportedly in the works, too).
While TPCast was quietly announced in China back in November (where it quickly sold out), at CES its HTC-backed makers confirmed a worldwide release for the second quarter of 2017. Be ready to add $250 on top of Vive’s already pricey hardware to cut those wires, though.
HTC is also taking steps to fix the strap comfort problems we emphasized in our initial review of the hardware. The Vive Deluxe Audio strap replaces the flexible fabric of the original Vive strap with a more rigid plastic, complete with a ratcheting sizing dial to adjust the fit to your head.
As the name implies, the Deluxe Audio strap also comes with in-built adjustable headphones that slide into place over your ears, replacing the need for your own cans or earbuds and their wires, which hang down awkwardly from the headset. HTC also says the new strap will “route the 3-in-1 cable in a cleaner and more comfortable way,” hopefully avoiding some of the uncomfortable tugging that cable can cause in its current form. HTC isn’t talking pricing for the new strap yet but says it will be available by the end of the second quarter of the year.
And then there are the controllers. HTC is looking to expand the Vive’s inputs from the motion-tracking wands currently included. New controllers should include more generalized accessories and even real-world items. The means to this goal is the Vive Tracker, a small (approx. 10cm diameter by 4cm high) semi-cylinder that can be clipped to arbitrary devices and tracked by the Vive’s Lighthouse system.
At CES, HTC demonstrated the 85 gram trackers being used on everything from a VR camera to haptic gloves to a VR fire hose for training firefighters. The company isn’t talking pricing yet, but they’ll ship in the second quarter, and the company says it will be making 1,000 of these trackers available free to developers to encourage “growing an ecosystem of third-party accessories that will change how we interact with virtual experiences and provide consumers and businesses with an unlimited amount of content opportunities,” as Daniel O’Brien, Vive’s GM for the US and EMEA, put it in a statement.
On the software side, HTC also announced that its Viveport app store would soon offer a subscription option, letting users that pay a monthly fee download any number of apps from developers that opt in. It’s a hard plan to get a handle on absent pricing, payment, or lineup details, but it still seems an interesting experiment in getting more VR games and apps to Vive owners.