At a closed-doors press event in Las Vegas on Wednesday, HTC announced a suite of exciting upgrades coming to their Vive VR headset in 2017, including an improved audio strap, the Tracker peripheral device, and the official confirmation of their partnership with TPCAST to bring wireless functionality to existing Vive headsets. All three major upgrades are planned to launch in the second quarter of 2017.
Wireless at last
The biggest announcement from HTC was the optional wireless upgrade, though leaks towards the end of 2016 ruined the surprise of the announcement just a bit. Still, it's nice to have confirmation that official wireless support will be coming to the Vive via their partnership with TPCAST in 2017. HTC confirmed that the wireless upgrade device will be globally available for pre-order later in Q1 2017 for $249, with delivery to consumers in Q2 of this year.
The TPCAST attachment will have a 6,000mAh battery version (it was unclear if other versions would be available), which should provide about two hours of use. Early reports from those who have actually tried TPCAST's wireless Vive upgrade have been largely positive, and since wires are the biggest current obstacle between VR enthusiasts are a truly free room-scale experience, this could be a huge step forward for the HTC Vive.
The Vive Tracker is a small device that will be tracked in VR in the same fashion as the Vive headset itself, and is designed to be attached to a wide variety of peripherals in order to create enhanced VR experiences. Demos on display at the Vive booth including the trackers in place on guns, baseball bats, gloves, and virtual cameras, but with these Tracker units rolling out to developers in the coming weeks we'll likely be seeing a wide variety of peripherals coming down the pipe, each using the Tracker as its key component.
The Tracker is 10 centimeters wide, which makes it slightly smaller than the head of the existing Vive controllers. It has a universal screw on the bottom for attachment purposes, and boasts a six-hour battery life.
Audio Upgrade and Plans for 2017
The final new piece of hardware HTC announced was a new Audio Strap, also coming in Q2 of 2017, which will provide a better sounding and more comfortable audio experience for the Vive, with embedded audio in new external earphones and a physical dial on the back which will allow the fit to be easily adjusted.
2017 will be a year of focus on the "ecosystem" for HTC, and they announced planned improvements to the Viveport interface and the debut of a streaming VR content service, which will allow users to pay a monthly fee to access a rotating selection apps, games, and experiences. This will be very interesting both for consumers and developers, as a lot of the existing content available for the Vive is interesting, but doesn't have much staying power, and can often feel overpriced for a few hours of fun. Depending on how this streaming content system is structured, it could offer a better pricing model more in fitting with what consumers feel VR content is "worth."
There was one key bit of phrasing from HTC's event that VR enthusiasts might want to note: the company said it wants to move forward with VR without "fragmenting" their user base, which probably means we shouldn't expect to see an upgraded "Vive 2.0" headset too soon. Rather, with the new Tracker peripherals and enhanced content ecosytem HTC looks to be building, the Vive may end up being a device with capabilities that expand over time, rather than something you totally replace.