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Innovation

HTC Vive Pre brings front-facing camera to dev kit, taking steps toward mixed reality

The second generation HTC Vive will include an integrated front-facing camera, creating potential beyond virtual reality into mixed reality.

Image: HTC

Less than a year after introducing the HTC Vive headset to the world, HTC is moving on to its second generation developer kit. This new version could help the device grow beyond virtual reality into mixed reality.

The HTC Vive Pre features a new design (which extends to the controllers, as well as the head strap), a brighter display, improved tracking, and, perhaps most interestingly, an integrated front-facing camera.

HTC's announcement talked about how the front-facing camera "allows you to do more both inside and outside your virtual world by blending physical elements into the virtual space," and that includes tasks like taking a drink, finding a place to sit, or having a conversation with someone else in the room without taking the headset on and off.

"There will be a true mix of real and virtual and depending on the device capabilities, or even the capabilities of other devices and services in a particular place. That mix will allow developers to significantly enhance the content and experiences," said Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

ABI Research's Eric Abbruzzese said that initially, it looks like the camera system will be used more for safety, though once developers get to work, the potential could be much greater—depending on how fleshed out the hardware and supporting software is at launch.

"Current limitations in processing power and latency requirements will mean that a full mixed reality experience—a live video feed and VR feed fully used simultaneously—isn't likely, but instead the camera will be used as a supplement to the standard VR experience. The data from the camera could be used by games and content to not only keep users safe but also increase immersion through subtle real-world cues and interaction," he said.

The Vive Pre isn't the first device to feature mixed reality capability.

"It's certainly one that represents a significant step in the journey to advanced immersive reality experiences," Blau said. The move toward mixed reality is a trend Blau's been anticipating.

As far as the controllers, beyond getting sleeker design, HTC said they've been overhauled with better ergonomics, softer edges, textured buttons, better balance, grip pads, and a dual stage trigger. They'll run off of integrated, rechargeable lithium polymer batteries. Charging via micro-USB will give users roughly four hours of runtime.

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Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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