Innovation

Hands on with the new HTC Vive Pre: Hardware improvements could keep you in VR longer

HTC is showing off its new, second generation developer kit. Here's how it compares to the original.

Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

Just about a month after HTC announced a delay in the release of the HTC Vive headset, news came on Jan. 5 of a new, second generation developer kit called the HTC Vive Pre.

HTC brought the Pre to this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to show off the new and improved hardware.

The bare bones are these: The Pre, most notably, has an integrated front-facing camera that lets the user see through the experience, if she needs to, in order to maybe take a drink, find a seat, or even pick something up.

The Pre also has redesigned hand controllers (souped up both for ergonomics and tracking), headstrap, a brighter display, and improved tracking.

I got to demo the Pre here at CES, just a few weeks after trying out the original Vive. The demos themselves were the same (you can read about them in detail in my earlier write-up), but the difference in how the hardware affected their quality was noticeable.

These improvements seems to point toward an effort to keep users in the headset — comfortably— at length. Whether for gaming, training, education, etc., it'll be vital to be able to spend time in VR without hitting any pain points.

To start, there's the front-facing camera. The Vive is a full room experience. Sensors placed around the room create a space for you to move around in. With the original, if you get too close to the boundaries of the sensors, a blue grid appears letting you know if you go any further, you'll be out of range and also, probably, smash yourself into a wall.

With the front-facing camera, you get the grid, plus a sort of blue, digital shadow— think something close to the Matrix. Also, a button on the controller, if held down, lets you switch into that mode. In other words, you don't have to take off the headset unless you really have to do something requiring a clear view of the real world. That's the main value add for now.

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

One thought is that once in the hands of developers, that camera could lead to the creation of mixed reality experiences with the Vive, making it more than just a virtual reality device.

There's also the display to consider. It's brighter. The reason being the removal of a processing layer called mura, which dims the image in the headset. Better, clearer images, means a stronger shot at deeper immersion. Part of the trick to immersion is eliminating anything that might pull the user out of the experience.

And that definitely extends to comfort. As these headsets evolve, the design and ergonomics will improve, making it easier to forget about the big plastic mask pulling on your face, and the controllers in your hands. The Pre's redesign is definitely a move toward that.

In any case, if you're at CES this year, the Vive will be at multiple locations. You can find them on the HTC Vive blog.

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About Erin Carson

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

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