We all love choice when it comes to our purchases. More of it makes us feel like we’re picking something unique to our tastes, even though most of it is mass produced and available to millions of consumers globally. However, in certain industries, choice breeds confusion, especially tech, where it can often be difficult to differentiate one product from another unless you’re particularly clued up from masses of research, or happen to have a Bachelor’s degree in engineering. Virtual reality (VR) is one technology that can do with being simple and straight forward, bringing new customers into the fold rather than scaring them away with baffling jargon. Oculus, for example, has kept things relatively modest, HTC Vive, on the other hand, has gone off the deep end.
Both companies launched their high-end PC headsets within a week of each other in 2016, but since then have taken ever-widening paths. Currently, HTC offers the standard HTC Vive, the HTC Vive Pro – by itself or in starter kit form – the standalone HTC Vive Focus – a consumer headset in China, enterprise-focused in the west. And then there are the headsets still to be released this year. The HTC Vive Pro Eye (Q2 2019), the HTC Vive Focus Plus (Q2 2019) and then to top it all off the HTC Vive Cosmos (expected 2019).
The Cosmos’ introduction was quite possibly the most confusing yet. Revealed during CES 2019 in January, the headset looked to be a direct rival to Oculus Quest. With inside-out tracking and funky looking controllers, it seemed like a standalone device. Yet HTC muddied the waters by talking about modular design and releasing a trailer with a smartphone overlaid at one point. Only to then go and say the Vive Cosmos would, in fact, be tethered to a PC.
So at the very least – without any weird sales options (HTC Vive Pro McLaren Special Edition anyone?) – HTC Vive will have six head-mounted displays (HMD) available on the market by the end of 2019. Excellent, apart from the slight issue that even if I wanted to buy one I’d be scratching my head for a bit, let alone someone new to VR. Ok, so some of these are enterprise-focused devices that aren’t meant for the everyday consumer. It does all seem a little bit too much doesn’t it?
From my point of view, it looks as though HTC Vive isn’t interested in stepping from generation one to gen-two, rather gently hopping over the lines between gen 1.5,1.6 and so on. Incremental steps that deliver devices with very little disparity. Much in the same way the smartphone industry has been for many a year – now we have folding phones, whoop!
Another issue that’s yet to raise its head is that of price, and therefore where a headset sits in the market. HTC Vive is the ecosystem’s entry-level HMD, retailing for $499USD/£499GBP. If any of the new tech comes in below that price then that effectively kills that headset. Should they all be more expensive most consumers will find Vive’s VR family too expensive.
Let’s look at HTC Vive’s main rival Oculus for a moment, shall we? Currently, there’s the Oculus Rift and Oculus Go (in 32GB and 64GB versions). While no official numbers have been released the Oculus Go seems to have been a massive success for the company. Plus there’s the Samsung Gear VR, whose time in the limelight is now fading. So two core products, with a third on its way, standalone headset Oculus Quest. Quest and Rift might be priced the same yet they offer enough difference to be fairly noticeable, plus they can be used by consumer and business alike. There’s no one device for this area and one device for here. By the way, companies such as Varjo and VRgineers already have ultra-high-end enterprise HMDs available.
Additionally, HTC Vive’s old compatriot Valve is working on its own headset and those lovely looking Steam Knuckles controllers. So yay to choice.
Mostly, it just looks like HTC Vive wants to play every position on the playing field all at once, and that’s no use to anyone. There’s nothing wrong with its technology, the Vive Pro’s visuals look great, while the Vive Pro Eye’s eye tracking works a treat, and Steam’s room scale tracking is one of the best. It’s just somewhere in all of that the focus gets lost, and I just hope that trying too hard doesn’t negatively impact one of the most important company’s in VR.
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