Home / Innovative / HTC's latest VR head does not need external trackers, but it feels like it does

HTC's latest VR head does not need external trackers, but it feels like it does

After starting out as their limited versions of their PC-powered counterparts, standalone VR headsets are starting to get pretty advanced, at least on paper. The Vive Focus Plus, a self-contained headset that was released this week at Mobile World Congress 2019.

The Vive Focus Plus has the original Vive Focus is its controllers. Instead of the single controller you got the original Focus, you now get two. More importantly, they are both now support 6 degrees of freedom (or DoF) rather than the 3DoF found on the original.

There are two triggers on the rear of the controllers in addition to a trackpad and buttons on it's top.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

The amount of buttons has been compared to the original controller. Rather than a simple trackpad and single trigger, you now get two triggers, a trackpad, and two face buttons. That allows for a lot more functionality, but in my demonstration I just needed to use a single trigger and the trackpad.

While PC-connected headsets like the original HTC Vive and Vive Pro have tracked their controller's movement using external base stations, with the Vive Focus Plus the headset itself. In the front of your body, the headset's sensors should be ready to go see and track them.

The result of the HTC Vive has just come to an end. You can stand, you can walk around, you can crouch, and the headset should be ready to keep up with your moment.

The headset is battery-powered, and charged over USB-C.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

The Vive Focus Plus needs to show you which areas of your virtual area are safe to move around. It does this by rendering blue gridlines in the air when you come out of your playspace. While the PC-connected Vive has created this area using one of the motion controllers, the Focus Plus creates this zone around you automatically. When you put on the headset, the Focus Plus considers that you are in the center of your playspace, and it generates the barriers around you automatically.

Internally, the specs of the Vive Focus Plus are similar to the existing Vive Focus. It's still powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, it has the same AMOLED 3K display with a resolution of 2880×1600, and it still charges over USB-C. HTC claims you are about to spend three hours of your life in a car, but you're in a hurry to see what you're doing single hour with intensive use.

Externally, the design of the headset has been tweaked slightly more with more padding for your forehead to better its weight, but it's a pretty piece of hardware overall.

Removing the need for an external base station while still offering 6DoF controllers is certainly ambitious, but when I got a chance to try out the Vive Focus Plus for myself the task of replacing them. From the moment I'm on the headset to try a demonstration, there's a slight wobble as it seemingly struggled to understand that.

Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Unfortunately, PICC line dressing (the medical tubes inserted into a person's arm that allows them to be hooked up to IV). The experience tasked with assessing the patient, following proper hygiene procedures, and changing the elements of my dressing in the correct order.

The headset's tracking frequently was not up to the task. At one point during the demonstration my virtual hands drifted away from me.

Most disorientating was one occasion when I teleported outside of what the Vive Focus Plus thought was my "safe" playspace. Logically, I wanted to walk forward to the correct side of the blue grid lines, but because I knew I teleported a little bit, I could not longer trust myself to not inadvertently walk into a wall.

Trade shows like MWC are at the best of times. There is a lot of radio interference, and the show floor is a mix of brightly lit booths and occasionally very dark areas of shadow. It's the kind of environment any headset would have to struggle with itself, and that's before I mentioned it. But, of course, the Vive Focus Plus simply did not track it during my demonstration. HTC Vive Focus Plus.

Outside of the tracking issues, however, the overall graphics quality of the headset was acceptable. The 3K display did not exhibit too much screen-door effect, and the graphics were a little bit block-y but otherwise crisply rendered.

Both HTC for the Focus Plus have been focused on the headset rather than consumers who are using it for entertainment. In addition to the SimForHealth demonstration I tried, there was a factory training experience produced by Immersive Factory.

Additional forehead padding has been added to the headset to increase its overall comfort.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Targeting business users is likely to have given HTC's different priorities for the Vive Focus. A headset might need to be taken in a new location for onsite training for example, or quickly installed in a conference room for one day of training every once in a while.

This is the Vive Focus Plus is not the next Generation VR headset that you could have hoped it would be. HTC has not come to show off the business apps for the headset rather than any games.

This is not true of the competition. Oculus' chief technology officer John Carmack recently called the upcoming standalone Oculus Quest headset a games console that's going to compete with the Nintendo Switch.

The Vive Focus Plus is set to be released at the end of the second quarter of this year .

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