HTC announces Vive Pro Eye and Vive Cosmos at CES 2019

By Skarredghost

The CES is going to start tomorrow, but today HTC has already made its great announcements, showing to the world the upcoming new hardware Vive Pro Eye, Vive Cosmos and software solutions Viveport Infinity and Vive Reality system.

HTC loves to announce new stuff at CES: during this exhibition it has already announced the Vive Tracker in 2017 and the Vive Pro in 2018, for instance. This year it has been no exception: within a press event, the Taiwanese company has announced various innovations, both on the software and hardware side. Do you want to know what I am talking about? Well, let’s analyze them one by one.

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A photo of the front of the Vive Pro, that has been announced during last year’s CES (Image by Upload VR)
Vive Pro Eye
Vive Pro Eye HTC Vive virtual reality ces 2019
The Vive Pro Eye, in all its splendor (Image by HTC)

The Vive Pro is the prosumer headset offered by HTC to satisfy the needs of enterprises and premium customers. But if we compare it with the other premium headsets on the market (like XTAL, StarVR or Varjo), we notice that it lacks a very important feature: eye tracking.

I think that eye tracking is one of those technologies that will disrupt virtual reality, mainly for three reasons:

  • It will allow for a user interface that is more natural and intuitive. I have experimented a lot with 7Invensun’s eye tracking add-on for the Vive, and I can assure you that eye tracking really enables a completely different UX for VR;
  • It opens up the possibilities for foveated rendering. It is so possible to render in high-quality only a tiny part of the scene and so spare a lot of computational power when rendering a VR scene. This allows for a better graphical quality of VR experiences and also for higher-resolution displays inside VR headsets. Now that RTX 2080 cards allow for foveated rendering thanks to Variable Rate Shading, times are ready for use of eye tracking in VR;
  • It will increase the accessibility of VR: a lot of disabled people that have problems using the hands will be able to enjoy VR.

Furthermore, it opens up a lot of business possibilities, like for instance the analysis of what the users are looking, that is fundamental to design VR user interfaces, to design VR shops (you can see if the visitors are looking at the items you want them to concentrate on), to have more data for VR marketing, and also for training experiences (you can see if the user is getting distracted or if it is taking care of all the things he/she should check), and so on …

That’s why at CES 2019, HTC has announced the Vive Pro Eye, that is a new sibling of the HTC Vive Pro that includes integrated eye tracking. It will launch in the second quarter of 2019 as a separate headset from all the ones that HTC has already on the market. We don’t know the price, but since it is a headset that is tailored at pro-prosumer customers, I envision that it will be very high (so, don’t expect anything affordable for a consumer).

We have no further details on the embedded eye-tracking technology, so, for instance, we don’t know if it has been made by 7invensun (that is part of the Vive X accelerator) or if HTC developed it in-house.

Considering that NVIDIA has just announced that it will partner with HTC for what concerns VirtualLink and foveated rendering, we can imagine that this headset will feature the Virtualink connector.

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Foveated rendering in an experience produced by HTC together with NVIDIA for BMW on the Vive Pro Eye (Image by HTC Vive)

The first experience to have embedded eye tracking will be the “MLB Home Run Derby VR” video game experience, where users will have full menu control without using a traditional controller. Imagine the comfort of selecting things on a menu without having to move the controllers… I can’t wait to try it!

Vive Pro Eye HTC Vive virtual reality ces 2019
The Vive Pro Eye looks almost identical to the Vive Pro, but has embedded eye tracking inside (Image by HTC)

With the Vive Pro Eye, HTC aims for sure to strengthen its position in the prosumer market, adding one fundamental feature to its headset. I think that enterprises will like it, but at the same time, I think that communities of VR enthusiasts will be angry again with HTC because of its high price. If you are among this kind of people, you should welcome the Vive Cosmos.

Vive Cosmos

Vive Cosmos is the headset that HTC has teased in the last days with a tweet on its official profile in which it announced an upcoming new gear, showing a Vive Logo with the cosmos depicted inside.

We all thought about a new Vive Focus with embedded 6 DOF controllers, ready to fight the Oculus Quest. Well, maybe we were all wrong.

The Vive Cosmos has not been conceived to fight the Quest, but the upcoming rumored Oculus Rift S. It is a VR headset targeted at consumers that lets you enjoy virtual reality in full comfort without having to deal with complicated setups. So, you just plug it to your PC, and it just works, without the need to set up base stations and all the rest. And it should be compatible with a good number of PCs: HTC states that it “has the capability to be powered by more than a traditional gaming PC”, and in my opinion, this means that it won’t require monster PC specifications to work.

From the description, it seems to me like an HTC Windows Mixed Reality headset :D. As with the Rift S, I have mixed feelings about this headset: on one side, as a technician, I would always like to see VR headsets with the best feature possible (eye tracking, super high resolution, super high FOV, etc…) and this absolutely isn’t a next-gen headset; on the other side, as an entrepreneur, I get that HTC has to fight the upcoming easy-to-use Rift S by Oculus and also the various Windows Mixed Reality headsets that are slowly getting always more shares in the market. This headset, with its easiness of use and the possibility to use the PC that people already have, should give HTC a better positioning in the market, including also people that until now have not bought HTC products.

I think that the strategy of HTC is trying to push innovation with the Pro Eye and at the same time continuing being relevant in the consumers’ space with the Cosmos. Times are not ready for an affordable second-gen VR headset, so I think that this choice that both HTC (and also Oculus) is following, in the end, has sense.

I think that to see if this strategy will pay off, we’ll have to discover the price of such headset. At the moment it is unknown, exactly as the release date and all the related technical data. The only thing that we know is that the first devkits of Cosmos will be available in early 2019, and that all the data that we are interested in will be announced later in the year. We also know that it will be the first headset to feature the “Vive Reality System” (more on this later on).

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Render of the Vive Cosmos headset. In this image, it is possible to see the lateral cameras (Image by HTC)

Watching closely the trailer and the photos, we can also get various hints about the headset:

  • It should seem a bit like a Vive Focus with a deluxe audio strap;
  • It should be very comfortable;
  • It should feature IPD adjustment;
  • It should be able to offer not only VR, but also other kinds of XR;
  • It should feature a flip-up display;
  • It should work together with HTC phones;
  • It should feature inside-out tracking, with cameras installed all over the device (also on the sides), for a very wide tracking FOV (very useful for the controllers);
  • It should have two controllers very similar to the ones of Oculus Quest. This can be great for developers that have to develop cross-platform experiences;

What is not clear to me is the cable… from the trailer video it is not visible, exactly as in the photos. And HTC stresses that this headset “is quick to set up and use and can be taken on the go to new play environments”. I am wondering if this means that the headset may also feature some kind of wireless or hybrid standalone mode. Or it is not connect to the PC with a cable, but via Wi-fi as Riftcat VRidge makes with the Focus. There are no clear statements on this, so I think that HTC wants to leave some mistery.

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Vive Cosmos and its controllers, that seem a lot the ones of Oculus. It is also possible to see the power-on button and the led that there is on the left side of the HMD (Image by HTC)

When I got to know this news, I also immediately thought about Valve. There are rumors about a new headset in the work by Valve and Valve is also working independently at its own controllers; at the same time, HTC announces a new PC headset that doesn’t use SteamVR tracking and that HTC hopes that it will be used by people not with Steam, but with Viveport and Vive Reality System. I wonder what is the current status of the partnership between the two companies… I think that we’re going to discover that in the upcoming months.

Vive Cosmos HTC Vive virtual reality ces 2019
From this other lateral view, it is possible to see that the headset features IPD adjustment (Image by HTC)
Vive Reality System

Vive Reality System is more or less like a Virtual Reality operating system that HTC is developing for its virtual reality headsets and that will launch first for the Vive Cosmos.

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Will it be possible to enter the Vive’s spaceship? (image by HTC)

In a prepared statement, this is what HTC is communicating:

“Our philosophy has always been focused on developing great products and experiences that create a natural and effortless bridge from the real world to the virtual world and with Vive Reality System we set out to reimagine Vive’s core software experience to meet these needs,” said Drew Bamford, VP, Creative Labs, HTC Vive. “The tools and environments that make up Vive Reality System aim to make spatial computing accessible to everyone, wherever their journey into immersive worlds takes them. We want VR to feel less like launching apps and instead like stepping between worlds.”

The last sentence is the crucial one: HTC doesn’t want that when you put on a headset, you see a store (like for instance what happens now on the Vive Focus, where you see the Viveport M store), but it wants that you see a metaverse, a portal towards the virtual world. This is something that is similar to what Oculus is doing with the new Rift Core 2.0, that I already described as the foundation of a VR operating system by Facebook.

VRS should include “both operational and experiential elements” and for this, HTC is performing various partnerships. The most important one has been the one with Mozilla and Amazon for a better use of the Web 3.0 inside HTC headsets.

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One concept of the Vive Reality System (image by HTC)

The partnership with Mozilla will make Mozilla Realities the default browser for the whole Vive ecosystem. Mozilla Realities is currently the only browser bringing WebVR to the Vive Focus and will now become the default browser also for the Vive and the upcoming Cosmos.

The partnership with Amazon, instead, will make sure that Vive developers will be able to use the Sumerian engine to develop titles to be distributed through Viveport. Of course, Sumerian experiences will continue being optimal to be distributed via WebVR and so being also enjoyable via Mozilla Realities. I’ve already tested Sumerian and found it a very interesting game engine to develop WebVR experiences in an easy way. Its integration with Amazon Web Services makes sure that it is possible to create powerful tools that are also able to talk with the user or are integrated with IoT technologies. I loved it, even if it forces to you to work in the AWS ecosystem.

Viveport Infinity
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Viveport Infinity logo (image by HTC)

Viveport Infinity is the latest evolution of Viveport subscriptions. Basically, it is a subscription to Viveport that lets you play a monthly fee to play whatever VR games (and experiences) on Viveport you like.

Starting from Vive day, that is April, 5th 2019, members will be able to download and play all the 500+ experiences on Viveport Infinity just by paying one monthly fee. It is interesting to notice that Viveport Infinity subscription will be usable via all Vive headsets, via all Vive-Wave compatible headsets and also via Oculus Rift.

And that’s it for today! I think that these are very interesting announcements… and I can’t wait to put my hands on these devices by HTC. What’s your opinion on them? Do you like them? Let me know in the comments or on social media…

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