Blending real and virtual worlds

HTC Vive Pre

Had things gone exactly as planned over at HTC, the handset-maker-turned-VR-player would have released a retail version of its Vive virtual reality headset before 2016 rolled around. That didn’t happen, as HTC decided to delay the launch to better implement a “very, very big technological breakthrough.” We now know what that breakthrough is.

Simply put, it’s a front-facing camera. That’s the big new feature HTC is promoting with its newly unveiled Vive Pre, a second generation VR headset for developers and possibly the last one before a retail unit manifests.

The front-facing camera merges physical landscapes and objects with virtual worlds. It also allows the wearer to see elements of the real world in front of them without having to remove the headset.

“A newly developed front facing camera allows you to do more both inside and outside your Virtual world by blending physical elements into the virtual space. Being able to take a seat, find your drink, and carry on conversations without removing your headset is only the beginning of what’s possible,” HTC explains.

It reminds us of what Microsoft is doing with HoloLens. Admittedly, it makes the Vive a more interesting product, and that’s saying something since we’re already intrigued by it.

The Vive Pre also brings about a more compact design with updated features for comfort and usability. It has a strap design that’s supposed to make the headset more stable and balanced, the displays are brighter, and interchangeable foam inserts and nose gaskets ensure a snug and secure fit.

HTC said it also overhauled the controllers with updated ergonomics such as softer edges, new textured buttons, and grip pads for a more comfortable feel in the hand. There’s a dual-stage trigger and haptic feedback for better interaction with objects, and integrated rechargeable batteries to keep the fun going for over 4 hours at a time on a single charge.

The introduction of the Vive Pre doesn’t mean another delay, HTC is simply giving developers time to play with the new front-facing camera. Barring any changes, HTC is still planning a retail launch in April of this year.

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