HTC has revealed a new version of its HTC Vive virtual reality headset at CES 2016 in Las Vegas ahead of the launch of a consumer version in April.
The penultimate design, called the HTC Vive Pre, sees a number of changes to the original headset launched at MWC in Barcelona in 2015, as the company continues to work alongside Steam to create the best VR headset it can, regardless of price.
The new design is considerably smaller and curvier than before, as well as adding new features like a camera so wearers can see the actual world while they are in a virtual one.
In practice and we found it does take away some of the isolation that VR headsets can certainly deliver. Rather than simply display a live video feed, HTC and Steam give you a more "predator" heat map interface that isn't as perhaps jarring as real life. It meant in our demo we knew where and how to pose for the camera (something we've not been able to do before) and meant that a greater realisation of the world beyond the virtual world we are playing in is easier to see. It's a great addition, and has huge potential for developers in the future, although the two demos we enjoyed at CES didn't utilise the camera at all.
It is not just about adding a camera though, HTC tells Pocket-lint that the new headset also gets a more comfortable headstrap, which having had a demo of the new headset, can confirm it is a lot more comfortable to wear than the previous iteration. The headband, which is more akin to a gas mask fitting rather than a ski mask fitting is very comfortable and reduced some of the front weighting of the unit. The foam gasket, is now interchangeable allowing you to adapt and change it to suit different heads or those who wear glasses.
Also improved, is the display, and although HTC aren't fully detailing how, they are confirming that the new displays are brighter and crisper featuring something called mura correction which deals with "unevenness, irregularity, lack of uniformity, nonuniformity, inequality". Is technology that is used by some television manufacturers in their high-end TV sets and it's being used here.
The controllers also get a refresh to. HTC says the new controllers are now more comfortable to use, have better balance, and come with 4-hour battery life, as well as dual stage trigger support. In our demo we agree. They are much better than the first version, although we would have liked a greater emphasis of the all-important home button, and a more textured back panel for better grip.
HTC is still refusing to be drawn on how much its VR headset will cost. Put to the company whether a high price would put some consumers off forcing them to consider cheaper alternatives from Oculus Rift and PlayStation, both HTC and Valve didn't believe that would be the case.
"We are not worried about the barrier to entry issues, but understand that it won't be a mass market device to start with," the head of VR at HTC told Pocket-lint. "There is a very healthy addressable market for the first year."
The final consumer retail version of the HTC Vive is due to be available in April.