HTC: Vive pre-orders open Feb 29; company split denied

The HTC Vive Pre (image: HTC)

The HTC Vive Pre (image: HTC)

Following the end of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier in January, HTC announced that their Vive VR system will be available for pre-order from February 29th, with shipping to commence in April.

The Vive demonstrated at CES was the “2nd generation” Vive Pre, which boasted significant improvements over the first development unit in terms of headset sized, general ergonomics, fit, comfort and capabilities. In particular the unit boasts a front-mounted pass through camera, (which HTC has sometimes referred to as the “chaperone system”), and a correction tool to present a clearer view of the VR environment on the headset screens.

The Vive Pre features a central, front mounted pass through camera system (image: HTC)

The Vive Pre features a central, front mounted pass through camera system (image: HTC)

The pass through camera allows the user to see an overlay of the room around them projected into their virtual view. This fades in if they approach a physical object (e.g. a wall or desk, etc.), or can be manually triggered via the hand controllers. While some have critiqued it as “breaking” the VR experience, others have seen it as a useful means for a Vive user to re-orient themselves within their physical space.

Mura correction” (“mura” being a Japanese term meaning “unevenness” or “lack of uniformity”) removes the inconsistent brightness levels between one pixel and the next on earlier Vive headsets, giving rise to what HTC called a “linen like quality” to VR scenes. The result is a far more uniform and cleaner image, as shown in the exaggerated image below, courtesy of Road to VR.

"Mura correction" improves the VR image seen on the Vive's headset lenses, as illutrated by this exaggerated representation, courtesy of Road to VR - click to enlarge

“Mura correction” improves the VR image seen on the Vive’s headset lenses, as illustrated by this exaggerated representation, courtesy of Road to VR – click to enlarge

The pre-order price for the Vive has yet to be confirmed, but it is anticipated it will be somewhat more that the Oculus Rift. Even allowing for the  fact the price will include hand controllers and room sensors, this leaves HTC with a potentially awkward situation.

While the US $599 (+ tax and shipping) for the Rift took many by surprise, the take-up among early adopters has been positive; so much so that orders are now being backdated to July 2016. That’s good for Oculus VR – but it also means HTC could find the market for early adopters considerably smaller given so many have pre-ordered the Rift; and if the Vive does come in at a significantly higher price, they could find those who have held by from placing an order with Oculus VR to see what HTC do offer, swinging back towards it in favour of the Vive. Nor do the problems necessarily end there.

As I recently noted, tethered VR systems could face an uphill battle in trying to reach a more general market among the populace at large when compared to the cheaper, more accessible opportunities available through mobile VR.

Nvidia plan a "GeForce GTX VR Ready" logo for computer systems capable of meeting tethered VR requirements, and will be offering Nvidia has set out specific minimum requirements that must be met in order for consumer PCs to be able to cope with virtual reality graphics

Nvidia will offer a “GeForce GTX VR Ready” label for consumer PCs capable of meeting tethered VR requirements, and is working on a new range of GPUs specifically to meet the needs of VR (image: Nvidia)

While the latter may limited in capability and scope in comparison to tethered rigs, they are far more affordable and accessible, dampening any interest people have in paying for the tethered rig and the necessary hardware on which to run it. Particularly given that Nvidia estimate less than 1% of computers in household use will be capable of running tethered VR systems. Thus, HTC could find themselves right out in the cold if the Vive is significantly more expensive that the Rift among the wider public who might have a system capable of supporting VR headsets and are willing to give it a go as units hit retail outlets.

HTC was also the subject of intense, if brief, speculation on Sunday, January 18th and Monday, January 19th 2016. It started when the Chinese language Commercial Times, Taiwan’s largest financial newspaper ran a story claiming HTC’s Chairwoman, Cher Wang, was considering spinning-off the fledgling VR business into a separate company.

HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang: enthusiastic about VR, but not planning to split it into a separate entity.

HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang: enthusiastic about VR, but not planning to split it into a separate entity.

The report was picked-up through other news outlets, and gained widespread reporting in the VR media, and saw HTC’s share price rise by 5.23%. However, on Monday, January 19th, the company issued a statement to investors, labelling the media claims as incorrect, and stating the company has no plans to split the VR business into a separate entity.

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