Unpacking the HTC Vive Pre @Beloola

The new HTC Vive Pre

Since spring 2015, Beloola has been working on bringing its platform to virtual reality. We started with the Oculus Rift DK2 (Development Kit) in France, and we had some great results really quickly, thanks to the WebVR API (allowing us to develop web applications for Virtual Reality (VR) headsets using WebGL and javascript).

We then had the wonderful opportunity to integrate BoostVC’s VR startup incubator last summer, allowing us to boost the development of our platform and add support for other VR HMDs: the Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive DK1 (nicely shared by our open space neighbors from RalphVR). Once back in France, we managed to meet the right people to get us in touch with the HTC Vive team and get our own HTC Vive DK1 on Christmas 2015, a quite nice gift under the tree!

It’s a great chance for us to work on such an innovative field as Virtual Reality. To enable this technology to take off, headset manufacturers are willing to send out free HMDs (Head Mounted Displays) to developers so they can create softwares, experiences and content available on it, and we were lucky enough to be part of it. At the beginning of February, we received an email letting us know that we could redeem the new version of the HTC Vive, the Vive Pre.

That’s not the commercial version already, but what’s the closest to it. The HTC Vive isn’t commercialized yet, and its pre-order price was just announced this Sunday at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) for $799 (we don’t know yet about taxes and shipping fees). Pre-orders will open on the 29th of February 2016 and shipping should start at the beginning of April.

We were really eager to get this new headset, and it arrived in the mail this morning. Here are our first feedback:

Unpacking

Out of the box content, without cables

On first impression, the box with all the hardware is really well packaged. No lost space, everything is well protected. The box contains the 3 main elements:

  • the headset itself, of course
  • two manual controllers
  • the base stations, which are meant to track the headset and controllers in space

Once everything unpacked, we were able to compare the new version of the HTC Vive with the old one.

Let’s compare: DK1 vs Pre

HTC Vive DK1 (left) vs HTC Vive Pre (right)

The first thing we noticed is that HTC worked hard on this new version, which has a really different look from the first one, less than a year afterwards (pre-orders for the DK1 opened at the end of April in 2015).

The new HTC Vive Pre is really neat, smoother, and has a real “final product” touch, compared to the developer version which was the DK1.

The headset

The new headset is smaller, especially in depth. Thereby it’s lighter, and easier to wear. Also the head straps are better and rotate on the side for an easier set-up. There’s less pressure on the face too. All those points should help for a longer use of the headset. The other good point is how the cables are plugged in. In the previous version they used to move and get disconnected from time to time. Now they’re fixed directly inside the headset, which shall fix this problem. An other upgrade for this headset is that it now has a frontal camera. We didn’t see any application using it for now though.

The controllers

Here again, we can see that we went from a developer version to a truly final consumer release. There’s a better in-hand feeling, more stable. It seems that the tracking is slightly better too. The two menu buttons changed places, while the rest of it remains the same: a circular touch-pad, trigger and side-button.

The base-station lighthouses

Those base-stations are the one that you need to mount at opposite sides of your room to enable a 6-degrees of freedom captation of the headset and controllers. The visual is better, as we don’t see the internal printed board. They are also almost silent (huge difference with the previous ones). We can also guess that the tracking that the tracking is enhanced with those new lighthouses, even though we couldn’t check proof it.

In-ear headphones: the little extra something

HTC decided to include in its package a pair of in-ear headset. There’s also an audio extension cable on the headset, so you plug your headphones at the back of your head instead of directly on the headset. This way you can easily grab them when the headset is on your face, and it enhances the immersion as it reduces the sounds from outside, with very little “cable hanging” inconvenience. Those headphones also embed a mic, which we could use for our own applications, especially Beloola.

Conclusion

Once again it’s a wonderful journey to work on and in virtual reality as we discover new experiences on a daily basis. The fact that hardware manufacturers are willing to give us development kits is even more fantastic.

The comparison between those two versions of the HTC Vive enables us to see how much progress has been done in just a year. Headsets size is reducing, comfort is augmenting, the immersion feeling is better thanks to a better tracking, a better sound and an easier-to-wear headset.

There’s no doubt that virtual reality is on the right path, and even though the recently announced price of the HTC Vive is of $799, which might chill down some people, we can easily imagine its cost decrease over time, which will undeniably drive adoption by the public in the next five years or so.