While this year’s CES was relatively light on VR compared to previous years, we saw HTC dominate the show with their new announcements for VR accessories and partnerships that will expand the VR market for everyone.
Potentially the most important VR accessory announced this year is the Vive Tracker, a device that will allow virtually anything to be turned into a Vive controller. On the underside of the disc is a standard camera mount that will attach to a variety of upcoming VR controllers including a fire hose, baseball bats, golf clubs, and various gun controllers. The one that seems to have most people excited though, is the best hand-tracking glove controller since the Power Glove: the Noitom Hi5.
As seen in the video, the gloves allow for full hand and finger tracking. This is something that people have been hoping for since the inception of VR and is bringing us ever closer to the reality of the Holodeck. Additionally, the TPCast Wireless VR adapter has been shown far more publicly than it had been last year at previous events, and judging from early impressions by people who took demos at CES, this appears to be the real deal. Wireless VR without compromises. This is to be expected though, as TPCast is an official HTC partner for this product, and I’d imagine they want to ensure the prolonged positive image that people have of the Vive.
The TPCast product however, is not the only wireless VR solution that is being brought to the table. HTC let it slip that they are working with Intel to provide WiGig (a previously seldom-spoken of project) to Vive users. Last we heard of WiGig, it was being tested on the Oculus Rift, and was more of a background project. It doesn’t appear that they are willing to give a ton of details on it yet, but the fact that Intel is working on this is a very positive sign.
And at last, we are finding the official solution to one of the biggest complaints that the Vive has had. The reason most Vive fans will still give some credit to the Rift: The ergonomics. A huge problem the Vive has had since the start was the fact that it’s too heavy and the strap on it is uncomfortable and unable to support the weight fully. Personally I never really had an issue with it, but plenty of people did, which makes me glad that they are now introducing the Deluxe Audio Strap. The Rift has had built in headphones on its far more comfortable strap since the consumer version launched about a year ago, and now HTC is finally coming around to providing this luxury to Vive fans the world over. Some of us (myself included) to prefer to have over ear cans for our audio solution, so this may not be ideal for everyone, but the comfort this provides may just be worth the sacrifice.
To finish up the Vive news: HTC also announced a subscription service for Viveport that will have users pay a monthly fee to access a wide library of VR games rather than purchase tons of them individually. This has thus far been a divisive decision on HTC’s part. Many people are likening it to subscription based game services like PS Now which is nearly universally hated, while others are saying this could be the best thing for VR. If I am to give my personal opinion on it, I’d say this is a very good thing. VR games don’t sell well because there’s not a huge market for them yet, so developers have to mark up the prices on their games on steam to even hope to make a profit. This makes people not want to buy as many games since they’ve already spent a ton on the VR headset itself. It’s hard on devs and VR enthusiasts right now, but if we can just pay a monthly fee to access a library, Netflix style, and devs are paid by hours played of their games, then we can see things get much easier on everyone. Better yet: Viveport is not a Vive-exclusive program. It hosts games made to run in OpenVR, which has support for the Vive, Rift, and OSVR. As long as devs get on board, we’re going to see great things come from this.
In what little non-HTC VR news there was at CES, we saw Lenovo unveil their project that is allowing games to be “upscaled” to work in VR headsets. It doesn’t look promising to say the least. According to uploadvr, it’s more like the 2D game is just being stretched across your face, and it’s very likely to make people sick when playing. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, because this has been attempted several times in the past by programs like VorpX, but has never worked well enough to actually make games genuinely playable.
There was likely other news that I managed to miss at CES, but Oculus wasn’t even there, so I couldn’t focus on any of that. If you guys know about something I missed here, let me know in the comments.