HTC plans to release a new top-of-the-line AR/VR headset next month. This will help the company get back into the consumer virtual reality market. The company won’t give out all of the information until CES on January 5. But HTC’s global head of product Shen Ye talked to The Verge in an exclusive interview about what the company hopes to accomplish with its new design: a small, light, all-in-one headset that promises full-featured virtual and augmented reality.
Ye says, “It’s about taking all of the design and technology improvements we’ve made and putting them together into something that makes sense and appeals to consumers.”
From a picture given to The Verge, the unnamed headset looks like goggles with cameras facing forward and to the side. Ye says that people who buy the headset will be able to use it for games, entertainment, exercise, and “even some of the more powerful use cases,” such as productivity and business tools. It will have a battery life of two hours, work independently, and work with controllers with six degrees of freedom and hand tracking.
One of the headset’s most important parts is cameras that look outward and send a color video feed to the user’s screen. This will make mixed reality experiences possible. This mixed reality option still seems like a bit of an experiment. When I asked Ye what buyers might use it for, he pointed out HTC’s ongoing relationships with developers and said that the best use cases would probably show up after release. Ye says, “We’re at a point where the tech is solid and we’ll start to see some cool things.”
The upcoming headset is the one HTC hinted at in October, but didn’t say much about. At the time, we thought it might be a follow-up to the Vive Flow, a headset for consumers that came out last year. HTC hasn’t said anything about this yet, though. It says that the device uses what it learned from making the Flow and the Vive Focus 3, a high-end headset for businesses, to improve the device. With both virtual and augmented reality, HTC’s headset is similar to Meta’s recently released Quest Pro and Apple’s AR/VR device, which hasn’t been announced yet.
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The Meta Quest Pro just came out, and one of its selling points was color passthrough. HTC didn’t want to compare the two directly, but Ye pointed out some possible differences. For one thing, the new HTC headset will have a depth sensor, which Meta thought about but eventually decided against. That could make it easier to keep track of users and map their environments more accurately. Ye says that the headset could have a better dynamic range than other color pass through mixed reality options on the market. He said you could read text on a laptop or phone screen through HTC’s cameras, which is hard to do in Meta’s Quest Pro.
Aside from that, the new headset sounds like it has more features than the Flow, which came with a control system based on a smartphone, but is lighter and smaller than the Vive Focus 3. Ye says their new headset is one of the lightest on the market, but we don’t know how light that is yet. The HTC image doesn’t show how the headset’s straps are set up, but Ye’s comment that the headset can be used to work out suggests that it will be more stable than the Flow, which slipped off my face a lot. Ye says, “We spent so much time on ergonomics.” “The Flow was the first time we made something in the shape of glasses. We did learn a lot from it. I can say that whenever we see something that could be better, we always make it better.”
“We live in a time when companies that want to collect and sell personal information have put a lot of money into consumer VR headsets.”
We don’t know if HTC’s device will have eye tracking, another feature that the latest Meta (and, according to rumors, Apple) headsets use a lot. But when asked, Ye said that eye tracking was an optional modular upgrade for the Vive Focus 3, which is something HTC often does for its headsets. He also answered cryptically that HTC was working on advanced privacy protections that would make it impossible for anyone to access data from the new headset’s cameras, either locally or remotely. One of these is a local encrypted partition that stores the data. “That will eventually connect to the question you asked,” he says.
— The Verge (@verge) December 16, 2022
HTC hopes that its promises about privacy will make its headset stand out from Meta’s other options. We don’t know how much the headset will cost, but Ye clarifies that it will be more expensive than the Meta Quest 2, which costs $399. “We live in a time when companies that want to get personal information to give to advertisers have given a lot of money to help people buy VR headsets,” he says. “We don’t think giving up privacy is how we want to handle it.” We wouldn’t be surprised if the new headset costs between $499 for the Vive Flow and $1,300 for the Focus 3.
The Quest 2 is cheap, but it also has other good points. Meta has funded or bought a lot of good VR experiences, while HTC has been behind in this area, though it has some unique options like its Viveport subscription gaming service. Through Viveport, the new headset will let you play VR games that don’t require a PC. You can also wirelessly connect it to a PC or with a cable to play desktop VR games. Ye says that the goal is to give people a “wide range” of things to do when they put on the headset.
Last year, HTC said it was taking a break from making VR headsets for consumers, partly because it didn’t want to compete with Meta’s heavily subsidized headsets. So, besides Meta’s prices going up, what else has changed since then? For one thing, HTC has put out two “standalone” headsets quickly, which has helped it improve its products. Ye says, “We’ve always had an idea of what we think makes a good customer experience.” “We know how to make the best tech, and now we know how to make tiny devices. Because of what we’ve learned, we now feel ready to make something exciting. But the fact that Apple and Meta are getting prepared for a fight over the future of consumer VR probably doesn’t hurt HTC’s chances.
Stay tuned to our website NogMagazine.com for more updates.
Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.