With the recent release of Oculus Touch, the Rift's hand-tracking controllers, the less polished ergonomics of the HTC Vive's wands suddenly seemed more apparent. They're good at simulating weapons, but they don't always translate well into other items. HTC has now announced the Vive Tracker, a new accessory for the VR system that can be attached to, or built into, anything from baseball bats to firefighting hoses. At CES this week, the company revealed a few examples, as well as detailing a new set of headphones and a subscription model for the Viveport app store.
The Vive headset is tracked to near-perfection by the two lighthouse sensors placed around the room. These devices beam invisible lasers into the play area, which are picked up by photosensors on the headset and the circular section of the wand to determine the player's position in space. The new Vive Tracker works the same way, allowing the system to track whatever its attached to.
Since it needs to stay relatively unintrusive, the round, three-pronged accessory weighs just 3 oz (85 g) and measures 3.9 in wide and 1.7 in high (10 x 4.2 cm). HTC plans to use the Tracker to lay a foundation for a future ecosystem of Vive accessories, and it's kickstarting that process by giving away up to 1,000 of them to developers.
"To foster the long-term growth of VR, we want to make it even easier for developers to prototype and market more immersive controllers and accessories," says Daniel O'Brien, GM of Virtual Reality at HTC. "The Vive Tracker is the first step in growing an ecosystem of third-party accessories that will change how we interact with virtual experiences and provide consumers and businesses with an unlimited amount of content opportunities."
HTC is demonstrating some of those future devices at CES this week, including a baseball bat, haptic gloves, rifles, and even a firehose for a firefighter training simulator. Our past experiences with games like Zero Latency really show how much more immersive VR can be when you're holding tactile objects that move with you in the virtual world.
Other items on display this week include the TPCast wireless adapter announced a few months ago, which aims to cut the cord that tends to wrap itself around a player's feet, and a pair of headphones integrated into a headstrap. The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap, as the company calls it, can be quickly adjusted to suit the size of your noggin by turning a dial, which should save some blind fumbling.
The software side of things – one of our long-standing gripes with the Vive – might be set to improve soon, too. Viveport, the system's app store, will introduce an optional subscription service later this year. For "a low monthly fee," users can access a select and apparently-ever-growing library of games and apps, in the same kind of model as Netflix, Sony's PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus, and Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold. Developers can opt-in to offer their titles on the service, or choose to keep selling them the usual way.
HTC has said the Vive Tracker and Audio Strap will both launch in Q2 this year, but hasn't given any pricing details yet. The TPCast has slipped back to the same period from its original first quarter release target, and untethering your headset will run you US$249. As for the Viveport subscription service, HTC hasn't narrowed the window beyond just "early 2017."
Source: HTC ViveView gallery - 6 images