While the HTC Vive offers one of the better experiences in all of VR, its audio and headstrap setup was always an annoying, if minor, drawback compared to its only rival, the Oculus Rift. HTC is remedying that with the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap, an optional US$100 accessory. Read on for our review.
The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap is a welcome upgrade for anyone who's been using the headset's default strap and earbud setup. It's more or less a copy of the setup the Rift has used since it launched in early 2016. The Vive Strap adds not just built-in headphones, but a more substantial (rubbery-feeling) strap that tilts the headset's ergonomic balance backwards, better and more comfortably holding the front of the headset in place.
There's also a nifty wheel on the back that lets you adjust the tightness of the strap, handy for loosening it up to put on or take off, and for finding your ideal fit once it's on.
The entire setup is very pleasant to use: a huge improvement over the stock Vive setup and more or less putting it on par with the Rift in the comfort and ergonomics department.
The Audio Strap's headphones sound great. I'd put their audio a little ahead of the sound in the Rift's stock headphone setup, but still a couple notches behind Oculus' own optional earbud accessories, which push its soundscape into near hi-fi levels.
One of my few gripes about the Deluxe Audio Strap is the setup. After watching the instructional video, it still took me five minutes or so of looping cables out of the old strap, winding them through a small slot in a removeable plate, and then winding them back through after reattaching the new Strap. It's hardly a reason for Vive owners to back off, but it's also a far cry from the 30-second process of swapping out the Rift's stock headphones for the upgraded Oculus Earphones.
Pricing is another potential drawback. With the Vive system now ringing up for $200 more than an equivalent Rift/Touch setup, tagging yet another Benjamin onto the Vive's cost only fattens an already pricey purchase. If you buy the Audio Strap along with the Vive itself, you're now looking at a $900 piece of kit (which doesn't even include the requisite VR-ready PC).
Taking a step back, the Vive is still a great VR system with top-notch tracking; the Audio Strap now adds comfort and audio that reach the Rift's levels. But the Vive platform is also growing somewhat fragmented, with 2017 arrivals like this Deluxe Audio Strap, along with the upcoming Vive Trackers (which turn ordinary objects into controllers) and the TPCast accessory that will let you use the Vive wirelessly.
In this way, the Vive is reflecting PC gaming as a whole: not shying away from adding user-facing complexity and risking fragmentation.
Is it worth creating clutter and confusion just to push these kinds of advances to users as quickly as possible? Especially for a system that lags far behind the Rift in quality content? I suspect hardcore PC gamers – for whom regular component upgrades are a way of life – won't object too much. For everyone else, though, agreeing to this kind of feature creep and platform fragmentation might be a taller order – especially if these kinds of modular upgrades keep coming at their current rate.
If you are a Vive owner with money to spare, though, the Deluxe Audio Strap will enhance your comfort and soundscape. It's available now for $100 from the product page below.
Product page: HTC
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