Take a wander into SteamVR’s neon-infused window on the real world whilst in VR, utilising the HTC Vive Pre’s front-facing camera in this video which takes a thorough look at the feature.
The newest iteration of the HTC Vive development kit, the ‘Pre’, was unveiled at CES in January and added a few important features, one of the biggest being a single, front-facing camera with a very wide-angle field of view. Why? To give players an instant view of their real environment – useful for orientation, object location and errant pet avoidance.
We went hands on with the system at CES and, despite the single image sensor not offering any native stereo depth, the implementation of your real world view is very effective. Your real-world view is presented as if projected onto the inside of a sphere, roughly matching your natural field of view and despite the lack of stereoscopy, is a surprisingly accurate representation – meaning you can judge distance and location of objects or people with relative accuracy. The wide field of view video projection comes close to matching the Vive’s perceived FOV.
The video was captured by Zach from Zulubo Productions, lone developer of HTC Vive ‘room scale’ arcade shooter Vertigo.
So why refer to what appears to be a ‘pass through’ camera as merely ‘front facing’? When we spoke to Valve’s Chet Faliszek after my Vive Pre demo, he stated that the camera doesn’t pass a video feed through to the host PC, merely the raw data captured. The reason, in his words:
Why we’re so careful about saying it’s a front facing camera over a pass through camera is that we’re not sending the video signal through, we’re sending the data through and that allows us to do things like the edge detection and some other features on there. One of the things you have to make sure is that as you’re sending that data back you’re not adding any latency, there’s no weird motion.
It’s arguable whether the HTC Vive, with its heavy focus on standing and room-scale virtual reality, could have lived without the feature and judging by previous design iterations it was always Valve and HTC’s intentions to include one. By contrast, Oculus’ Rift consumer edition VR headset ships in late March, sans integrated camera, a reflection of the company’s focus on a seated VR experience.