HTC has finally taken the wraps off of the second development kit of the Vive VR headset, they’re calling it the ‘Vive Pre’, and the new unit is being shown off here at CES 2016.

The Vive Pre largely seems like a industrial design overhaul compared to the original development kit, with the “breakthrough” the company previously spoke of being a pass-through camera which allows the outside world to be visible when users walk to the edge of the tracked space. While the company says the the Vive Pre includes an “improved visual system with brighter displays and image refinements [which lead] to increased clarity,” the resolution remains the same 2160×1200 so far as we know.

The Vive Pre is notably smaller than the first Vive development kit, which, while impressively functional, lacked in comfort compared to the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. The Vive Pre is not only more compact, but it’s also sleeker. Although it retains the pock-marked craters, the photodiodes at the base of each (which detect the tracking system), have been covered over, giving a more polished look.

The controllers have also seen design improvements, moving from the rather large and bulky original Vive controllers to something smaller and sleeker. As with the headset, the Vive Pre controllers have seen their tracking elements smoothed over, now looking less like a proof of concept and more like a finished product. Taking place of the removable batteries, the new controller charges via MicroUSB to an internal battery which HTC says will last for 4 hours.

oculus rift cv1 front-face camera webcam (1)
An Oculus Rift concept leak from last year similarly showed a front-facing camera on the device, though it seems to have been removed for the first version of the headset.

While the original Vive development kit had placeholder slots for two front-facing cameras, it seems they were never actually functional. The Vive Pre now has one large front-facing lens which allows the user to conveniently ‘see through’ the headset when necessary (perhaps for taking a seat, picking up controllers, etc.). Approaching the edges of the tracked space—which was formerly indicated with a virtual grid appearing in front of you—now actually blends the view from this camera into the virtual space.

According to The Verge, HTC says that this camera can map 3D space around the user, and developers will be able to access this data and use it within their virtual reality experiences. Details are scant on the technical capabilities of the camera, but we expect to learn more here at CES 2016 as we have several opportunities to go hands-on with the unit.

leap-motion-vr-mount-oculus-rift-dk2
See Also: Phase Between the Real and Virtual World With Leap Motion and a Swipe of Your Hand

The camera and its pass-through capabilities is the “…very, very big technological breakthrough” which HTC had pointed to as a the cause for a substantial delay of the headset announced in December. But given that the original Vive dev kit already had placeholder cameras on its front—and unless there’s still more to be revealed about the camera’s capabilities—we’re not quite sure which part of the camera or its functionality constitutes a “technological breakthrough,” let alone a “very, very big” one. That’s not to say that it isn’t a welcomed addition to the headset, but we’ve seen similar functionality from the Gear VR’s pass-through camera and integration with the Leap Motion, among other depth-sensing systems.

See Also: Consumer Vive Is “Gonna Look a Lot Different” – Modular Headphones, New Mounting System, and More

While the Vive Pre is an ergonomic improvement, the consumer version set to ship in April 2016 is expected to see even more substantial changes to the design including modular headphones and a ratcheted mounting system for a more comfortable fit.

  • Nord Doe

    Chaperone is the breakthrough, being able to see your joystick, racing wheel, mouse and keyboard and effectively use them in virtual reality. It is a very, very big deal.

    • RockstarRepublic

      Eh, it was kind of an obvious development that all HMDs will have, even if not used for AR.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Sorry but I never really saw that as a problem, and I certainly wouldn’t want to pay a hefty extra price for a frontmounted camera.. As I gather from the article, it isn’t like the leapmotion or something like that..

      • Nord Doe

        Chapreone will primarily make sure you don’t trip over furniture, pets or kids, hence the name. It cracks the case of roomscale VR. But to also be able to use for example your keyboard in Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen, that cracks yet another case.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          But why would I even want roomscale VR, I can’t go beyond the boundaries of my walls, so the VR rooms would be very small.. I’m more interested in those ‘VR-treadmills’ for walking.. If it’s something like the leapmotion (but a much more advanced version) then yeah I can dig it, but if it’s just an AR kind a camera then I don’t really need it, as you still would need to hit the vizor or a key to make the camera active..

          • Nord Doe

            There are some techniques for this boundary problem, like blink teleport. But this is all so very new. Perhaps in ten years we’ll look back and wonder what the crap they were thinking. I’m already sold on roomscale VR though. I wanna walk around my cars in Assetto Corsa.

          • Andrew Jakobs

            I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the room to be able to walk around my car (as to have a full experience you would need a room as large as at least the size of your car)..
            And blink teleport doesn’t solve anything, it will hinder the experience IMHO as you are not actually walking in the specified direction.. Only solution will be VR-treadmills..

          • Bob

            This is correct and your argument is valid. The ultimate goal in virtual reality is to be able to move infinitely in any direction and to translate your body without actually moving in physical space and without hitting boundaries. Current technology only allows the use of omni-directional treadmills to achieve this. The HTC Vive allows you to move freely within virtual space but it is severely limited and restricted to the size of your room and objects in the room. If true virtual reality is to be achieved an effective solution needs to be found to tackle this locomotion problem which unfortunately the HTC Vive is only capable of window dressing with workarounds such as the Blink system. The most promising method to navigate through virtual reality at the moment is the Infinadeck which is an active omni-directional treadmill and solves some of these problems but not all.

          • care package

            No only solution is a holodeck, or jacking into your brain matrix style.

          • user

            there can be multiple reasons why you would want a cam. first of all, good treadmills arent there yet. then maybe you wont be the only one in the same room who uses an hmd. vr doesnt mean you have to be physically separated from other users. and then ofc the movement in treadmills is also limited and for some apps 2×2 meters is better. think of 3d sculpting / painting.

    • benz145

      Definitely useful and beneficial. But calling it a “technological breakthrough” seems like a major stretch. As mentioned in the article:

      The camera and its pass-through capabilities is the “…very, very big technological breakthrough” which HTC had pointed to as a the cause for a substantial delay of the headset announced in December. But given that the original Vive dev kit already had placeholder cameras on its front—and unless there’s still more to be revealed about the camera’s capabilities—we’re not quite sure which part of the camera or its functionality constitutes a “technological breakthrough,” let alone a “very, very big” one. That’s not to say that it isn’t a welcomed addition to the headset, but we’ve seen similar functionality from the Gear VR’s pass-through camera and integration with the Leap Motion, among other depth-sensing systems.

      • RockstarRepublic

        Their PR/Marketing team might be under estimating the intelligence of their target audience.

        • user

          let’s assume the delay is caused by something else that is not announced yet (delay in content creation) or because something went wrong with factory capacities or whatnot. then it’s still better to give a subpar fake reason than telling the truth.

          • Rob Walker

            I agree entirely.

            I tried out the passthrough camera a couple of times on the Gear VR and never used it again.

            It seems their PR tòok the opportunity too far when they had to come up with an excuse to cover the real reason for a delay!

        • care package

          The world can be divided into two groups. The idiots that can’t see they’re idiots, and the idiots that can.

      • Nord Doe

        Yeah they really had expectations running wild there, talks of foveated rendering, wireless and what not. But I don’t think using something that was already known of is a valid reason to not call it a breakthrough. I’m sure great things will come of this.

    • Roy Rki

      Any outside interference ruins the experience, you need to see only what’s in the game to really immerse in it. But it’s good to have options, we don’t have all the same expectations and demands.

  • RockstarRepublic

    So this pisses me off a bit more. I cant believe that is the excuse they are using for the delay. Calling it a “breakthrough” is silly. Even the author of this article see’s that (pun intended). HTC is doing a great job at making them unlikable. Additionally, they count that as the “big reveal” for CES… look its the already revealed developer kit again…only we now say the camera is super breakthrough material. Still no word or reveal on what the actual consumer version will look like.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    So, that’s a let down in regard to “technological breakthrough” as I personally don’t care about a camera or it being able to scan the room..
    In that regard I still think the Forte VFX-1 from 1995 had the perfect helmet design, the headphones were awesome, and it had the very convenient flipup vizor…

  • JeanClaude

    This is bigger then people realize. The Vive advantage is the controllers that allow you to move around the room freely, while in VR. So this camera pass through is really important to make that safer and easier on people.

    • RockstarRepublic

      Its not “bigger than people realize”, its expected behavior for a front facing camera. You might be over thinking what this front facing camera is actually doing as well.

      Future HMDs (should have been current tbh) will have two cameras in order to gather and display depth and for use with AR.

      As for that controller comment… you can more around “the room” freely with any wireless input device. Not sure thats what you are trying to argue but it makes it seem like you dont know what is actually “special” about these devices.

      Keep in mind what HTC has done at CES is deliver empty hype. Don’t be fooled by it. Unless they actually deliver something concrete, its just an empty box they are tossing your way.

      • user

        intel’s r200 would have been nice but 3d scanning etc wont be necessary until the hmds go wireless.

      • JeanClaude

        My understanding is that the Valve input device uses absolute 3D positioning. That’s different to almost all other input devices. I feel like that’s the emphasis with the Vive. So experiences designed around moving in 3D space is encouraged. You can’t have that without a safe way not to hit obstacles in your room. So I get that adding a camera is simple and logical, but for the Vive, it’s absolutely a must. Anything that is a must have to me, would be a big deal that they added it.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          Yeah, but a camera can only see in front of you not behind you or beside you, and the space is very limited anyway..

      • JeanClaude

        Also, pretty sure I read the camera they added does depth sensing. Not sure if that’s simply through video processing, or if it has some kind of actual depth sensor like the motion leap.

      • care package

        No its insurance, so they can’t be sued by people tripping over sh…

    • user

      i agree that it can be a bigger deal when the cam can scan your environment well enough and you can put new textures on the things in your room or you can place virtual objects in your environment.

  • Manuel

    The thing with that camera probably is, that it is capable of 3D mapping your room, and that with just one sensor. How so? Because the camera can locate itself in the room through the laser system, the rest is computer vision. :)

    I agree that they should emphasize that way more than they are, but I see 3D recreation of my room as a breakthrough. Using that data in programs will need a whole new approach though.

  • baalrog

    At first glance I was annoyed by the announcement of this
    “breakthrough”, but reading into it I believe there’s more to it.

    HTC is saying that the camera can map 3d space around the user. I believe
    they’ll use the 4 spinning lighthouse to sweep the room, and the camera
    will occasionally catch one or more of these lasers. Since the headset
    knows where it is in 3d space compared to the lighthouses, it can use
    these glimpses of laser lines to start constructing actual 3d geometry of
    the play area. Furthermore it has color information from the camera as
    well and can add texturemaps from the video feed.

    This “breakthrough” could eventually mean building a virtual set out of your playspace, giving devs simulated “AR” within the VIVE’s VR headset.

    The “breakthough” could also simply mean using the lighthouse lasers to help with building 3d geometry in a slightly different way than other solutions.

  • bbmatt1

    Will it ship April? Well, there’s one party involved that are notorious for date slippage – Valve. Admittedly, when they DO eventually deliver, it’s usually a showstopper – so hey, if they delay it, lets just hope it’s because they want to get it perfect.