The Vive accessory market is about to get a huge boost thanks to the newly announced HTC Vive Tracker. Gaming, training, and more benefit from the enhanced immersion that comes from wielding “real” tools, weapons, and instruments.

Today I was a sniper, a firefighter, and a professional baseball player, all thanks to VR. I’ve actually done all of those things in VR before, but this time I actually held a real (mock) gun, a high-pressure hose-nozzle, and a regulation baseball bat, and the immersion was far greater than just pretending a controller was any of those things.

While motion controllers are great for in-home use and cover a wide range of general VR uses cases, there’s always going to be niche experiences that benefit from having the genuine article in your hands. For the most part, pistols are fine with a generic motion controller, but if you want to do virtual long range shooting, you’re going to want a proper rifle-shaped device so that you can hold it in the right position, look down the scope, and keep the stock to your shoulder.

Thankfully, HTC’s new Vive Tracker is about to make specialized VR accessories way easier to use for both consumers and out-of-home VR businesses. The self-contained device is tracked by the same system as the Vive headset and controllers, and can be easily attached to everyday objects or custom-built VR accessories. With an integrated battery and its own wireless connection to the host computer, the device not only tracks objects, but can also send information like button presses and trigger pulls to the computer. With all tracking and input unified into the same system that VR devs already know how to build for makes things easier all around.

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As a testament to the Vive Tracker’s breadth of uses, HTC today showed off the device with integrations across a huge range of different use-cases thanks to accessories from a number of partners. Everything from gloves to guns to bats, and even a “real” virtual camera were demonstrated.

Among a number of experiences which used the Vive Tracker with specialized accessories, here’s what it was like to be a sniper, a baseball player, and a fireman in VR.

VRsenal VR-15 and ‘The Nest’ – Sniper

vive-tracker-and-accessories-15VRsenal had their VR-15 gun controller and haptic backpack running with The Nest, a sniping game for the Vive. The VR-15 had formerly housed an entire HTC Vive controller, but has newly integrated the Vive Tracker into the gun. The rifle, which is built for out-of-home VR systems, is appropriately heavy and robust, and includes a trigger along with two joysticks on either side of the foregrip for interacting with the game (in The Nest, this was used to toggle zoom power).

This version of The Nest had an integrated 3D model of the VR-15 that was identical to the controller in my hands. Sniping enemies at a distance from the vantage point of a small, high window was a blast thanks to the realistic weapon, which allowed me to tilt my head down to get an angle on the gun’s virtual scope.

Unlike trying to use a two-handed weapon like a rifle with two disconnected VR controllers, it was easy to use my forehand for subtle adjustments before firing, and the weight of the gun meant I didn’t get that annoying shaking that can easily be seen in VR when a large virtual object is connected to a much smaller real object (like the Vive controller). When I finally squeezed the trigger, the haptic backpack I was wearing gave me a very satisfying rumble that added to the immersion.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. As someone who owns both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, I honestly thought about selling the Vive after a few days with the Oculus Touch controllers, thinking Vive had permanently lost its advantage. However, this is a smart business move, albeit they stole the Oculus integrated headphone design, but this does solve the annoying issue of wearing third-party headphones on top of the Vive headset. Good job HTC… I’ll keep my Vive.

    • I think you’re on the wrong article – there’s another one about the new strap with headphones!

      But yeah, the new strap, wireless kit and nicer hand controllers are likely to be must haves I think.

      • Resolution is about the same for both, but this also depends on the game or experience. For instance, one game might be crystal clear whereas another is the opposite. However, the Oculus does have an issue with God rays, but once again, this depends on the game or experience.

        The Oculus is far more comfortable, and the built-in earphones is a huge advantage over the Vive. However, this might change with the forthcoming Vive head harness. The Oculus interface (the portion covering one’s eyes) isn’t as adjustable as the Vive. For example, the Vive allows the user to change the distance of the headset from one’s eyes (inward/outward) and the [convergent/divergent] distance between the interior OLED panels. The Oculus doesn’t provide as much space for people who wear eyeglasses, especially individuals with wide and/or rounded faces.

        The Vive has better tracking system for two reasons: (1) full room-scale with only two sensors, and (2) the sensors are wireless. The Oculus requires at least three sensors for full room-scale. That said, the headset and touch controllers provide an included two sensors, and so a third is an additional purchases ($79). However, the Oculus tracking system is easier to setup and more intuitive than the Vive.

        The Oculus touch controllers are far superior to the Vive wands. They’re more comfortable and natural feeling. The touch controllers also have changeable batteries (AA), whereas the Vive controllers have built-in batteries that charge via USB. The Vive controllers eventually begin to lose charging capacity after a few months and/or consistent usage. The touch controllers have a battery life of about a week with normal usage, whereas the Vive wands have about a four to five-hour battery life per charge. In addition, let’s say a person either damages or loses one or both of their controllers, the Oculus touch controllers are $199 (a pair with an included sensor) whereas the Vive wands are $129 each.

        The Vive has more content, but the overall quality isn’t very good. There are good games/experiences available for the Vive via Steam, but it’s sometimes difficult to find the good stuff in the midst of all the trash/gimmicky software posted by indie developers. Oculus has far less titles in the Oculus store, but the overall quality is better than Steam at present. Nevertheless, Steam supports Oculus and so this doesn’t have as big an impact compared to the Vive, which doesn’t have access to the Oculus Store.

        • i have the vive. i was just curious about your assessment since you said you were willing to sell your vive. So you give the rift the tracking edge in durability, future proofing, tracking volume, accuracy, COST etc? This is because it is easier to set up? Id argue with you on a couple of points but i dont want to bait you in and then pount ;). I think you have made some good points overall. I’m still very turned off to the rift, and barring any blockbuster experiences that must be had, I’ll stick with my vive gen 1. thanks for the insight.

        • I find the Oculus lenses to be superior to the Vive lenses in clarity and a much larger sweet spot. This is a big deal for me because poor quality lenses are just infuriating on the Vive.

          However, in my (admittedly limited) testing, the tracking fidelity of the Rift was far, far below that of the Vive. When I bent down to pick stuff up in the 80’s robot demo with the Rift, I lost tracking every time. When I turned around, my head tracking would sometimes swim and my touch controller tracking very often got lost. When I faced straight ahead sometimes the hand controller tracking was lost at the periphery or if I moved one hand controller in front of the other.

          In short, the Rift lenses are better; but I don’t care what anyone says, the Vive tracking is far, far superior.

    • Permanently lost its advantage? Have you seen the new SteamVR controllers that were revealed a few months ago? They can do everything that the touch can (and more) + the lighthouse’s superior tracking.

      But these tracking pucks, do you really see yourself using them in a home VR setup? I’m thinking they’ll mainly be useful for arcades.

      • ashamed to admit that games like `punch bomb` and `the thrill of the fight` have made it neccessary for me to stick sheets of plastic sponge on my wall- when i can work out how to stick one of these trackers on a golf club i guess i`ll have to do the ceiling too…

  2. It looks like this tracker will mainly be useful for arcades where custom, single-use peripherals are viable. At home, people could use it to track their racing wheel, HOTAS, keyboard, chair, mixed reality setup, etc etc. Maybe some guitar hero types of experiences too, but I don’t really see it being a big hit anywhere but in arcades (especially since it’s likely to be very expensive)

    So a few uses but not much of a draw for home VR setups. Clearly not useful for body tracking either. (try laying down with one or two of these on your feet/knees/waist)

    • “Clearly not useful for body tracking either.”

      Is your only reason for thinking this the lying down concern? You could always put it on the outside of your ankles or knees and then be able to lay down just fine. These will also absolutely be used as (relatively) low-cost mo-cap systems for indie filmakers. (Especially considering how far we’ve come with inverse kinematics using only hands and head tracking. Once we have lower body tracking it will be completely natural looking to the average viewer).

      I don’t think it will be any more expensive than the controllers we have now, which people have been willing to pay for. Further down the line I could imagine HTC ultimately bundling a couple of these along with existing Vive kits as well. They’re imminently useful.

      • I do a lot of motion capture in my work and as I think how this would be used in that, my main concern is that you would need a bunch of these. Most rudimentary body tracking requires hips, 1-2 spine joints, head, upper arms, forearms, wrists, thighs, shins and ankles. So that’s 15 pieces. Now add the fact that they are pretty big and cumbersome, probably wouldn’t stay in place very well (they need to stay exactly where they were when you started or you need to calibrate again), and remember that this would be the bare minimum set… So you see, anyone doing motion capture would ask why not just use present mocap methods. OR why not have HTC make a special suit that’s specially made for body tracking, now that I WOULD buy!

      • Put a few hours into the multiplayer VR game “Onward” and I think you’ll see why any obstruction to movement is going to get promptly removed from the body. The game uses the full range of bodily motion–the outsides of my knees and ankles come in contact with the floor every time I play. I think that the most immersive future games are going to use this kind of movement system too. Just being conscious of the cable is enough of an immersion breaker. If one has to further limit their range of movements to accommodate this peripheral I just don’t think it’s going to get used in this context.

        There will hopefully be better solutions to this, such as lighthouse tracked belts, socks (or some sort of footwear), knee/elbow pads, etc etc. Fingers crossed for such an announcement at this CES…

        • But… you could just strap this on a belt or on the top of a shoe?

          It is actually also being used in conjunction with another finger tracking tech on the glove seen on page 16 here:

          https://issuu.com/htcvive/docs/vive_ces_guide_v7_za_0104_singlepag

          As to actually putting the individual IR sensors directly on the clothes (instead of on an attached puck), can’t find the quote at the moment but according to Alan Yates (one of the lead engineers on the tech) lighthouse isn’t really equipped to handle non-rigid objects like that by itself. Until some better tracking solution comes out I don’t think we’ll get better than point tracking and clever use of kinematics for things that are bendy/flexible (unless some other tech is also built in, like in the case of Noitom’s gloves).

          • I still think that if you strap one to your belt (front and back or left and right) it’s going to obstruct your movement. Strap one to the top of your shoe and it’s going to be clacking against the floor every time you kneel or lay face down. I just don’t think it has a low enough profile. You can consciously limit your range of movements to avoid these scenarios, but from my own experience I think people will prefer freedom of movement.

            This is simply my opinion based on my own experience with VR, but you may play different games and/or play them differently. I know I am constantly all over the floor (when you’re e.g. crouched down behind a sandbag and taking fire from the hill above you, you have to be) and any such protrusion is going to get in my way.

            I remember hearing about the rigid sensor array limitation so that will definitely be a challenge. The size of the sensor seems to be necessary in order to achieve good tracking, but maybe an array of smaller rigid arrays whose results are averaged would be sufficient for waist tracking? I don’t really know. The puck may be the best option people have for a while but I just see it being more of a hindrance in the games I play. Once the reviews/impressions start coming out I would be happy to hear otherwise though.

      • Body tracking (if anyone needs it except for Hollywood and crazy gamers) is done in the industry with high-speed optical cameras and small retroflective markers attached to different parts of a body
        -, NOT with some smart and $$$ tags computing(!!!) and reporting(!!!) their positions via very low-latency RF links (and of which you would need a million…)
        This is no go for multiple points to track

        Oculus wins here hands down in the longer term (but they are still DOA)

  3. I could see a real use with this for pistols and rifles since they are so absurdly common in games… a prop that could be broken down from a rifle to a pistol with this would be handy.

  4. What’s NEW here ?

    It’s same good old Lighthouse tracking system, just the tracked tags (not TRACKERS – those don’t track anything by themselves without 2 Lighthouse basestations) are new and smaller (quite a technical feat btw because they had to pack all the real-time fpga processing including rf inside with battery etc)

    BUT… this is DOA :):):)

    • The pucks have a USB connection and 6-pin connection, either one of which an attached accessory can use to communicate things like button presses, haptic feedback, etc custom to the accessory. So the pucks allow 3rd parties to build new more immersive accessories while offloading all the expensive tracking, wireless connectivity, etc into the puck that can be detached and attached to a different accessory.

      Imagine the puck like an interchangeable controller. You have 1 puck that probably costs almost what a Vive wand costs. And a handful of accessories that are each more immersive in VR than either the Vive wands or Oculus Touch for a set purpose. But you only had to pay for that full controller hardware (lighthouse tracking, wireless, etc…) once instead of paying that for each one of those controllers.

      • I didn’t say it’s useless

        btw wireless BT connectivity is dirt cheap and easy to embed, it’s when you are hitting latency issues it becomes tricky
        So from this perspective (crazy gamers playing intense high-speed games in VR with rifles etc those pads are quite useful, in addition to position tracking of course)

        For the rest of us – DOA like I said

        • Bluetooth is dirt-cheap. Going through Valve’s licensing process and Lighthouse training, finding the optimum placement of sensors on your accessory, purchasing bulk ilghthouse sensors and integrating it into your manufacturing process is not. Higher R&D costs means the end product needs to be priced higher to recoup those costs. The pucks will definitely save R&D costs. Ditching BT hardware, having access to the Vive’s faster than bluetooth wireless connection, and having a pre-existing method to communicate with the software drivers is just a bonus.

  5. The Vive Tracker sure fits the awkward look of the HMD. I’m guessing the design is to match the same sensor locations of a controller, but this needs to fit in something more like a ring or hockey puck shape or at least halve the size. This is going to get caught on stuff or jabbed into body parts. I think it will be a game changer to make it easy for anybody to make peripherals, and will work in the mean time, but I’m hoping they or someone is working on a better design.

    • I doubt it. The reason for the size of the controller ring and thus the puck as well is because you need distance between sensors to get accurate distance from the Lighthouse. If you go much smaller tracking is going to be notably inferior to the controller. Likewise the little flaps are to avoid occlusion issues and make sure enough sensors are visible to get distance and orientation.

  6. Maybe I’m missing something but why would you buy one of these? You can just as easily attach a regular vive controller you already have to the thing you wanna track.
    To have any extra advantage (e.g. to also track your feet or something in a game), the game itself would also need to include support for additional trackers, and no games currently do.

    • – The trackers have a standard tripod style screw hole on them; this makes attachment much easier than a wand
      – The USB connection allows custom controller interactions to be passed to the computer beyond what the wand’s standard controls allow (and the 6-pin connector allows triggering standard controller presses without some mechanical hack)
      – SteamVR/OpenVR *does* already support multiple trackers and there are a set of standard controls that drivers can use so most games will support the controller implicitly.

      And now that accessories have been announced games will start being tweaked to support them.

      Think of it this way. If you’re doing mixed reality recording, it’s easier to buy and attach a puck; than to buy a 3rd wand, buy a Steam Controller Dongle, flash the dongle with the right firmware, and find a way to attach the controller that doesn’t have any mount point.

      And if you’re not doing mixed reality the question is not ‘why would I buy a tracker?’ it’s ‘why would I buy one of these accessories that uses the tracker?’, the moment one of the accessories using the tracker is supported in a game you play and makes it more immersive, that is the moment you implicitly have a reason to own a tracker.

      • >> so most games will support the controller implicitly.

        Not at all., Just because SteamVR provides the API to games to support multiple trackers doesn’t even come close to meaning the game will.

  7. the scope on this gun model is nice but I think its bad choice, sure it looks more realistic in reality but with headset its going to be problem. Look how the guys on photo looks it, far in front of his elbow. With weapon you want to have it seated at your chest/elbow but given the big thickness of front of the headset you end up holding it like shown.
    Headset thickness of the display area isn’t big deal normally but it happen to me numerous times when I was trying to move some objects close or around my head I just hit headset with controllers, especially with bow shooting.
    So imho there should be no scope, or it should be moved by ~15cm further away then it would be on real weapon.