HTC’s new mobile VR headset dubbed ‘Link’—which curiously does not fall under the company’s Vive brand—is also not making use of the same tracking systems employed by the Vive headsets. Instead the company has teamed up with Ximmerse, makers of the Neon tracking system.

While HTC’s Vive PC headset uses the outside-in SteamVR Tracking system (AKA Lighthouse), and the forthcoming Vive standalone Daydream headset will use Google’s inside-out WorldSense tracking, the new Link headset due to launch from HTC in Japan will use the outside-in ‘Neon’ tracking system, maker Ximmerse has confirmed to Road to VR.

HTC Link headset with controllers and sensor | Photo courtesy HTC

The Neon system uses visible-light optical tracking markers on the headset and on each controller which are seen as glowing orbs; the orbs are detected by a small external stereo camera. The tracking solution as a whole is quite similar to that of PlayStation VR.

Photo courtesy Ximmerse

It’s a bit odd perhaps to pair an outside-in system with a mobile VR headset, since it requires an external sensor (which necessarily localizes an otherwise untethered VR headset), but it’s a low cost solution and an alternative to inside-out tracking which has only been robustly achieved by a handful of companies to date.

Ximmerse Neon Tracking Specs

Photo courtesy Ximmerse

Ximmerse says their single-camera solution creates an eight by eight foot tracking space (which is necessarily front-facing due to the system’s need for line-of-sight). Although it’s an outside-in solution, it has one huge advantage: controllers. To date we haven’t seen a robust solution for controllers used with an inside-out tracking system.

Although headsets like Gear VR and Daydream View—which only offer rotational tracking—have controllers, they are basic rotation-only devices that work best for gesture-based input rather than true motion input.

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Neon, on the other hand, offers positional (AKA 6DOF) tracking for both the headset and the controllers. Positionally-tracked controllers are far more compelling for VR input because of their ability to be tracked through 3D space, opening the door to more complex VR gameplay.

Ximmerse says the Neon controllers last 40 hours with two AAA batteries.

Photo courtesy Ximmerse

Ximmerse says the foundation of the Neon tracking system, the stereo camera, has a 960p resolution and operates at 90Hz. The company claims precision (jitter) of 2mm and accuracy (location relative to actual position) of 10mm. Latency is claimed at 16-17ms.

As you would imagine, the controllers have their own sensors on board—the usual trio of magnetometer, accelerometer, and gyroscope—which have are sure to have a much higher update rate, but rely on the camera’s 90Hz tracking data for drift correction.

All components of the Neon tracking system connect together via 2.4GHz wireless to get the necessary information to the phone for the tracking and input data to be processed.

Brief Prototype Hands-on

We’ve actually gone hands-on with a prototype version of the Neon tracking system, back at CES 2017 in January. Though I only spent 10 minutes or so with it, I was impressed with the quality of tracking.

Photo by Road to VR

Attached to a DeePoon headset, I played a Fruit Ninja-like game where I used the two controllers to chop fruit as it popped up in front of me. The system offered latency and accuracy that felt at least as good as that of PlayStation VR. And while PSVR has the lowest quality tracking of the three big tethered headsets, it’s good enough to have not prevented the PSVR from becoming the best selling of those three headsets so far—which goes to show that ‘not perfect but good enough’ tracking can be quite potent.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Joan Villora Jofré

    It’s for Daydream, right?

  • Graham J ⭐️

    I thought this was obvious when we first saw it, but I guess it’s good to have it confirmed by the company. Let the inside-out vs. outside-in mobile wars begin.

    • Lucidfeuer

      It shouldn’t even be a war. The solution that makes sense is already obvious and this “war” (which is not a war but just incredibly unperceptive conceptual approaches that will fail) is only belating the adoption and development of the best solution…

      • Agreed, It is not a war, it is producing products to fit the different markets.

        This process is the same with every other hardware product out there. No manufacturer wants to create something amazing (Lighthouse tech) and market it for the lowest end of the product range purely for the good of the industry.

        Hi-end will always give the best experience at that moment and it never becomes mass adoption while it stays at the high end but it does drop down to middle and low tier headsets eventually as newer better innovations slot in at the top. It is a process in a never ending cycle and mass adoption happens naturally as long as the top end keeps innovating.

        • Graham J ⭐️

          It’s a figure of speech :)

          Different companies are doing different things and they will all be vying to be seen as having the superior technology. Similarly consumers will ally with certain of those products and advocate for them. Call it what you want but this always happens with new tech as technologies shake out.

        • Lucidfeuer

          But they’re goal, is and always should be to fucking sell their thing, right? Well, doesn’t see so, THEY WON’T sell shit of this device. That’s what crazy. Now the other all-in-one headset they have, I’m not a fan and think that’s stupid, or too expensive to justify it’s only beneficial use which VR event/branding, but it will sell a bit. But this…why wouldn’t any significant portion of people want to buy this even though that should be their sole purpose.

      • Graham J ⭐️

        hehe well the thing about wars is that each side invariably believes theirs is the only one that makes sense. That’s why there are wars.

        I assume you’re referring to inside-out. I agree that’s probably the tech that will win out in the end but right now there are a number of limitations that make it less suitable than outside-in.

        There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to 6DOF tracking right now. Tethered, inside mobile, AR etc. all have their own requirements and restrictions and it’s going to be a while before they all converge.

        • Lucidfeuer

          “hehe well the thing about wars is that each side invariably believes theirs is the only one that makes sense. That’s why there are wars.”

          True. But in a war, strategies that make sense are, in this case, military technological components and armadas versus other of equivalent chances in the strategy.

          Here, it’s like seing a company trying to get a working weapon ready while the other is busy trying getting it’s military cantina food a better taste. Actually that would be more sane than any outside-in solution.

          But the problem you’re mentioning is what might kill VR: there’s no Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Matias Duarte of VR, therefor we don’t even have a real product like we have real usable smartphone, tablets, electric cars, solar tiles, mobile interfaces etc…technology should have converge a long-time ago because when you know what you do, you don’t try thing that goes against the sense of it, like outside-in tracking.

  • towblerone

    I love all these hardware iterations happening so quickly. VR HMDs seemingly have the lifecycle of a xenomorph: so damn fast.

  • Vae

    Mobile VR, now with Rug-scale!

  • Whos gonna use this and who they expect to use this?

    • Businesses. Wanting to get on the VR band wagon to appear cutting edge. I have lots of colleagues in industry who tell me their clients are asking for cheap portable mobile VR solutions for business software e.g. property demos, VR maintenance repair manuals for engineers, training simulations etc. Cheap, simple and just about good enough seems to be a primary goal. I have to include a mobile solution in every VR quote I do these days :/

    • Brent

      people who dont want to spend too much on vr!! normal people!

      • This thing is as expensive as the Vive/Rift. Folks already consider that too much even w/o the PC.

  • Sounds exciting, I look forward to hearing pricing and release dates.

  • Kasper Halkjær
  • Nice