As if announcing three new Cosmos headsets wasn’t enough, HTC today also revealed Vive Proton. The company is calling this a “prototype” headset with two different flavors: a standalone VR headset and a ‘VR viewer’ which would be powered by a tethered device like a smartphone.

HTC offered up its first glimpse of Vive Proton today, a new VR headset from the company which aims for a more compact form factor. Few details are being offered at this time and the company is making clear that Proton is still in an early state.

“Project Proton is a prototype of a future a XR glasses-style device from HTC Vive that we hope to hear feedback on from the community as we continue to work on the product,” an HTC spokesperson told Road to VR.

HTC envisions two versions of Proton, a standalone headset which includes its own processing and battery power, and smaller ‘VR viewer’ version which would be powered by a host device like a smartphone or PC.

Image courtesy HTC

Last year the company teased that its Cosmos headset would eventually be able to tether to smartphones, but with no news on that feature with today’s Cosmos announcements, it seems like it has shifted that concept to Proton instead.

Image courtesy HTC

HTC isn’t offering up any specs or release date details for Proton. From photos provided by the company we can spot cameras hidden under the reflective outer shell which would very likely be used for inside-out tracking and possibly hand-tracking. Granted, only computer renderings have been shown so far and it isn’t clear if there’s an actual working prototype just yet.

Though HTC says Proton is a “glasses-style” device, it’s still much closer in size to goggles than glasses. That said, it definitely looks more compact than contemporary VR headsets, including the company’s own Vive Cosmos. This is likely achieved with ‘pancake’-style optics—similar to what we saw from the compact Pico VR Glasses prototype at CES—which can shorten the distance between the lenses and the display (though potentially at the cost of some field of view).

Speaking of the Pico VR Glasses: we were impressed with the form-factor, but felt that 3DOF tracking simply isn’t going to cut it in 2020. HTC has confirmed to Road to VR that Proton will support 6DOF tracking, so that’s definitely a step in the right direction for this compact form-factor.

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It isn’t clear at this stage when HTC will commit to bringing Vive Proton to market or at what price point, though the company’s prior standalone VR headset, Vive Focus, starts at $600. Ostensibly the tethered version of the headset would be cheaper than the standalone version (thanks to lack on-board power and compute).

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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."
  • PJ

    I wonder how long it will be until the inevitable happens, Windows VR gaming headsets? PC components are getting small, laptops are getting thinner, and the CPU graphic chipsets while still not great, are getting better.

    • aasdfa

      this but also cloud computing and making headsets just dummy terminals but they now have the power of a super computer if your internet allows it.

      • kontis

        End-user device acting only as a terminal is even more dystopian future than all computing behind walled gardens like iOS.

        As long as these walled-garden devices are additional toys (consoles) or gadgets (mobiles) it’s okay – they are very nice to use. But once it’s the main computing platform for everything (VR!) it’s game over.

        The irony here is that Oculus prototypes were only possible thanks to openness of Windows PC. All the best innovative stuff that happens in computing and to a large extent also in gaming is thanks to computational openness.

      • PJ

        Oh this will happen, the other guys replay is completely reasonable as to why it ‘may’ not happen.

        But cloud based VR? That’s a cert

    • kontis

      Never because ARM is a significantly superior architecture for thermal and power limited envelope than x86.

      This is why Intel gave up on Atom. This is why Microsoft Hololens – which will be as open as Windows PC – also switched to ARM.

      Porting X86 games to ARM is a non-issue. It’s almost automatic for UE4 and Unity games, as long as you don’t use some 3rd party low-level libraries.

      The main hurdle in porting is the performance, not architecture. So a x86 mobile-PC-VR headset would still require the same effort that is needed currently to run PC VR game natively on the Quest. It changes nothing.

      I see only 2 benefits of your idea:

      1. compatibility with large PC content library – not that valuable considering it’s mostly old VR design, the more popular games are ported. Those that can’t are limited by performance, not architecture

      2. Openness instead of a walled garden – this is huge, but it’s not fault of ARM’s architecture. FB could make Quest as open as Windows PC. They decided not to. It’s obvious why. They would do the same with PC architecture.

      Tl;DR – ARM based Windows HMDs? Yes. X86 stand-alone headsets – nope.

      • Greyl

        The tech inside Alienware UFO is powered by an x86 Intel 10th generation chip, and the graphics/specs are better than what’s currently available on ARM.

        • Monkey

          He never mentioned anything about graphics or specs.

          He said:
          “because ARM is a significantly superior architecture for thermal and power limited envelope than x86.”

          Personally, if I’m wearing something on my face I’d prefer slightly lower specs if the thing doesn’t melt my face off then run out of power.

          • Greyl

            Heat, fans, etc, will depend on the game/ manufacturer restrictions. The Quest/ Switch/ Shield TV are all ARM based and have internal fans as well, so heat is an issue even for ARM chips.

            That said, I don’t think many people would want a mobile PCVR headset, and instead just want a PCVR headset that’s wireless. Also, I don’t think many developers would optimise their PCVR games specifically for it. They might, if it was made by Valve/ Oculus or another big company.

  • 3872Orcs

    I hope the standalone version uses the Snapdragon XR2 chipset. More renders and what is claimed by HTC to be a real life version here:

    I really like the looks of them! But it’s clearly a moonshot of an idea. We’ll not see it anytime soon.

  • Lucidfeuer

    Yes the design is nice, and? It’s 2020, what does HTC hope to achieve unless they have competitive specs, functionalities or innovation to announce?

    • Mei Ling

      HTC are in a bit of pickle at the moment. They don’t have a lot of money, or resources to invest in R&D for the longer term to help themselves standout from the competition, and they have to constantly appease the shareholders who are always impatient for their dividends.

      So they don’t have time or the money to do anything drastic to really turn themselves around, and I don’t believe that this concept device will help them any better than it did with the HTC Cosmos.

      Expect severe disappointment with the HTC Vive Proton.

      • Onyx Blue

        Expect severe and dirty FUD ( Fear, uncertainty & Doubt) Tactics like above by employees and interested parties engaged in competing companies.

        VIVE is the most successful VR company in the world! – and has done more for this industry than any other company out there. Project Proton has been in the works- and when market timing is right- will blow people away!

        • Monkey

          Personally you sound more like a HTC employee than he sounds like one from a rival.

          HTC don;t seem to have been having a great time of it financially for a while, even though the last time I looked it had been picking up, so hopefully they will be OK.

          Yes, the VIVE ‘was’ great at the time (and in some ways still is), but since then they released the Cosmos which… to be far has some real issues and most places you look you will find people saying to avoid it. That’s not great for HTC’s reputation in this space.

          I judge a company based more on their current output rather than what they have done in the past. Unfortunately, that means I’m not expecting too much from the Proton.
          I really hope I’m wrong though, as I used to really like HTC.

        • brandon9271

          “VIVE is the most successful VR company in the world!” You mean HTC? ;) But what did they do with the Vive other than sell Valve’s design? I mean, where would HTC be without Valve’s help? Not selling VR, that’s where

          • GordoSan

            They really went south quickly, post Valve. It really shows where the talent was, IMO. They will probably pick back up at some point, but are they seriously trying to push out those old Vive wands again in one of those new models? That’s their answer to fixing the bad Cosmos tracking? Old Vive controller hardware and base stations? This is the higher end model? Maybe in a couple years they will figure it out or something. Not soon though.

          • Rogue Transfer

            Actually, HTC split their VR technology into a subsidiary company: HTC Vive Tech Corporation, registered separately from the company HTC. So, it’s fair to say Vive company, as a shortened form of HTC Vive Tech Corporation, to distinguish between HTC and HTC Vive Tech(although co-managed by the same people).

  • pedrw

    Very nice!

  • pedrw

    I hope you have a wide field of view

  • Andrew Jakobs

    For VR, glasses aren’t a good formfactor, as they tend to fly off you nose if you move your head to fast. They need to have a strap at the back to make sure the goggles stay ‘glued’ to your face. I had some VR glasses in the past, but even though they were much lighter than the Vive Pro (MUCH lighter), they didn’t sit as nicely as the Pro (and I gather other halo designs with tightner) which IMHO sits very comfortably (I like the tight fit)..

    • Hivemind9000

      These look like they wrap partially around the back of your head (when in tethered mode) or completely for standalone. If the headset is light enough (with a good facial fit) and the spring force of the arms are strong enough, then it just might work…

      • silvaring

        One or two extra bucks for a wheel style wraparound strap seems like a no brainer though for these kind of headsets. It doesn’t inspire confidence right now between Huawei glass, Pico and the Cosmos.

        • Hivemind9000

          Why though? We don’t have wrap around straps for our normal glasses/sunglasses. Eventually these headsets should be light enough for decently engineered arms to hold them in place. Maybe this isn’t going to be light enough but it will be interesting to see.

          • Immersive Computing

            All of my sunglasses (Oakley) both for casual and sports are extremely light and use a patented material on the nose bridge and arms which adheres to the skin, gaining adhesion as you warm up.

            I once made the mistake of buying a pair without this material and they constantly moved requiring adjustment, very irritating.

            The increased weight of XR goggles without a similar material technology for skin contact (or head retention) will probably cause instability of fit when moving around.

  • Nikos Tsarmpopoulos

    My experience from HTC’s tech support was horrific and I wouldn’t buy any HTC product again.

  • Anfronie

    I agree with the 6DOF. Even viewers should have it. That should be a standard for any headset coming out now.

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    • quadrplax

      I disagree. If you’re trying to design a compact, lightweight headset for things like virtual movie theaters, 6DOF would add back unnecssary bulk and cost.

      • Anfronie

        Ok enjoy your Oculus Go experience then! lol no just no.

  • NooYawker

    Form factor should be last on the list at this point in VR development.

  • VirtualSelf

    For our customer target market focused on specific use cases using VR (millions within that customer base), the Proton VR Viewer (or candidates from competitors) connecting to a smartphone (teathered vs Gear VR style), having 6DOF headset and controller, inside-out tracking, and accurate hand-tracking, would be a godsend. That’s of course if it was as good or better than the Quest, and less expensive being that it is a viewer.

    This article identifies the two Proton versions as VR headsets, although to me it appears the front of both versions are glass-like.Is that a style decision or is there more to it?

    According to the Ars TECHNICA article (thanks to 3872Orcs for the link), the Proton illustrated “is built around HTC’s belief that “immersive” headset experiences will, for the foreseeable future, be a blend of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. As a result, the Proton is built around this concept of being able to see your real-life environs, with a certain level of 3D content superimposed on top, depending on what a given game or app demands.”

    I may have missed it, but is there any indication somewhere that the Proton can be used strictly for VR?

  • lnpilot

    Resolution? The most important info is missing from the article. It’s like writing about a new sports car without horsepower and 0-60 time.

    • dk

      most likely the same as the compact pico headset 1600×1600 per eye and slightly smaller fov than other desktop headsets

  • Adderstone VR

    Repeat of 2019? Show mythical product in quarter 1 – release half baked POS 8months later

  • mfx

    The design looks great and the standalone is really close to what should be the Oculus Quest 2. However their is nothing good to expect on the software part from HTC so we will all pass in the end.
    This could be a nice potential product if an “OpenVROS” With its store existed that could be shared by different brands like Android does but that’s not the case…

  • It seems cool, but it’s just a concept render, so I’ll wait until it will be more concrete

  • jihyun jung

    The price doesn’t need to be cheaper.
    We already have paid a lot of money to buy a mobilephone.
    All HTC have to do is make a headset like a mobilephone.