A new chip that Valve is recommending for use in future SteamVR headsets and accessories brings improved performance and significant power reduction compared to the first generation solution along with potential manufacturing savings.

htc-Vive-consumer-IPD-dial
Each divot has a Lighthouse sensor at its base

An essential component in the first generation HTC Vive is the cratered sensors that cover the headset and controllers. Each of these sensors consists of a photodiode and discrete circuit which detects and interprets pulses of light from the Lighthouse ‘basestations’. Elegant as the system is, there’s room for improvement in the sensor design; a new chip that Valve is recommending for use in future SteamVR tracked headsets and peripherals brings enhancements ranging from reduced costs to improved performance and power savings.

SteamVR System Diagram

That chip is the TS3633 integrated circuit from Triad Semiconductor, a US firm which specializes in creating custom analog and mixed signal integrated circuits. We learned recently that Valve worked with Triad to architect the chip, and that it sits next to the photodiode as an interpreter of the raw signals from the Lighthouse basestations. The TS3633 is now available for purchase from Triad, and we’re learning more about what improvements it brings to the table for future headsets using SteamVR Tracking.

Cost

While first-generation VR headsets are impressive, they’re still priced in the enthusiast realm with the Oculus Rift at $600 and the HTC Vive at $800. Like the smartphone, widespread adoption of VR headsets will come as the devices, and the components in them, mature and become less expensive and easier to manufacture.

SEE ALSO
Virtual Builds is Offering SteamVR Tracking Development Kits & Expertise
oculus rift cv1 unboxing (26)
See Also: Oculus Rift Components Cost Around $200, New Teardown Suggests

The first generation HTC Vive—the first (and so far, only) VR headset using SteamVR tracking—uses a discrete circuit sensor design consisting of 41 individual components. The TS3633 cuts that number down to 9, which means more streamlined manufacturing.

Triad’s VP of Marketing & Sales, Reid Wender, explained that the chip is cost-optimized for high volume manufacturing. For a complete system (including headset and controllers), which has around 80 sensors, the chip reduces component placements by 2,560 over the 41 component per-sensor design of the first-generation Vive. That brings savings in component placement and also opens the door to simplifying circuit board designs which can further reduce cost, says Wender.

An example circuit layout for a sensor using the TS3633
An example circuit layout for a sensor using the TS3633

Less components can also mean better reliability which can cut down further on tangential costs that go beyond the price of a device’s components alone.

“The more components in a system the more likely there will be a manufacturing yield problem or field reliability problem,” said Wender. “The circuit boards that these devices are implemented on are relatively expensive. Removing the 2,560 placements means that the final assembly will have a higher yield and require less expensive manual rework. And, fewer components means better reliability in the field and lower warranty costs.”

Performance

Photo courtesy Valve
See Also: Valve Opens Vive’s Tracking Tech to Third-parties for Free, Details Dev Kit for Licensees | Photo courtesy Valve

Wender explained that the Triad chip is more capable across a range of abilities that are important to the SteamVR Tracking technology, ultimately delivering improved tracking performance.

Image Courtesy Doc-OK.org
See Also: Analysis of Valve’s ‘Lighthouse’ Tracking System Reveals Accuracy

“The TS3633 excels on several technical characteristics such as detected pulse width versus distance, more sensitivity for longer range detection, better off angle detection, improved optical sync detection, improved start of sync detection, and improved centroid location,” he said. “All of these technical improvements equate to a more robust SteamVR Tracking experience with observably improved user experience.”

SEE ALSO
GameFace Starts Dev Kit Pre-orders for Standalone Headset with Tethered SteamVR Support, Powerful NVIDIA Chip

I had suspected that increasing the size of the sensor’s photodiode would be an obvious way to improve tracking performance and range, but Wender explained why this might not be the ideal approach with a useful analogy:

You can think of the system as radio system with a link budget. The basestations are the transmitters and the tracked objects are the receivers. Extending this analogy, the photodiode takes the place of the antenna that would be there in an RF system. The Triad TS3633 is the front end of the receiver that provides ‘lots of amplification, filtering and extracts the signal from the noise.’ So, instead of simply making the photodiode larger (slower, more expensive overall system) it may be a better-engineered system (lower jitter, higher performance, lower cost, smaller size) to have a somewhat smaller, faster photodiode and get more sensitivity & gain from the Light-to-Digital converter IC.

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  • Frank Taylor

    Is there a page 2 to this article? It gives an error.

    • Sorry @FrankTaylor4:disqus – try again, looks like we had a mysterious caching issue.

  • That’s a great news… it’s vital for VR widespread adoption that VR cost will be cut down a lot… so this discovery by Valve can give them a great advantage for next gen of Vive

  • MrGreen72

    One could hope gen 2 will bring us real inside out tracking instead…

    • Bryan Ischo

      Sure, that would be great. Of course the technical challenges there are huge when your goal is to reach the kind of tracking fidelity that is achievable by outside in tracking. In the meantime, I’m glad that we have improvements in cost and effectiveness for the proven solution.

    • Charles

      That’s more important for Gear VR. There are much higher priorities for Vive.

      • MrGreen72

        The setup is a PITA even for tech savvy users, let alone mass market.

        If so-called Roomscale-VR is going to grow outside of the super hard-core gamer niche it’s in, getting rid of stuff to drill to your walls and hanging wires seems pretty high priority to me.

        • Charles

          I agree that the setup is annoying to have to do, especially when you want to transport the setup between different locations. But it’s not really that bad if you do it the way I do it. I don’t bother with drilling holes in the wall – I just put the mounts flat on a high shelf (or other surface) and hold them in place with duct tape and/or heavy objects.

  • Raphael

    Good news. Gen2 should aim for a wider target market although i think we all understand it will still be priced beyond most gamers. Gen 2 will still remain niche peripheral but there are plenty of other high-end niche peripherals that continue to sell.

    I’ve seen some click-bait videos and stories about gen one vr failing as sales have stopped. It’s hard for non-vr users to grasp that gen one pricing meant it was never ever going to sell to most gamers. The slow-down should have been expected once the high end buyers were fulfilled.

    • Bryan Ischo

      I concur; price reductions will definitely go a long way, as will reductions in the cost of the minimum spec PC that powers the experience. Everyone is amazed by the Vive when I show it to them, but nobody buys once they hear the cost of the unit plus the cost of upgrading their PC.

      I personally don’t quite understand it because people will willingly spend much more on a high end TV.

      • Stephan Ledford

        The cost is one component but a bigger issue IMO is that for much of the country, there is no way to see an HTC Vive demo unless you know someone who owns one. My PC can theoretically handle VR right now but I certainly am not going to spend $800+ on something that I may not like.

        That is why the PS VR may get a lot of buyers and put pressure on both the Rift & Vive – it is likely every Best Buy in the country will have demos going on.

        • Full_Name

          I don’t think that is much of an issue. PC gamers are already a separate crowd (though some people own both), for the most part. Also, cool, if there is a couple of million PSVR’s out there and lots of people get to test those and hear “if you want an even better experience, there is the Vive and Rift”, it will actually help adoption of those as well. The problem right now is that unless you try it, you can’t imagine how cool it is.

          • John Miller

            I did the demo at best buy for the ps4 vr its amazing but i think once your hooked there people will go ok now i want pc games and graphics

        • finnegan

          Yep. I got to play with the Vive recently at a friend’s house. I’m an old school, cynical, jaded gamer, and don’t have interest in 95% of games anymore.

          All I can say is — within 5 minutes of using the Vive I was hooked and thought it was the coolest thing ever :)

        • Korruptor

          I just got to try it out at a Microsoft Store near me. They also had the Oculus to try out.

      • Raphael

        Yes indeed. The price of vr hardware has been falling over many years and even though vive is outside the price of most gamers it still represents a significant drop in price compared to the pre-oculus era vr such as sony hmz. Unfortunately the current pricing puts it in the category of high-end niche peripheral selling to vr enthusiasts, sim fans and artists/developers.

        The price is reasonable given the amount of technology packed into these devices but still it needs to drop eventually into the price range of most gamers. I think even at dk2 pricing cv1 and vive still wouldn’t see full adoption by gamers although it would have widened the net.

        People seem to be much harsher towards vr than some other new computer tech… Because of the current pixel resolution, cost and pc spec required.

        I’m hoping AMD will help drive pc prices down to help bring a new generation of more affordable vr-ready computers. I’ve never actually owned anything but intel but their processor prices are on a steady rise. They aren’t really helping the vr industry.

    • Dunnlang

      It’s still a chicken and the egg problem. Even if the hardware manufacturers were prepared for sales to drop off a cliff, it is going to be very difficult for content manufacturers to operate in such a small market. Without content, it becomes difficult for even those who are willing/able to spend money on niche peripherals to do so.

      By the time price reductions happen in hardware, there may not be enough content. If that happens, then VR could honestly “fail”. It will be in quite a few people’s hands, but there will be nothing to do with it. That will lead to people soured on the technology.

      There is a narrow path to early market success here that requires both good VR hardware, good computing power and good software, all at the same time. Some companies are going to have to seriously invest upfront in hopes of making this a reality.

      • Get Schwifty!

        It all hinges on the success of the PSVR possibly, at least on the home side of things – OTOH, there is an awful lot of on-gaming investment and interest in the applications of VR as well, so one has to remember that the Rift/Vive market is only a small, but important part of the big picture.

    • Toffotin

      I’ve compared early VR adopters to people who buy projectors.
      It has pretty much all the same issues. High cost, you need a lot of space, you need to buy separate equipment that’s also expensive.
      I would expect early VR headsets to sell about as much as projectors and other home cinema type things.
      …Until people start to use VR and AR for other things than entertainment. I for example would love to have an unlimited desktop at work, I already have 3 monitors and it just doesn’t seem to be enough.

    • Demonpigeon

      PS3 vs PS4 :)

  • OgreTactics

    Vive is a nice enthusiast gadget, and a disastrous consumer/pro product.

    We were so happy to receive it a few month back, until we saw the size of the boxes, the numbers of accessories and cables, and the lighthouses setting. And for us enthusiasts, sure TheLab is fun, but then there is professional implications and for 80% of the clients, brands and agencies we work this the experience was the same “disastrous” due the bulkiness, the 11 cables, the lighthouses etc…and for 20% like us it’s just a “fun gadget” that is now sitting under the dust on a shelves.

    And of course, most people of the VR scene are completely oblivious to market, prospective and consumer rules, for example be it only to consider that pseudo “high-end” VR HMDs being too expensive is the problem when several millions of people waste 800/1000$ on a tiny-screened smartphone…the real problem is that VR was ONE full coherent promise: an untethered surrounding tracking VR/AR headset, period.

    You can’t be immerse in a virtual environnement if you can’t interact in it with your hands, think about it, this a conceptual non-sense: the eyes and the ears are immerse in a world where you are armless, only to have your hands reaching out in the real world for a keyboard or controller you don’t see and which are an old paradigm of flat, single-function button interaction in a full 360° world…

    • jeffgunderson

      Uh are you sure you tried the Vive? Roomscale + tracked controllers = interaction.

      • Fredrik Sjöborg

        I was wondering the same, mine is still the best purchase I’ve made and sure as hell not collecting dust.

      • OgreTactics

        Oh I just have one at home and one at work. The rechargeable controller pans, are “nice” with the changing interface/buttons…but again, from a step back and considering the actual tech market and consumer rules, this is nowhere near a coherent and enticing offer for the bigger market.

        And like in the 90s or for any NEW technology out there, there’s only so much momentum-window for it to reach critical market size, otherwise what happened 20 years ago will happen again, though for a shorter period of times ie. there will be less and less content, less and less investment and development, hence it’ll be let aside before being even picked up by a large enough crowd, only to be sustained by a small stalling circle of enthusiast, until 10 years from now another ready iteration of HMDs emerge.

        With PSVR being perfect for family/friend entertainment setting, and hopefully Daydream/Tango Gear around the corner, I don’t think it will happen, but there are still challenges for the market to really take-off and be here indefinitely.

        • Full_Name

          The Vive will run circles around the PSVR in terms of tracking capability, and the fidelity of games available for it.

          The setup is a bit more of course, but after that, I have let people who never play try it, and never have any issues getting them to interact in VR.

          Of course the future will hold better products (and at better prices), but pretty much everyone I have talked to really wants one (if they don’t own it already), so I’d say your experience is a bit out of the norm.

          • OgreTactics

            Try asking them in 6 months what they think. I had two kinds of reactions, the initial one with Senza Penso (“Wow amazing, imagine how crazy it’ll be, I’ll get one at release”) and then the actual release after having used it for 3 years and getting completely disinterested.

            And the second one, is real-world (as in business) situation in which people are way tighter and quicker to dismiss a technology especially if they are to invest hundreds of thousands, then millions into production of experiences, but in fact they were just quicker to point-out what the actual problems were, before content, and which is the main reason why we got bored.

          • mirak

            I disagree, as I see no reason to play unless it’s in VR now ^^.
            Maybe you play to much.
            What I play is enough for me not to be bored.

            The way I see it is that I don’t see how I could be bored playing basketball, even if it’s the same game since 50years, because the feeling of playing this game is just good and fullfilling.
            Same for surfing or vr, I can’t be bored of that sensation.

          • OgreTactics

            Well I’m in between the feeling that most VR experience are shit as of right now (and obviously lots of people complain about content), but I also like you don’t really see the point of games without VR.

            The problem, again, in order, is that VR games, say GTA V, Bioshock Infinite, Mirror’s Edge, Battlefield etc…won’t officially come into VR as long as there’s not a significant consumer base.

            Now when you get out the VR enthusiast bubble, you realise that most people still think VR is a gadget, are not interested or even afraid, part of the reason why is that there’s a lack a critical step back to think and talk about VR in enticing ways, and the actual VR products or form-factors that are not all-that convincing for everybody, and for good reasons.

          • mirak

            The way I see it is like when cinema came out.
            People used to books would say that this is not deep as a book, that’s it lacking content.
            But as we know, cinema is something that you have to experience and live in the present, and you can’t go as deep in the details as with a 1000 page book, because the movie should be a like 100 hours long and you would never see everything or never go back to it as you would with a book.

            I don’t think you can just throw someone in a game designed for flat screen game.
            There is a lot of content and long stories in flat screen games, but I think it’s adapted to way they are played.
            In VR it would be too big, you would not wander in the game the same way, because it needs way more energy and attention than moving fingers on a gamepad.

            So yes, from the outside people would feel robbed by lack of content in VR games, but when you actually play you realise you don’t need the same voume or same type of content than on flat screen games.

          • J.C.

            Mmm, this is the wrong way to think about it. The “Big Brands” can’t just scoot into VR. The rules are completely different, and “traditional” games don’t work in it. They could make branded games for it but they can’t play the same as the originals. The interaction level is too different to copy current “flat” games.

            Look at the Wii/Kinect “Just Dance” games. They’re impossible with a traditional controller, and wouldn’t be any fun even if they WERE possible. Now add a third dimension to that difference, plus full surround visuals, and that’s the difference. Games need to be built completely differently for VR.

          • finnegan

            Disinterested after 3 years? How is that a problem? 3 years is an ETERNITY in the tech life cycle.

            If your scenario were a problem for consumers, then console gaming would have died with the Atari.

    • Let me send you a shipping label and I can get that dusty box off your shelf.

      • OgreTactics

        Unfortunately, I’m one of those guys who collects things, like old ipods, old consoles, and right now, “old” HMDs.

    • Bryan Ischo

      I think your criticisms are valid. There are three overall classes of VR users: the enthusiasts, who are willing to spend the money and forgive the shortcomings because they focus exclusively on the experience, which, to be quite fair, even for these gen 1 systems, is quite good.

      The second category is the VR novice who demos a gen 1 unit and is amazed thinks it is awesome but would never part with the amount of money required to buy into the gen 1 experience.

      The third category is the VR naysayer who generally resists VR and is biased against it, and will find any excuse to criticize. For them, every minor fault is a deal breaker.

      There is alot of derision between the first and third categories, going in both directions. The naysayers actually have some valid points but the enthusiasts sometimes stick their fingers in their ears and refuse to listen, often because they are tired of focusing on the negatives when they feel that the positives are so good.

      Meanwhile, the bulk of people sit in the second category. Most of them will convert to the first category someday in the future when the tech improves, comes down considerably in cost, and is oversaturated with great experiences instead of the great ones being few and far between.

      • OgreTactics

        I’d add one important point I touched on: nobody knows how to speak about VR, explain and convince.

        I had to rationalise what VR was exactly in order to convince investors (or rather producers), and turns out it’s not that easy and can be explained by a simple statement: most people don’t understand that VR will replace most of their screens as their main visual interface with information, entertainment, communication or work by 2030.

        The fact that I have to explain why and how, shows that there is a big lack of stepping back, and that’s why I’m certainly not a part of the hypocritical kool-aid crowd (the first category was it?).

        Then there is the simple, actual reality of the available HMDs: they’re not complete coherent products as they should be.
        For example, imagine if the first smartphones launched with a touch screen, but required a pen instead of fingers “because it’s too hard and the technology is not there”, that could call but not connect to the internet wirelessly “because of latency” or were so bulky and cheap in the build “because they are first iterations”: this is what happened with PDAs that never picked-up for 10 years, until the iPhone came out, which would have never picked-up either if it wasn’t what it’s supposed to be (and Steve Jobs explained it himself, he had the iPhone project for 10 years, but only launched it when technology was ready, and by that I mean we HE managed to find, fund or develop the technology, not wait for it). VR is in the same place, and I think only Google is making concrete progress toward a convenient VR headset.

        • Tom VR

          You make valid points and I agree, But don’t forget we must follow the money. Billions are being poured into VR by big companies worldwide (GM, Apple, Google, etc) hoping to stimulate their economies and further the tech industry that is losing novelty as we speak, even the President of China mentioned VR as “Helping Establish an Innovative World Economy”. Not sure if VR in the 90’s had such monetary success.

          • OgreTactics

            *monetary back-up. It certainly does, yet money is nothing if it’s not used correctly. You can’t by mass market adoption for a paradigm shifting tech.

            But I did mention, it’s not a matter of falling into oblivion for 20 years, just a matter of pick-up steam NOW, or being abandoned again for at least 10 years before a new complete iteration comes out.

          • Get Schwifty!

            Not sure why you are so convinced VR is going back on hiatus for 10 years. Gear is making strides, and I suspect once IMAX VR hits a lot of folks are going to suddenly be very interested in what could be done at home, and that’s not even discussing the impact the PSVR will likely have. Again, as we discussed in another forum the other aspect is that business itself sees potential for applications in both VR and AR, it’s not just about the prosumer market followed by general consumer adoption for just entertainment. The biggest hurdle is it must be experienced to be appreciated. Every, and I mean every, mainstream computer store should have demo units going constantly to let people experience it. Both Vive and Oculus have not done a very good job in getting the experience out there so far IMHO.

          • OgreTactics

            Didn’t it will, but said it could.

            I think the main entry point, rather than demo stands in shops where not everybody goes anymore although I see your point, is going to be mobile VR.

            Everybody has a smartphone, a mobile HMD is cheap, it’s just a matter of it being well designed, compelling and complete enough so that it becomes a new technological “reflex” (as in pick it up from the dock, slide your phone and put it on your head, period) rather than a fun but complicated and obnoxious gadget to use.

        • Full_Name

          I’d be willing to bet good money that Vive 2 will have either gloves or hand tracking, so the controller becomes a tool rather than a necessity, but it is hardly complicated to use now either. That’s like saying Xbox sucks because they require controllers. (Kinect exists of course, but how many games are really good with just using that?)

          • OgreTactics

            As a comparison, the Oculus, although not perfect and lacking hand-tracking only has 5 cables. Which is still not optimum since tracking is not that clean and doesn’t do hand. The Vive with all its accessories to unpack in the huge box, its 11 cables and its lighthouse to fix on poles or walls, is a mess that non-enthusiast are not willing to go through.

            In fact I think that gloves, although amazing for experiments, don’t fix the problem of having to unpack, plug and install all of those things, meaning that everytime you want to do VR people have to spend 1 minutes untangling cables around them, strapping the headset, and them putting on two gloves…in terms of usability these are the real problems.

        • J.C.

          Well, you’re basically describing where it’ll be in several years of well-funded development. Controllers aren’t going to go away, I have no idea why you think hand-tracking makes more sense. You will still need buttons, or you’ll find experiences packed with mistaken commands. I don’t think the Vive’s misshapen ice cream cones are what the “standard” will be, but if using those things without a controller is SO important, why do game consoles still use a controller? They’re clearly not failing, so the controller versus “just hands” is not the issue.

          Being able to explain VR is the largest issue. You can try to explain it but people literally CANNOT make the mental leap from description to a proper idea of what it is. It’s the same as explaining the Internet to an elderly person; there’s no anchor point for them to latch onto. Unfortunately, if you can’t get them to SORT OF understand the concept, they immediately lose interest. I have coworkers who STILL don’t understand why VR is worth a damn, and I try to explain that there are still people who think the Internet is pointless. The ones who have come over to check it out? All believers. Not willing to get in it at the current pricing, but excited for it to become reasonably priced, which is all I’m expecting. You have to stop trying to explain it, and instead work on getting people into the damn thing.

        • mirak

          Here it’s your fault, you should have demoed it instead of explaining it with words.

    • sirlance

      If the cables, light house’s…etc scare you….you could always hire a man to come over and hook it up for you……snowflake generation…sheesh

      • Matt

        He’s not saying hooking it up is an insurmountable task, he’s just saying there’s a lot more parts/outlets/cords than a successful consumer product would have.

        • OgreTactics

          Yes, and not just consumer, I’m talking about actual business and client case that want to advertise, do branding, or produce content for VR, and received a Vive with a huge box, 11 cables to plug, two lighthouses to install somewhere on stands or on walls, only to then start up an experience that is fun, but not clean.

          • Smokey_the_Bear

            You complain a lot, and Sirlance’s comment was funny. But…I agree with everything you said.

          • OgreTactics

            Complaining is the first step in admitting that there is a problem in order to evolve.

      • OgreTactics

        Way to let points fly at lightning speeds over your head.

  • Charles

    “sits next to the photodiode as an interrupter of the raw signals”
    Did you mean “interpreter”?

    • benz145

      Yes I did! Thanks for the correction. Fixed : ).

  • sirlance

    Love my vive….i just want gen2 wireless, View much wider and a head strap like psvr…done

    • Ghosty

      No no… Not done… Eye tracking, foveated rendering, higher resolution, better lenses, and more!

      • DougP

        Don’t forget smell-o-vision!

    • finnegan

      Wireless. Agreed. I’ll probably hold off buying anything until they make it all wireless.

    • Toffotin

      Agreed. I also think Wirelessness is a priority. Head strap on PSVR looked great, but I found the thing really uncomfortable to wear. Something as simple to use would be great though.

      Also Ghostly makes a good point, eye tracking should be included, that’s really important and kind of a bummer it’s not in gen1.
      Higher resolution, larger FOV and such improvements are sort of obvious, I think.

  • J.C.

    These chips are compatable with the current lighthouse system. So if Vive 2 offers headset with a wider FOV and maybe a little higher resolution, a lot of original vive owners would want to jump on it. IF the cost of the device is pulled down by the cheaper components, and the new headset is optionally sold solo (assuming you have the lighthouses and controllers from the original) for around $300, there will sadly be a lot of original Vive headsets that still work…boxed up on a shelf.

    No one would sell their current lighthouses and controllers to buy an all new bundle if they can get the headset for cheaper, and the headset is useless without the other devices. This would be bad news for those who were expecting to get a deal on an original Vive after the second generation launched.

    The BEST thing is to get as many people able to afford the systems as possible. HTC would be smart to offer a trade-in on the headset, so they can repackage it and sell it even cheaper than the new V2, thus getting more overall headset users.