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HTC Vive Focus hands-on impressions: No-PC, no-wires VR at a too-steep price

In 2016 I defended the HTC Vive’s hefty $800 price ticket. Certain, it used to be $200 greater than the Oculus Rift, nevertheless it used to be additionally the one digital fact headset (on the time) to nail room-scale and hand-tracking. Then previous this 12 months I defended the Vive Professional’s $1,100 value. Certain, it’s outrageous and ostentatious and no person will have to pay for it, however the Vive Professional may be the most efficient VR headset in the marketplace nowadays, bar none.

However on Thursday HTC introduced its standalone Vive Center of attention headset is coming stateside with an inventory value of $599, and smartly, that’s natural hubris with slick standalone rival Oculus Quest in a position to debut at $399 early subsequent 12 months.

Industry time

After HTC’s announcement Thursday I had the danger to position in some hands-on time with the Vive Center of attention at an tournament in San Francisco. There have been two variations to check. The unique fashion, launched in China previous this 12 months, ships with a small pill-shaped controller that resembles the Oculus Pass’s. There’s no hand-tracking on that fashion, then again. The opposite, billed as a dev package, provides two hand-tracking wands very similar to the desktop Vive fashions.

I examined each, nevertheless it’s exhausting to in reality know how the Vive Center of attention plays as a result of HTC is positioning it, a minimum of for now, as an enterprise-focused software. I will’t blame them both. There’s extra money in that sector, and the target audience is possibly much less choosy relating to visible constancy, monitoring hiccups, and so forth.

HTC Vive Focus IDG / Hayden Dingman

However it does make it a bit of exhausting to demo the software whilst you’ve were given the VR an identical of Microsoft Administrative center as a trying out suite. On Thursday I sat via a coaching video for a clinical process, performed one extraordinarily rudimentary “racing” recreation, and frolicked in a digital assembly room.

Now not precisely Crysis territory.

Even then, the Vive Center of attention had hassle maintaining—and right here’s the exhausting phase, figuring out whether or not it’s the fault of poorly coded demos or precise obstacles. My intestine tells me the latter, however with out a same old benchmark (like the ever present Superhot VR) it’s virtually unattainable to inform.

The body fee struggled to stay consistent although, and in sure demos turning my head side-to-side led to flickering black spaces because the headset rushed to attract within the lacking data. This used to be no doubt no longer the ultra-polished revel in I had with the Oculus Quest in September.

That’s a disgrace, as a result of on paper Quest and Center of attention appear with reference to similar, a minimum of in surface-level options. Each characteristic integrated audio answers that pipe out of the straps. Each have the similar 2,880×1,600 solution. And whilst the Vive Center of attention recently ships with the non-tracked controller, a complete “world-scale” model with hand monitoring is deliberate.

HTC Vive Focus IDG / Hayden Dingman

The Quest just does it all better, and I say that as someone who’s ardently advocated for the Vive the past two years. (The Vive Pro is the best VR headset on the market at the moment.) Quest feels more powerful, its hardware is sleeker, the demos we saw were more polished, and at $399 it’s a full $200 cheaper.

Which is not to say the Vive Focus is irredeemable. I actually like the design quite a bit, even compared to the current Vive with the comfy Deluxe Audio Strap add-on. The Focus feels incredibly lightweight when positioned correctly, combining a rigid frame with a floating band design that reminds me of Sony’s PlayStation VR. I could do without the Focus’s off-white color, which reminds me of a mid-‘90s desktop PC, but it’s surprisingly comfortable.

The hand-tracking solution is also interesting. The Oculus Quest, like Microsoft’s mixed reality headsets, uses internal cameras to map the room you’re in and also keep track of your controllers. The Vive Focus’s hand-tracking prototype triangulates using ultrasonic frequencies. That’s cool! And I was curious to go hands-on, given the tracking problems I’ve encountered with Windows MR and Oculus Quest.

It’s a give-and-take though. The Vive Focus’s hand tracking does seem harder to fool. I put my hands behind my back multiple times, and while the system still became confused occasionally it wasn’t nearly as common as Quest’s tracking woes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that latency is a lot higher, and controller position jittered a lot while moving, especially at high speeds. If I drew a straight line I’d often see jagged edges where the system tried to estimate my position and only kinda, sorta got it right.

HTC Vive Focus IDG / Hayden Dingman

Does that matter for HTC’s enterprise-focused customers? Eh, probably not. But it’s another area where Focus falls behind Quest’s performance—which, again, raises the question of why it costs so damn much.

Bottom line

That’s the sticking point, for me. The HTC Vive Focus isn’t a terrible device. It’s not giving me the “Wow, this is the future” feelings that Quest did, but if I look at it as a competitor to an untethered Windows MR headset or the Oculus Go, it seems fine. Hell, with hand-tracked controllers it’s one step up from Go.

But $599 is an outrageous price for this headset, especially in light of Quest’s $399 listing. I’d be hard-pressed to argue the Vive Focus does anything better than Quest, certainly not enough to add up to $200 more—and that’s without hand-tracking. The hand-tracking kit will presumably be sold as an add-on when it’s finished, similar to the Deluxe Audio Strap, the Vive wireless adapter, and other modular add-ons to the original Vive. Factor in another $100 to $200 for that.

Maybe Oculus low-balled the Quest’s price, but the fact remains that as of today, it’s looking like both the better and the cheaper option. Of course, Quest won’t release until sometime in 2019 at the earliest while Focus is available now. If it were me I’d wait though. There’s not much to gain by being first out the gate this time around.

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