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HTC unveils its second-generation VR developer headset: the Vive Pre

Virtual reality is a big component of CES 2016 and HTC just launched the second iteration of its debut VR headset at the show, the Vive Pre.

The retail-ready Vive was originally meant to hit stores in December last year, but HTC, who partnered with Valve to create a full-featured VR platform, said that it was pushing the launch back to April 2016 following ‘a very, very big technological breakthrough.’

Despite only a few months before the rescheduled launch of the retail version however, the Vive Pre’s arrival has taken many by surprise. The new Pre is unquestionably an iterative take on the original Vive, with notable improvements to the design and comfort of the headset, along with a more refined aesthetic to both the motion controllers and tracking sensors, which are now wireless too for easier, cleaner placement.

HTC Vive Pre

HTC says it’s also worked on improving the contrast and clarity of the visuals and the complete package (headset, controls and sensors) including the tether, just look a whole lot cleaner and more refined.

The ‘big technological breakthrough’ HTC’s CEO Cher Wang, mentioned at the end of last year was in fact a front facing camera paired to a new view mode called Chaperone.

They work in tandem to help users avoid bumping into obstacles or find objects in the room. The idea is that should you wish to see someone when you’re talking to them, or want pick up a drink without having to remove the headset every time, you won’t have to. Instead, the camera integrates elements of reality into the virtual space. It’s a similar, albeit more immersive approach to the pass-through camera option employed by Samsung’s Gear VR experience and even lets you re-enter the tracking space should you wander out of it.

HTC Vive Pre tracking sensors and motion controllers
The new motion controllers and tracking sensors for the Vive Pre look far more refined than the originals.

Whilst the Vive Pre demos on-show at CES didn’t utilise the camera technology beyond the basic pass-through functionality, they are opening it up to developers, meaning there’s potential for the Vive to sidestep into the world of augmented reality, a domain most prominently occupied by Microsoft’s HoloLens technology.

HTC has also partnered up with HP to create a new iteration of the HP ENVY Phoenix – a gaming focused PC purpose-built with VR in mind. Specs include a 2TB hard drive and a 128GB SSD, an Intel Core i7 K-series processor and a Nvidia GTX 980 Ti graphics card, along with the option for a mammoth 24GB or 32GB of RAM – the system also comes with options for custom LED lighting and overclocking, naturally.

HP ENVY Phoenix w/ HTC Vive
The HP ENVY Phoenix pictured with the original HTC Vive

Whilst the PC ready to support the retail-version of the Vive will be available as of next month, the Vive VR kit itself will touch down in April. Cost hasn’t been announced yet but it’s expected to be one of the more expensive consumer VR systems out there, notably higher than the Oculus Rift, which went on pre-order this week for around £410 excluding tax and shipping costs.

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