The first iteration of the HTC Vive development kit, originally revealed across two continents at Mobile World Congress (MWC), Barcelona, and the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC), San Francisco, earlier this year, was an impressive piece of technology even at such an early point. Reportedly having begun shipping to select developers late in 2014, the small collection of technical demonstrations was convincing enough to put the HTC Vive on the same page as the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus head-mounted displays (HMDs), and so here with the new iteration VRFocus has been suitably impressed yet again.
While it would be easy to label this updated development kit ‘DK2’, VRFocus is wary to do so due to conflict with Oculus VR’s own development kit iteration process which so cleverly adopted the moniker. The updated HTC Vive development kit which is being shipped to studios across the world at present is essentially this: a remodelled and upgraded version of the original development kit yet still far from final. And yet, neither HTC nor Vive have chosen to christen it with any kind of new title.
Available to experience on two separate occasions, the updated development kit may seem to only feature minor improvements over it’s predecessor. However it’s in these small touches that the signs of exactly where the device is heading that make the difference. Significantly altered controllers – aside from the fact that they are now wireless – and slight adjustments to the HMD itself make for an undeniably superior experience.
Beginning with those controllers, some of the changes will be less palatable than others. For example, the removing of the cable is of course a blessing especially when no noticeable lag in the positional tracking occurs. However, the thumb plate is no longer rubberised, but instead a solid button which can be pressed at any point on it’s 360 degree edge. This basically means that sliding your thumb across it is no longer an option, instead the player can only depress the button for input. None of the experiences currently available for the HTC Vive offer any kind of conflict with this adjustment, however it seems potentially encumbering to some of the innovations that could be brought to the device down the line.
The handles of the controllers that rest in your palms feel more solid this time around – as well they might, given the 3D printed nature of the original controllers – and the side-mounted grip buttons feel more sturdy. VRFocus has only been given the opportunity to experience one single title which uses these grip buttons, but that in itself further aims to prove the above point regarding the thumb plate: if an option exists at this early stage, you’re likely to find a developer who has ideas to support it’s use.
The HMD has had a purely cosmetic makeover. The field of view and screen resolution have not been altered, nor does there seem to be any lessening in the weight or improvements in the balancing of the device. It remains more-or-less on par with an Oculus Rift DK2 at this point, but is of course likely to improve prior to the final consumer edition being revealed. The cable situation, however, has been dealt with in a commendable fashion. No longer does the user have an oversized cable running down their back, connected to a harness before trailing across the floor. Now all of the cables connected to the top of the HMD are tied together into a single mid-sized string that is left to hang freely. The cable arrangement will still be of concern to some of course, though in VRFocus‘ experience it’s been a simple case of being aware of where the cable is through small movement before attempting to lunge across the scene.
Movement with the HTC Vive also seems to have had a minor adjustment. The chaperone system is no longer a grid, but rather a simple collection of horizontal lines. The reason for this rather peculiar change is not yet known – and perhaps never will be – but with the removal of the initial demo sequence from the reel that is currently being offered as part of the public HTC Vive tour means that users have to be informed about the system personally opposed to being taught it during their experience.
Aside from the above changes, a lighter almost grey moulding on the HMD and black controllers opposed to murky white are all the distinguishable differences in this new iteration. This, however, is enough to convince that the HTC Vive is still on the right track. Whether or not the device will make the suggested ‘holiday 2015’ release date at present only Valve and HTC know, but if they manage to do so they will deserve the clear headstart that it’s likely to gain them.