HTC will announce a lightweight Meta Quest competitor at CES
HTC plans to introduce a new AR/VR headset next month that will re-establish its presence in the virtual reality space for consumers. The company doesn’t plan to release full details until CES on January 5th. But HTC’s global product chief Shen Ye spoke exclusively with HTC the edge About what it’s trying to achieve with its new design: A small and light all-in-one headset that promises full-featured VR and AR.
“It’s about taking all these advances that we’ve made in not only the design aspects, but also the technical aspects, and building them into something that’s meaningful and attractive to consumers,” Ye says.
Based on a photo shared with the edgeThe unnamed headset has a goggle-like appearance with front and side cameras. Buyers will be able to use the headphones for gaming, entertainment, exercise, and even “some more robust use cases,” including work and productivity tools, says Ye. You’ll get a two-hour battery life, be fully self-contained, and support controllers with six degrees of freedom as well as hand tracking.
One of the main features of the headset is its external cameras that pass a color video stream to users’ screens, allowing for mixed reality experiences. This mixed reality option still feels a bit experimental — when I asked what buyers might use it for, Yi highlighted HTC’s ongoing relationships with developers and said the best use cases will likely emerge after release. “We’re at this point where the technology is strong and we’re going to start to see some really cool experiences,” Yi promises.
The upcoming headset is one that HTC previously teased in minimal detail in October. At the time, we predicted it would be the successor to the Vive Flow, a consumer-facing headset introduced last year. At the moment, however, HTC is not confirming this. He describes the device as an application of the lessons he learned making the Flow and the Vive Focus 3, a high-quality business headset. Its mix of virtual and augmented reality puts HTC’s headset in the company’s recently released Meta Quest Pro and Apple’s yet-unannounced AR/VR device.
Color crossing over was a selling point for the recently released Meta Quest Pro, and HTC was keen to directly compare the two — but Ye did bring up some potential differences. For one thing, HTC’s new headset will have a depth sensor, something Meta considered but eventually scrapped. This could allow for more efficient tracking and more sophisticated mapping of users’ physical environments. Ye says the headset can have better dynamic range than other colorways mixed-reality options on the market; He described reading text on a laptop or phone screen through HTC cameras, which is a rare occurrence inside Meta’s Quest Pro.
What’s more, the new headset feels more full-featured than the Flow (which originally shipped with a smartphone-based control system) but is lighter and more compact than the Vive Focus 3.” We made our new headset one of the lightest of them all. in the market,” though we still don’t know how light it is. The photo HTC shared doesn’t show the headphone strap setup, but Ye’s mention of exercising in the headphone suggests it will be sturdier than the Flow, which tended to slip off my face. “We spent a lot of time doing ergonomics,” says Yee. “The Flux was the first time we made this eyewear form factor. And we really learned a lot from it. I can say that when we see things that can be improved, we will always improve.”
“We are in an era where consumer virtual reality headsets are being heavily subsidized by companies trying to offload and take personal data.”
We don’t know if the HTC device will have eye tracking, and another feature the latest Meta (and based on rumors, Apple) relies heavily on headphones. But when asked, Ye noted that the Vive Focus 3 got eye tracking as an optional standard update, something HTC offers frequently for its headphones. It was also reported in cryptographic form that HTC was working on advanced privacy protections that prevent anyone from accessing data locally or remotely from the new headset’s cameras, including an encrypted local partition that stores the data. “This will somehow slip into this question I eventually asked,” he says.
HTC hopes its privacy promises will help its headsets stand out from the Meta alternatives. While we don’t know how much the headset will cost, Yi strongly notes that it will look pricey compared to the $399 MetaQuest 2. “We’re in an era where consumer VR headsets have been heavily subsidized by companies trying to offload to take Personal data to provide to advertisers. “We don’t think the way we want to handle it is to compromise on privacy.” The Vive Flow launched at $499 and the Focus 3 at $1,300, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the new headset fell somewhere in between those points.
Despite this, Quest 2 does have benefits besides a low price. Meta has funded or acquired a slew of good VR experiences, while HTC has historically been late in this department, even though it did offer some unique options like its Viveport subscription game service. The new headset will provide standalone virtual reality experiences through Viveport, and can connect to a computer wirelessly or via cable to play desktop virtual reality games. The goal, Yi says, is to have a “wide range” of experiences when people pick up the headset.
Last year HTC declared itself temporarily out of the consumer VR game, at least in part because it didn’t want to compete with the heavily subsidized Meta headsets. So what has changed since then aside from meta raising their prices? For one thing, HTC launched two standalone headsets in quick succession and built its capabilities in the process. “We’ve always had some kind of vision of what we think is a good experience for consumers,” says Yee. “We know how to build the best technology, and now we also know how to build devices with a very small form factor. It’s those lessons that allow us to feel that we are now ready to make something really exciting.” But it probably doesn’t hurt that Apple and Meta are preparing for a fight over the future of consumer VR — so if HTC wants to join the fray, its window of opportunity may be closing.
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