HTC is getting ready to retire the headset that was central to its expansion into the virtual reality market 3 years ago: The company announced on Thursday that its new Vive Comos headset will effectively replace the original HTC Vive, which was first released in April of 2016. “It was time to upgrade our consumer product,” said HTC Vive North America president Dan O’Brien in an interview with Variety this week.
The new Vive Cosmos, which HTC first announced at CES in Las Vegas this past January, will be available for a retail price of $699 starting October 3. Like the original HTC Vive, it is powered by a PC. Unlike its predecessor, it is not dependent on external tracking hardware, and instead relies on 6 integrated cameras to keep track of a user’s movements and controllers.
The Vive Cosmos also offers far superior graphics, thanks to LCD display with a combined resolution of 2880 by 1700 pixels. That’s 88% better than the original Vive, and even surpasses the resolution of the Vive Pro that the company released for enterprise and other professional use cases earlier this year. “You get higher fidelity, higher color, better detail,” said O’Brien.
The headset comes with redesigned controllers, as well as a unique flip-up visor design that makes it possible to more easily transition in and out of VR. And thanks to its 6 cameras, the device also features a video pass-through mode that makes it possible to watch the outside world from within VR.
This type of pass-through was first debuted by Facebook with its Oculus Quest VR headset earlier this year. But while the Quest shows users a grainy black-and-white view of the world whenever they hit the virtual boundaries of their VR play space, the Cosmos actually delivers this video view in color, albeit still with a relatively low resolution — think washed-out VHS tape, if you will.
Still, the video pass-through is intriguing, and HTC Creative Labs corporate vice president Drew Bamford told Variety that the company was going to give developers a chance to incorporate this view of the real world into their apps. “It’s gonna result in something really compelling,” he said.
Bamford also argued that combining VR with real-world video was better than superimposing video images on top of a glasses-like view of the world, the way augmented reality headsets typically work. “We think it’s the future of mixed reality,” he said.
Another interesting aspect of the Vive Cosmos is HTC’s promise to allow users to customize the headset. To that end, they’ll be able to buy a variety of modular extensions, or mods, that can be swapped out for existing parts of the headset. As a first such mod, HTC has plans to ship a different faceplate that will allow owners of the original Vive to use the new headset with their existing tracking hardware — something that VR purists may prefer to rule out tracking blindspots.
HTC has kept mum on plans for other mods, but the company teased the ability to power the headset with a phone when it first introduced the Cosmos in January. In their conversation with Variety, HTC’s executives hinted at the possibility to enable mobile support via a mod as well.
The company now has to convince consumers that it will deliver on the promise of these mods — something that hasn’t worked well for mobile phone manufacturers in the past. What’s more, the Vive Cosmos costs significantly more than other headsets out there. Facebook’s PC-based Rift S headset retails for $399, and the social networking giant is selling the all-in-one Quest VR headset for $399 as well.
HTC wants to sweeten the deal for the Cosmos by offering consumers who pre-order the device a year’s worth of free access to the company’s Viveport Infinity VR subscription service, which usually costs $13 per month. But ultimately, the company bets on the higher screen resolution to make all the difference. The Vive Cosmos was a premium consumer VR headset, argued O’Brien. “There is a price for that.”