HTC is rolling out a couple of new (or semi-new, if you prefer) virtual reality headsets, including an updated model of the Vive Pro with built-in eye-tracking. Appropriately enough, it's called the Vive Pro Eye, and it uses a technique called foveated rendering to fully render scenes where the viewer is actually looking.
Native eye tracking has a couple of potential benefits. Through foveated rendering, VR can put less demand on the hardware that's powering the experience. That's how it works in theory, anyway. At its best, this allows scenes in a user's peripheral vision to be less sharp and detailed, and instead spend a system's resources on whatever object or seen the user is looking directly at.
This trick, if you want to call it that, both reduces the amount of graphics horsepower that is needed, and allows developers to create prettier graphics since only partial scenes are fully rendered at any given time.
The other benefit is hands-free control. To demonstrate this, Major League Baseball (MLB) debuted eye tracking on the Vive Pro Eye at CES by integrating the tech into its MLB Home Run Derby VR app. Users can fully navigate the menu system without a traditional control, using just their eyeballs.
"We’ve invested in VR technology to bring fans a fun immersive experience and connection to our game and deliver a new level of engagement through VR game competitions, at-home play and in-ballpark attractions," said Jamie Leece, Senior Vice President, Games & VR, Major League Baseball. "By integrating eye tracking technology into Home Run Derby VR, we are able to transport this transformative baseball experience to any location without additional controllers needed. Our fans can simply operate menus by using their eyes."
Like the Vive Pro, HTC is primarily pitching the Vive Pro Eye at enterprise customers, rather than gamers at large. Pricing has not yet been announced, though the Vive Pro without eye tracking sells for $799 for the headset alone. Expect the Vive Pro Eye to cost at least as much.
HTC also announced the Vive Cosmos, a lighter weight headset that initially will connect to a PC, though HTC hinted that a mobile version could be in the cards. In its current form, the Cosmos ditches the need for external sensors or base stations.
"We found that over 85 percent of VR intenders believe that ease of use and set up is the most important factor to consider while purchasing a headset," said Daniel O’Brien, GM, Americas, HTC Vive. "We believe Cosmos will make VR more easily accessible to those who may not have invested in VR before and also be a superior experience for VR enthusiasts."
The Cosmos also sports a flip-up design, so users can quickly and easily switch between the virtual world and their real-world environment.
HTC says the Vive Cosmos will be available in early 2019, and will sharing pricing info at a later date.