HTC announced a new variant of its high-end Vive Pro virtual reality headset today at CES that comes with native, built-in eye tracking. The device is called the Vive Pro Eye, and it promises to bring higher-quality VR experiences, thanks to a technique called “foveated rendering” that renders sharp images for wherever the human eye is looking in a virtual scene and reduces the image quality of objects on the periphery. There’s no pricing yet, but it’s supposed to launch in the second quarter of 2019.
HTC says it plans to make the Vive Pro Eye available to developers later this year, and it’s already been working with a select group of partners on experiences for the new headset.
The MLB, for example, has used the Vive Pro Eye for its Home Run Derby VR game. I got to try out the game myself and the eye tracking worked pretty much as expected, though it was only available with the in-game menus — the gameplay itself still required a controller, which in this case was mounted on a plastic bat. But it still eliminated the need for me to actually hold a controller or push any buttons.
Other use cases are much more business oriented, which is not surprising given the “Pro” title. Lockheed Martin is using the Vive Pro Eye to help train student pilots, for example.
Besides just enabling new controller-less experiences, the company also notes the new headset could have a significant impact on accessibility since it could open up VR experiences to people who aren’t able to use traditional hand controllers.
HTC hasn’t revealed a price or release date for the Vive Pro Eye, but says it will launch during the second quarter of 2019.
The Vive Pro Eye wasn’t the only new headset HTC showed off. HTC also teased an all-new headset called the Vive Cosmos. Unlike the Vive and Vive Pro, the Cosmos won’t require external trackers, and is optimized for comfort and ease of use.
HTC previously offered a kit that would add eye tracking to the original Vive. (Other VR devices have also featured it, including the more niche Fove headset.) This new headset takes it a step closer to becoming a core headset feature, rather than a specialized option. But it’s still not a huge step — because the Vive Pro is an expensive product designed for professionals, with the headset alone currently selling for $799. That’s in contrast with the more mass-market-oriented HTC Vive Cosmos, which was also announced at CES today.