HTC Vive has decided to focus on a particular kind of user with Vive Flow, who can finally utilise VR collaboration, productivity and meeting app Vive Sync the way it was intended
➨ Vive Flow is available for pre-order from today, at a cost of £499/€549/$499
➨ The new VR glasses weigh 189g and make all kinds of advances for comfort
➨ But seasoned VR users may be disappointed at the lack of immersion, particularly given the price
HTC Vive appeared to pivot away from productivity with its much-leaked (and talked about) new virtual reality (VR) device—a pair of glasses designed to improve users’ mental health and wellbeing.
But Vive Flow, a set of glasses that do away the front-loaded headset design so prevalent in VR head-mounted displays, is compatible with Vive Sync, the company’s flagship collaboration, productivity and meeting app, and geared toward pairing relaxation and stress relief with professional and personal socialising in ways that the company’s new releases from earlier this year, Focus 3 and Pro 2, were not.
Vive Flow is available for pre-order from today, at a cost of £499/€549/$499. Open sales begin next month.
Commenting on the release of Vive Flow, Cher Wang, chairwoman and chief executive officer of HTC, had this to say: “With Vive Flow, HTC is taking technology in a new direction, focusing not on what we do, but on how we feel. Maintaining our wellness has come to the forefront in the last few years, with so many millions feeling stressed every day, so it has never been more important to take time out to calm our minds, and Vive Flow provides the perfect opportunity to escape our four walls and immerse ourselves in our ideal ambience.”
“Meditation, gentle stretches, brain training, streaming our favourite shows or even meeting friends or co-workers in VR with Vive Sync can all be enhanced by a device light and compact enough to fit in our pocket. Vive Flow represents the next evolution of technology, as we take a more holistic view of how we can make life better.”
“Relaxation means different things to different people,” adds Nanea Reeves, chief executive officer of extended reality (XR) wellness service TRIPP. “It’s important to find your own version of zen, whether that means meditating, watching videos, or playing games.”
“The fact that HTC gets it, that we can use VR in these ways that can benefit peoples’ emotional and mental wellbeing is something that I personally am very excited about as is our entire team at TRIPP.”
Watch the VR launch event, held in Engage, below.
The same as a bar of chocolate
The form factor is crucial in understanding HTC Vive’s strategy behind the new VR glasses. They weigh 189g, or the same as a bar of chocolate, according to the company’s press announcement, making them light enough to carry to and from home and work, which is something that has yet to be achieved.
The glasses also use a dual-hinge design for folding like a standard pair of glasses and HTC Vive is providing a free official carry case with pre-orders.
They are designed to fit most head sizes, so there should be no need for adjustment when sharing, as is the case with most current headsets. In a similar vein, the soft face gasket uses magnetic connections like Vive Focus 3 and is removable.
Vive Flow also has built-in diopter dials, allowing users to easily make adjustments. This feature will suit wearers of prescription lenses, who often struggle to wear their glasses while using a headset.
The active cooling system is also designed to improve comfort, by pulling warm air away from the user’s face. Including this feature in such a small package is an impressive feat and it will be interesting to see how much more comfortable wearing these glasses is as a result, compared to a standard VR headset.
HTC Vive is clearly aiming to overcome the ‘headset’ barriers usually associated with a reluctance to try VR and, on first viewing, it appears to have succeeded.
All of Vive Flow’s design features aim to encourage users to wear the glasses for extended periods of time and be comfortable while doing so. Whether you are undertaking brain training or chatting with colleagues in Vive Sync, you will not hesitate to use these glasses to carry out those tasks.
It is worth noting here that battery life is short for Vive Flow. It is designed to be tethered to a smartphone or a small 10,000mAh Vive power bank, which can be purchased separately.
A future for VR
What HTC Vive may have sacrificed in order to achieve this form factor, undoubtedly important as it is if this immersive technology is going to become mainstream across the enterprise and consumer markets, is the ‘VR’ that usually comes before ‘headset’
Under the hood, Vive Flow boasts a 100° field of view, 3.2K resolution and a 75 Hz refresh rate, along with full 3D spatial audio and the option of connecting to external Bluetooth earphones.
The pancake-shaped lenses are a style game-changer and appear to fit close enough to the face to avoid letting in any unwanted light. The specs are also decent, although many potential customers may balk at the price.
The deal breaker may come from the immersion. Vive Flow is a six degrees of freedom (6DoF) head device, so it does not track full-body movements. HTC Vive has instead opted to pair the glasses with an Android 5G smartphone, which serves as a point-and-click controller and produces a 3DoF experience.
This makes Vive Flow comparable to Oculus Go, a 3DoF headset that only tracked the user’s head.
Any criticism here of Vive Flow arguably misses the point, however. The glasses pair with an Android 5G smartphone via Bluetooth and this serves as the main input method for mental health and wellbeing VR content, including mediation app TRIPP and experiences from MyndVR, such as an immersive drive down Route 66.
Vive Flow also uses Miracast to mirror content from 5G smartphone to glasses, meaning users can watch a standard 2D movie on Netflix, for example, or play 2D Android games. iOS is not currently supported, but expect compatibility with Apple devices in the future.
What HTC Vive has released is a half-way device for non-VR users, capable of much of what made Oculus Go popular but stopping short of the accomplishment that is Oculus Quest. Hand tracking is not available at launch, but the company is working on adding it in the future.
HTC Vive has decided to focus on a particular kind of user with Vive Flow, who can finally utilise VR collaboration, productivity and meeting app Vive Sync the way it was intended, ie, in VR (note that the door has been left open here for the app to expand beyond enterprise), without scaring away this potential customer base with all the bells and whistles that are required for fully immersive 6DoF VR.
The focus on mental health and wellbeing is also an interesting choice, arguably an attempt at added value for anyone unsure of the cost, but attempts to address rising concerns about stress and anxiety are to be welcomed.
HTC Vive is offering a special Viveport subscription plan to give Vive Flow users immediate access to the company’s marketplace of immersive apps covering wellbeing, brain training, productivity, light gaming, and exclusive content such as a Lo-Fi room designed to look and feel like a cosy café.
Images: HTC Vive