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Rachel Metz

A View from Rachel Metz

HTC’s Plan for You to Avoid Smacking Your Head in VR

HTC’s latest Vive headset for developers includes visual aids for reality that are hardly groundbreaking but address an important issue for VR.

  • January 5, 2016

With several high-profile virtual-reality headsets slated for consumer release in the coming months, I’m getting more and more excited about the possibilities for escaping into virtual worlds. But safety questions remain largely unanswered: if you’re thrashing about in your living room, playing a shoot-‘em-up game or making a virtual cup of coffee, how do you make sure you don’t smack into people or objects that are also in the room?

HTC’s newest developer version of its virtual-reality headset, Vive Pre.

HTC, which is planning to release its Vive virtual-reality headset to consumers in April, is showing off a fairly simple, clever solution at CES in Las Vegas this week: a front-facing camera, included in the new version of its developer headset, the Vive Pre, that, at times, will show you high-contrast, blue-and-black-hued, cartoon-like outlines of people and objects in your field of view.

You can turn on this blue view of the real world on with a double tap of a button on one of the Vive Pre’s two hand-held wand-like controllers–it’ll take the place of what you see in VR. You’ll also see it show up if you get too close to the edge of your predefined VR play space (the company uses a headset and controller tracking system that can cover a 15- by 15-foot room, though chances are you’d play in a smaller area if you’re at home).

This is in addition to an existing safety feature HTC already has on the Vive that shows you a translucent blue grid whenever you move toward the perimeter of your playing space; that can be helpful, but it’s not indicative of what (or who) is really in front of you.

The visual aids are hardly groundbreaking, but they address an important issue that is still very much up in the air for consumer virtual reality. Nobody wants to get hurt playing with virtual reality, and getting a sense of your surroundings might make some people more comfortable with trying it out in the first place. An HTC spokesman told me both are planned for inclusion in the consumer version of the headset. So is the ability to see when something–your dog, for instance–comes into your playing space.

The Vive Pre is meant for developers and will be available to them this month, but when I tried it out today, I thought its size, heft, and suggested that it’s probably pretty similar to the as-yet-unpriced Vive to be released in the coming months.

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