Thursday, December 2, 2021

HTC’s Vive Focus 3 update could free arcades from VR backpacks

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HTC is adding a few big updates to its Vive Focus 3 virtual reality headset, aiming to make it better for big, free-roaming multiplayer VR games.

The Vive Focus 3 — a $1,300 non-consumer-focused wireless headset — is adding a new feature called Location Based Entertainment, or LBE Mode. LBE Mode greatly expands the headset’s tracking distance to 33 by 30 meters. Meanwhile, an additional feature called Map Sharing lets multiple headsets share the same virtual world in the same location.

Together, these features mean the Focus 3 can more easily support the group VR sessions you’d find at an immersive free-roam arcade space like Zero Latency or The Void. HTC has also added a few other options. There’s a mode that immediately calibrates the headset when a new user puts it on instead of requiring a brief setup process, which is designed to help arcades put people into experiences more quickly. An additional calibration mode will let headsets track objects besides the Focus 3 controller, including the Vive Tracker puck. And the headset will soon support the WiFi 6E standard.

Location-based VR entertainment — the kind where users move around a real, physical arena with other people rather than standing in a stationary space — often relies on plugging headsets like the original HTC Vive into wearable backpack computers. That has several disadvantages: it takes time to put people in the backpacks, the backpack strap systems may fit some users poorly, and they make the experience less comfortable for everyone. A lot of the headsets also require external tracking beacons like HTC and Valve’s Lighthouse system, which must be set up overhead and can be accidentally blocked by other players.

Fully self-contained systems that incorporate tracking cameras and computing power into the headset can change that. But they’ve only been widely available for a couple of years, and the biggest one, the Oculus Quest from Facebook / Meta, is primarily aimed at home use. The Vive Focus 3 has a similar feature set to the Quest, but it’s tailored for businesses, and this update bolsters HTC’s longtime presence in the VR location-based entertainment and arcade market. It could also make VR arcades, which have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, more fun and convenient places to visit.



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