HTC Unveils the Modularity Behind its VIVE Cosmos Series of HMDs

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By Michael Inouye | 1Q 2020 | IN-5755

HTC recently announced three new versions of and modular accessories for its VIVE Cosmos Head-Mounted Device (HMD) platform, which launched in October 2019 (priced at US$699). The three new versions, along with the original HMD, share the same display (2880 x 1700) and base HMD unit, leaving most of the changes to occur in the faceplate. The original VIVE Cosmos HMD included six cameras for inside out tracking (does not use the original external tracking base stations) while the new versions and related faceplates largely iterate on the level and type of tracking.

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HTC Expands the VIVE Cosmos Series of HMDs (and Talks about a Prototype)

NEWS


HTC recently announced three new versions of and modular accessories for its VIVE Cosmos Head-Mounted Device (HMD) platform, which launched in October 2019 (priced at US$699). The three new versions, along with the original HMD, share the same display (2880 x 1700) and base HMD unit, leaving most of the changes to occur in the faceplate. The original VIVE Cosmos HMD included six cameras for inside out tracking (does not use the original external tracking base stations) while the new versions and related faceplates largely iterate on the level and type of tracking.

The base version (VIVE Cosmos Play) only includes four cameras and, while it supports Six Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) movement, the tracking in the vertical axis will be limited compared to the original six camera configuration (110 degrees versus 210 degrees). HTC suggests this entry level HMD is well suited to more entry level Virtual Reality (VR) applications and games, calling out titles like Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs and immersive video viewing. While pricing for this version was not officially announced as of this writing, HTC initially suggested a US$499 price to some parties, but later retracted it and is reevaluating the price. A prudent decision considering the Oculus Rift S, which also has inside out 6DoF tracking, is priced at US$399 and Windows Mixed Reality (MR) HMDs are often available at lower prices. 

The VIVE Cosmos Elite version is now available for pre-order (shipping in March 2020) and is priced at US$899. The package includes the HMD, two SteamVR Tracking 1.0 base stations, and two Vive wand controllers. Unlike the Play, the Elite faceplate will also be available for US$199 for users who purchased a Cosmos HMD and also have the tracking base stations and VIVE wand controllers (the controllers for inside-out/Cosmos and VIVE/Pro Series base station tracking are different). This hybrid inside-out and outside-in tracking will reportedly provide a more precise tracking experience than the six camera inside-out tracking alone.

The last version announced is the XR model, which has six cameras but reserves the lower two cameras on the faceplate for video pass-through, suggesting the tracking is the same as the Cosmos Play HMD (four cameras). Pricing was not announced, but this model supports Augmented Reality (AR) and MR applications and is likely a target for enterprise use cases. Latency from the video pass-through could be an issue, but companies like Varjo have developed XR solutions that allow users to visualize virtual automotive dashboards while driving test vehicles, so there is room for optimism.

Lastly, HTC discussed a prototype series called Proton that will support MR applications. There are currently two versions in development: both standalone and mobile/VR Viewer form factors. The standalone version will rely on an external battery/processing pack and could include mobile connectivity—HTC has said it is reluctant to put the mobile antennae in the HMD due to its proximity to the user’s head. The VR Viewer would rely on a smartphone for external processing and battery and could leverage the device’s 5G connection.        

An HMD for Everyone?

IMPACT


By expanding its product portfolio, HTC is hoping to appeal to a wider audience by offering something for almost everyone. From the consumer’s perspective, having more choices is often better, although HTC’s strategy in this case could backfire; the VR market is moving forward, but it’s far from advanced enough to merit this many versions of a VR headset. HTC now offers two series of tethered HMDs (three if you include refurbished models of its original VIVE HMD) and, in select markets (or enterprise), a standalone unit (Focus). There is some potential delineation between the Pro and Cosmos lines, targeting the enterprise/professionals and consumers respectively, but the modularity of Cosmos is intended to reach both sectors.

HTC is also approaching these market segmentations more from a “Swiss Army Knife” approach than dedicated and targeted platforms. It also doesn’t help that the branding and marketing for each overlap as each new series outperforms the previous one in some regards. The displays for each, for example, have progressively gotten better, despite the “Pro” targeting high end gamers and professionals:

  • VIVE: 1080 x 1200 per eye (2160 x 1200 overall), 110-degree Field of View (FOV)— 11 pixels per degree
  • VIVE Pro: 1400 x 1600 per eye (2800 x 1600 overall), 110-degree FOV—15 pixels per degree
  • VIVE Cosmos: 1440 x 1700 pixels per eye (2880 x 1700 overall), 110-degree FOV—16 pixels per degree

While the Pro series has an SKU that offers eye tracking, the main differentiator between it and the Cosmos is the inclusion of SteamVR 2.0 base stations versus the Cosmos Elite, which comes with version 1.0 (2.0 supports larger tracking area). Pricing is also relatively close; the Pro Starter Kit starts at US$899, which matches the first to market (of the new versions of) Cosmos Elite. While the Cosmos, which starts at US$699 is lower, it’s still high compared to Oculus’s Rift S and Sony’s PSVR. The Cosmos Play, if it arrives at the same US$400 price point as the Rift S, would be more competitive, but not if the tracking is inferior to the Rift S—if it carries a higher price, HTC will need to justify the added cost.

Prospective buyers may ultimately find the buying decision more complicated by the array of choices than easier to find one that best fits their needs—especially if the Cosmos Play’s tracking is too limited.

VR Needs Market Specialization

RECOMMENDATIONS


While the vast majority of HMDs used by consumers and enterprises are still largely the same models, as the market matures both sectors will increasingly have different demands, requiring separate sets of SKUs. Varjo, which only targets the professional space, is a prime example here: while the HMDs cost in excess of 5X of other units, the performance is bleeding edge, with two sets of displays that offer a pixel per degree of at least 60 (matching the fovea) in the central focus area and a second display for the wider FOV. While the consumer market would certainly benefit from similar screens, the price point is too prohibitive. HTC’s solutions, while varied, do not create enough separation from both technological and pricing perspectives. The Cosmos Play could hit the broader consumer market, but if the tracking is inferior it will yet again be priced too high given the competition—note that many early reviewers of the Cosmos unit (with six cameras) favored the inside out tracking of the less expensive Oculus Rift S (five cameras).

HTC is straddling the line between the enterprise and the consumer, offering a solution that will eventually seem less optimal from an enterprise perspective (which will increasingly favor standalone HMDs and enterprise grade solutions) and is priced above the more mainstream consumer market. While this mainstream market is not yet well established, the Oculus Quest and continued support from Sony will certainly help bring more consumers on board. HTC would be best suited to bring eye tracking to the Cosmos (even if it is for enterprise only) and end sales of the Pro series—the Cosmos line can already serve the widest range of customers, including those who are using base stations with the elite model or faceplate. HTC should also start pushing the boundaries on price for consumers and performance for the enterprise on future products to avoid being left in the middle and serving neither market well. A mobile reliant Proton HMD, if priced relatively aggressively, could fit the mold of a lower priced consumer solution that matches the more premium performance of the Oculus Quest (with a better form factor) at a lower price point. Devices such as this could also rejuvenate the mobile VR market, which would certainly help the technology’s 5G prospects, especially if other companies and end users have concerns with the mobile antenna in the HMD.   

 

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