You will soon be able to add just about anything to VR.
HTC announced a new wave of accessories headed to Vive owners later this year, but the one that stands above the crowd is the new Vive Tracker. HTC has built a small Vive controller with a data port on the bottom that third-party accessory manufacturers can add to just about anything, making it possible to then add that physical object to the virtual world you're playing in.
To help show off the many ways this Tracker is going to be used when it's available, HTC had several partners on site to show off their efforts so far. Here's what we've learned!
Bringing physical stuff virtual
The big thing that is likely to excite a lot of people is the ability to hold an object that feels exactly like the VR version looks. This means pistols and rifles with the Tracker attached become real in VR. Holding the weapon feels more real, which means your action in-game become more real. The kick from the rifle as you squeeze the trigger or the ability to switch from a pistol to a sword for games like Raw Data will make a huge difference in actual gameplay.
This extends much further than guns. DiamondFX from TrinityVR puts an actual baseball bat in your hand and has you swinging against virtual recreations of the greatest pitchers of all time. The simulation measures how well you swing in a way that could easily be used to gauge professional ball players, and includes a detailed breakdown of how each swing worked out.
It's not hard to see how quickly VR accessories could become popular, from golf clubs to katanas, all powered by an individual Vive Tracker. The user buys a single tracker, connects it to the accessory they want to use, and the app recognizes that item as a virtual tool you're now holding in the real world.
While only in prototype stages right now, there are several companies working to add gloves to a Vive Tracker so your hands are in the virtual world. Unlike what we've seen from users willing to add a Leap Motion to their setup, these hands are positioned just like your Vive controllers. That means they don't get lost, and are immediately calibrated to your body with a simple gesture.
The gloves currently being developed by Manus VR render your whole arm, so when you look down or raise your hands up you get an incredible amount of finger and joint movement along your entire arm. This doesn't mean every VR game will implement full arm rendering, of course, but it does mean there's a possible future for some VR experiences where your hands are not only there but a huge part of interacting with the virtual world. Instead of gripping a controller to pick up a puzzle piece, you just bend down and actually pick it up.
Ready Player Two
One of the most clever uses of the Vive tracker shown off at HTC's event was in adding an Ipega gun controller and a smartphone to create an entirely separate player in the VR game. This second player uses the phone display to see into the virtual world and shoot, and because the Tracker is attached that gun is positioned in your VR playspace in a way that can be easily seen by someone wearing an HTC Vive. The end result is the ability to put the headset on and see your second player while the two of you work together to take out all of the enemies that spawn around you.
It's not difficult to imagine this taken further into Mixed Reality. Using the Vive tracker as a separate camera in the VR world means recording on green screens is easier, but also just being able to take better screenshots and video in VR by having a separate camera you control in a physical space is exciting. One such demo made it possible to take a photo in VR that was physically printed on a photo printer seconds later, and while that may not be overly useful in every situation it's undeniably cool.
Vive Tracker feels like an obvious evolution for room-scale VR, and even in this early stage it feels very well implemented. The battery on Vive Tracker is expected to last for six hours of gameplay, which is roughly what you get from a standard Vive controller right now.
HTC isn't announcing official pricing and availability for Vive Tracker yet, but you can expect a significant array of accessories to go with Tracker will be available when this does launch.