The Vive Pre has arrived! If you're not aware, this is the latest developer version of HTC / Valve's VR headset, and it's absolutely incredible.
If you've used the original HTC Vive you'll know it was already very impressive hardware, and the wireless controllers added a new dimension to interaction in VR. The Vive Pre takes an already astonishing experience and refines it even further.
Firstly, the HMD is noticeably smaller and looks much more like a final version. The photosensors are now hidden by plastic that is transparent to IR light. It also has a USB hub for accessories, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. HTC also bundled some decent in-ear headphones. There's also a camera on the front of the HMD, though the new chaperone system is yet to be enabled for developers.
The Lighthouses (or Basestations) are smaller, make no noise, require no sync cable if the lighthouses are in LoS of each other, and only have a couple of visible LEDs. This makes it much easier and more practical to mount in the home. Interestingly, the only way to power them off is to unplug them. It seems HTC intend for us to keep them on permanently.
The controllers have absolutely wonderful ergonomic and aesthetic design. The hockey-puck design is gone, replaced with a far more pleasing look. The weighting of the controllers is perfect - it rests easily in the hand, and the underside of the trigger can balance on just one finger.
Overall, this display on the Vive Pre is much improved. The 'linen screen' effect is entirely gone. Colours are more vivid, the contrast is fantastic, and the screen-door effect is barely perceptible. I've only noticed the SDE when looking at large areas of solid colour, and even then I was intentionally looking for it.
While the hardware is undeniably great, the original Vive took a few hours to get it set up and working. However, the Vive Pre was set up in about 30 minutes, with only a few issues in getting one of the controllers paired. Valve have done a great job with the software, making something that could be difficult very straightforward. I've heard some developers have had a few problems, but my experience has been almost plug-and-play.
My only criticism would be the headphones. While they're good, I'm not keen on sharing in-ear headphones! Of course, these can easily be swapped due to the 3.5mm jack. It remains to be seen if this will be the solution in the consumer version.
Overall, the Vive Pre feels like a consumer product. I feel they could probably release this as-is.
How does this compare to the Oculus CV1? Well, I don't have one to compare it to yet, although the Oculus CV1 Kickstarter Edition should arrive in the near future.
Exciting times for VR!
Finally, BAFTA for scale ;)