HTC is back at E3 this year for its sophomore turn at the gaming expo, after its first show in 2016 following closely on the heels of the Vive VR headset’s consumer launch. I spoke to HTC VP of VR Dan O’Brien at this year’s E3, to find out a bit about how the company sees the market, its role therein and the state of VR in general now that it’s not the newest kid on the block.
We talked a bit about how important it is to see big games embrace the platform, including Bethesda’s Doom and Fallout VR titles (it wasn’t yet public that Mario Kart would also be making its way to the Vive via Tokyo arcades, but the same conclusions apply). O’Brien was candid about how despite strong indie support, which HTC continues to prize, big name games coming to VR are sure to help it continue to mature as an industry, and attract new gamers who might’ve been content to otherwise stay sat on the fence.
The Vive has also evolved from a hardware perspective, and O’Brien pointed out that both the new Deluxe Audio Strap, and Intel’s upcoming WiGig wireless adapter kit for Vive are going to be on display and available for testing this year at the show. The Vive Tracker, which brings other objects into the gaming world, is likewise on display with some new game integrations. The headset itself may not have changed since last year, but we’ve learned a lot about user experience, on both hardware and software fronts.
VR might not yet be a breakaway smash hit, even when it’s tied to a console and with a lower barrier to entry than the Vive, as with PS VR. But O’Brien doesn’t seem under any illusions about the work that still needs to be done in the space, and as proof he points to recent partnership announcements, including with Google, on different approaches to broadening the appeal of VR in general.
HTC didn’t get have anything as grandiose as its own Vive keynote at its second E3, necessarily, but it did see the VR pioneer incorporated in big announcements from Sony, Bethesda and Nintendo – not bad for a relative gaming expo novice.
June 14, 2017 / Comments Off on HTC Vive’s second E3 finds VR gaining some AAA steam
Are you paying attention, Pixelheads? A small but important change may be coming to your smartphone of choice.
Reports suggest that the next iteration of the Pixel is going to be manufactured by an entirely different company.
The Google Pixel has long been made by Taiwanese-based HTC, but according to a smattering of reports across the Pixelverse, that will likely soon change. And what company will dethrone HTC as the maker of the next Google phone?
That would allegedly be LG.
Follow along as we chase this trail of breadcrumbs to its South Korean terminus. Android Police reported on June 12 that the next generation Pixel XL is likely codenamed “taimen.”
What is a taimen, you ask? It’s a type of salmon.
Next, we learned via 9to5Google that someone working for LG reported a “USB PD Compliance Failure” in the Android Issue Tracker. But the rabbit hole goes even deeper: A “Googler” then asked that this report be moved to “Android > Partner > External > LGE > Taimen > power.”
Ergo, LG is working on the next generation Pixel XL.
Oh, also, an Android Police editor claimed LG is manufacturing the taimen.
See how neatly the pixelated pieces fit together?
The next version of the Pixel XL is expected to be unveiled in the fall of 2017, so true fans are surely already lining up at participating retail stores.
June 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Google’s likely ditching HTC for LG when it comes to the next Pixel
What most people don’t know about virtual reality headsets could fill a holographic stadium, but that’s not slowing the competition between the leading VR headset makers. The latest competitive upgrade comes from HTC’s Vive VR headset in the form of a new audio attachment called the Deluxe Audio Strap.
To be clear, this isn’t so much an innovation as it is playing catch-up with the Oculus Rift, which debuted the commercial version of its VR headset with headphones built into the device.
Oculus was itself the first to play catch-up last year when it released the Rift without the dedicated Touch controllers, a fact that many Vive fans pointed out as they enjoyed the wireless wands used for hand presence with the Vive. Nevertheless, it seems like Touch was worth the wait, as many consider it a more natural solution for hand presence compared to the wands of the Vive and the PlayStation VR.
This isn’t so much an innovation as it is playing a bit of catch-up with the Oculus Rift.
But now that both the Vive and Rift are essentially on the same footing in terms of hardware, the question is: Did the extra time HTC had to develop an audio accessory pay off? After living with the Deluxe Audio Strap for a week, I’d say the answer is yes.
Although the add-on looks a bit unwieldy, reminiscent of the elaborate Cerebro headcap the X-Men’s Professor X dons to find other mutants, the truth is that, since the Vive is already fairly weird looking, the new accessory blends in perfectly.
It takes about 10 minutes to attach the audio accessory to the headset (it’s a surprisingly tricky process). Once you’re done, you not only have a built-in headphone system, but also, the rear-mounted strap adjuster knob makes it easier to fit the Vive to various head sizes.
The earpieces, which are covered in soft plastic instead of foam like on the Rift (a good choice for those long, sweaty VR sessions) can be adjusted vertically to fit snugly onto your ears. As for sound, the audio is clear and powerful enough to allow the add-on to serve as your primary listening device for the Vive. For those who have been relying on audiophile-level third-party headphones while using the Vive, the audio strap probably isn’t going to live up to your exacting standards. But for most, the Deluxe Audio Strap will sound just fine.
The only wrinkle in this otherwise flawless upgrade is the price: $99.99. Sure, for standalone, high quality headphones, that’s not an exorbitant sum, but when you consider that it suddenly makes the $800 Vive headset a nearly $1,000 purchase — without a computer — it becomes clear that this is a device primarily targeting only the hardest core VR users.
For the rest of you, saving $100 and using your existing headphones is a perfectly reasonable approach as you attempt to horde coins to pay for the relatively expensive apps that make the Vive such a great experience.
May 30, 2017 / Comments Off on HTC Vive’s Deluxe Audio Strap finally completes the high-end VR headset experience
Google’s virtual reality announcement Wednesday at Google I/O was a big deal.
But that might not be readily apparent to those still getting their feet wet in VR, so Google made a video to help you get a better idea of what WorldSense does.
Current mobile VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR and Daydream View have 3DoF (three degrees of freedom), only allowing you to look around in VR from a fixed point (as if your head is on a tripod in the middle of a panoramic bubble). In that dynamic, you can’t get a truly immersive sense that you’re in another environment.
To get to 6DoF, where you can move more freely and have your head positionally tracked in three dimensions, beyond mere rotational movement, most people use higher-end VR devices like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. Both of those devices are tethered to powerful computers and work in conjunction with external sensors for tracking (Lighthouse and Constellation, respectively).
What Google’s WorldSense does is bring 6DoF to mobile, untethered VR headsets using inside-out tracking. A more detailed explainer on how this works was posted online last year by Google’s WorldSense development partner Qualcomm.
And while bringing 6DoF tracking to mobile, tetherless VR headsets won’t replace the Vive or Oculus in terms of quality of experience, it is a major step closer to getting us to that point.
Google’s video is short and not at all technical, but it does demonstrate how important 6DoF inside-out tracking is when it comes to truly immersive VR. The girl shown dodging virtual objects in preparation for a real game of dodge ball can’t do what she’s doing using current mobile VR headsets.
Whether or not WorldSense will be a game changer in terms of boosting mobile VR remains to be seen, but with partners like HTC and Lenovo, and Google’s Daydream platform, mobile VR content is set to become a great deal more immersive, and perhaps even addictive.
May 17, 2017 / Comments Off on Google video shows how its new VR feature could be a game changer
The last few years have seen phone makers largely dump fun little gimmicks in favor of refining the basics: design, display, performance, and battery life.
Nothing wrong with a solid all-around phone, but that’s also why people think phones are boring. You now what’s not boring? HTC’s new flagship, the HTC U 11. Why? Two words: squeezable sides.
Though HTC already launched two flagship Android phones this year — the disappointing HTC U Ultra and HTC U Play — the company’s new HTC U 11 is the direct successor to last year’s HTC 10.
The HTC U 11 sports the U-series’ “liquid design,” which melds glass and metal to create a seamless design that’s both elegant to look at and to hold.
Indeed, the phone’s four different colors (Brilliant Black, Sapphire Blue, Amazing Silver, Ice White) are attractive, reflecting hints of different colors at different angles (like navy in the black, and green in the blue), but they’re also fingerprint magnets. Not a deal-breaker since the Jet Black iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S8 are also fingerprint magnets, but I kind of wish this glossy trend would end.
On the plus side, the HTC U 11’s IP67 water- and dust-resistant, meaning it’s just as weather-proof as the iPhone 7.
High-polished looks aside, the HTC U’s got the same specs as the S8, including a Android 7.1.1 Nougat (with HTC Sense), a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD card), and a 3,000 mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0 via USB-C.
Speaking of USB-C, that’s how you’ll listen to music because there’s no headphone jack. While Apple’s reason for killing the jack is all about wireless audio, HTC insists USB-C is just superior for playing high-res music with its bundled USonic earbuds, which feature an integrated amplifier and built-in active noise cancellation without any extra bulk. Whatever.
The HTC U 11’s also got BoomSound Hi-Fi stereo speakers blasting sound from the bottom-firing speaker and the earpiece. I got a brief listen comparing it the old HTC 10 and the HTC U 11’s sound fidelity is definitely fuller.
Asia will get a version with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. When I asked why Asia always gets a variant with more RAM and storage, Nigel Newby-House, HTC’s associate vice president of portfolio planning, said it’s a spec sheet thing; consumers in Asia apparently consider technical specs deeply, and when a cheaper phone has more RAM or more storage than a premium-brand device, it’s just not a good look.
The 5.5-inch Quad HD resolution Super LCD display is nice and sharp, and while it’s not going to wow you the way the Galaxy S8’s “infinity display” does, it holds its own against other phone screens. Below the screen, you’ll find a pill-shaped fingerprint sensor flanked by capacitive Back and Recent Apps buttons.
HTC has also improved the cameras. The back’s got a 12-megapixel camera with an f/1.7-aperture lens with faster autofocus than its previous phones. On the front, you’ll find a 16-megapixel selfie camera with an f/2.0 lens and a 150-degree field of view.
The specs are great, but the HTC U 11’s marquee feature is Edge Sense, the phone’s pressure-sensitive sides.
The phone performs different actions depending on how hard you squeeze it. For example, you could set a short squeeze to take a screenshot, or launch the Google Assistant, turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot, or launch an app, to name a few shortcuts. A longer squeeze might be configured to launch the flashlight.
Let’s be real here: It’s strange to squeeze the edges of a phone. But after a few squeezes it felt no weirder than using Motorola’s double-twist gesture to launch the camera or double-chop gesture to turn on the flashlight.
In other words: It’s a gimmick, but it’s a somewhat natural and practical one, and if you don’t like it you can turn it off.
There are varying levels of pressure Edge Sense can detect to prevent accidental squeezes. Pick the force level that’s right for you. Moreover, Edge Sense works with gloves on.
Return of HTC?
As one of the underdogs of the phone world, I want to see HTC rise back from its ashes as much as anyone. Gimmicky as Edge Sense might be to most people, the company’s still brave enough to try new things. Its timing is always wrong (it was the first to do an aluminum unibody design, dual cameras with bokeh effects, stereo speakers, etc.) but it’s clear the company still knows how to innovate.
The HTC U 11 is a step in the right direction for HTC. It’s got flagship specs, a beautiful design, and the quirky Edge Sense to give it that special something, but all of this might not be enough.
My only gripe is that HTC’s not pricing it to slay the competition. Though the company says pricing is forthcoming, I’m told it’ll be priced competitively with other premium flagships, which means HTC could end up shooting itself in the foot again when the phone launches in the coming weeks.
It’s tough especially when you’re competing with high-quality Chinese phones that sell for less (OnePlus anyone?), but pricing the HTC U 11 lower than a Galaxy S8 or LG G6 would make the phone a little more attractive.
You can build a great phone, but if few people buy it, that’s a business problem, not an innovation one.
May 16, 2017 / Comments Off on You’ll want to squeeze HTC’s new flagship phone, and not because it’s adorable