Back at last year’s Google I/O, Daydream Standalone was hailed as Google’s next big thing in VR. A big part of that plan was a custom headset from HTC that didn’t require a phone, but instead we’ll soon be using the Lenovo Mirage Solo as Daydream’s first standalone headset. What happened to HTC’s design? It became the Vive Focus, running its own software with its own Vivewave app store, and is currently only available in China.
I have a few minutes to try one out at GDC 2018, as well as a few minutes with Vivewave’s Best Game award-winning Spark of Light, and to be honest, I’m more than bitter I can’t buy one of these headphones right now.
The Vive Focus is a Six Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) unmanaged headset, which means you can navigate as if you were using an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, but the headset isn’t connected to your phone or computer. All bits of tracking, processing and connectivity are inside the headset with its own battery and controller. Where Daydream, Cardboard and Gear VR only let you turn your head to explore the virtual space, Vive Focus lets you lean in to see more of the world. This is a whole new level of immersion if you’ve ever experienced phone VR headsets.
What makes the Vive Focus really stand out to me is the head strap. Adding a battery and built-in display and processor to these headsets adds some understandable heft, and to address that issue, the headstrap is designed to hug your nail perfectly. While most headsets are starting to adopt a «halo» design that hugs your head like a crown, this strap system drops down to grab closer to the base of your skull. There is a mechanism to tighten the strap over the head so that the pressure does not touch the eyes and nose. As a result, it’s one of the most comfortable headsets I’ve ever worn and does a great job of making it easy to get on and off.
When asked if the Vive Focus would ever come to the US, he responded with an almost programmed shoulder.
As comfortable as this comfortable 6DoF headset is, that’s how the use of the 3DoF controller is limited. You can rotate the controller in your hand and point at things like on Daydream or Gear VR, but if you move your hands like the Vive or PlayStation VR, nothing happens in the headset. Instead, you have a trigger and a touchpad to interact with the world around you. Spark of Light, the award-winning game I was able to showcase on this headset, worked hard to take advantage of this limitation. The game guides the character through a series of puzzles taking place all around you, making it easy for you to turn around and lean on pieces, only occasionally clicking on certain pieces of the set to create the next piece of the puzzle.