HTC is launching the Vive Flow today available for pre-order $499 and launching in early November. They’re 6-DoF “immersive glasses” weighing 189 grams that are meant to be the tablet of VR. You have to bring your own power supply, and so you’ll need either a battery pack, pug it into a USB port, or use your phone’s battery. It’s intended to carve out a new market for VR for folks who are focused more on lifestyle applications like watching a 200-inch cinema screen on an airplane, immersive meditation apps, casual gaming, or productivity apps.
The resolution is only 1.6k per eye, but the full megapixel resolution was not provided [UPDATE 6:25p Oct 14 2021]: It’s 1600×1600 per eye as shown here]. In fact, HTC is not sharing a lot of details on the specifications since if you’re paying attention to the details of these specs, then you’re probably already a power user of VR wanting full embodiment, and this is not the best option for that especially as you have to use your phone as a 3DoF input device to select options and scroll. Road to VR is reporting that it is running on a Qualcomm XR1 chip with 64GB of space and 4GM of RAM. Another use case is streaming your phone via Miracast to the display device to watch streaming services or play cloud gaming services, which is currently Android only and requires support for HDCP 2.2. [UPDATE 6:32p Oct 14, 2021: It also requires Android to be used as a 3DoF controller as iOS is currently not supported].
So in the absence of having all of the specs, I had a chance to talk with Shen Ye, Senior Director and Global Head of Hardware Products at HTC about the story of the Vive Flow, and where they see it fitting into the overall ecosystem. Ye said that they know where VR is going with lightweight glasses that you wear all day, and eventually replaces aspect of your phone. They don’t know what the exact next step is to get to that final goal, but this is their next step they’re taking to expand their VR market. So listen in to get a bit more context of the development of the Vive Flow and how they see it fleshing out the VR ecosystem with the aim of becoming the tablet of VR.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
I did a round-up of additional context and reviews here in this Twitter thread (also don’t miss Shen’s thread here, which is like the Twitter thread version of our conversation)
I had a chance to talk about the Vive Flow with @shen, @HTC Global Head of Hardware Products about how these immersive glasses are aiming to become the tablet of VR.
Hear how HTC is focusing more on the lifestyle story of this new market than the specs.https://t.co/r8DWifsAUn pic.twitter.com/4d5yta0hR0
— Kent Bye (Voices of VR) (@kentbye) October 14, 2021
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So the HTC Vive Flow is launching today. It's what they're describing as the tablet of VR. So you have PC VR, and then you have the mobile self-contained all-in-one, the AIO units. But now we have this interim place that is a little bit more of a lifestyle. Immersive glasses is what HTC is calling it. So they say it is a bit of a stepping stone for VR. So for anybody who's a hardcore VR user, they would probably already go with the fully standalone, either the Oculus Quest or the Vive Focus 3. Or if you want to go into the PC VR, there's the Index and there's the Vive Pro 2. So this is trying to carve out a new market. However, it's more expensive than the Quest 2. It's around $499 so it's about $200 more expensive and HTC is actually not sharing a lot of the specifications for this device and so there's a lot of just guessing as to what actually the full specifications are going to be. It's launching here at 8 AM on October 14th. So you may actually get some of these different answers, but this is what I was not able to get in terms of the exact specifications of the chip. We don't know what the chip is, how much hard drive space there is. There's phone streaming, but it's not supported on iOS. It is supported on Android. You have to bring your own battery. Uh, so you have to either tether it to a power source or connect it to a battery pack. And the resolution is probably around the equivalent of the quest one, although they didn't. give the full range. Senior Director and Global Head of Hardware Products at HTC, and fleshing out some of the other aspects of the story, why they created this. At the very end, he said something very interesting, which is, they know what the endpoint is, which is these immersive glasses that are super lightweight and portable, and that you could potentially wear them all day, replacing your smartphone. They don't know the exact next step to get there, and so this is, in some sense, their best take, because this is, in a lot of ways, where the overall industry is going, and so the form factor is different than anything else that we've seen before. And I think they're trying to hit, like, a different market and expand out and not have the full levels of embodiment that we have. So there's no 6DoF controller. You're using your phone as a pointer and a controller. So you're not going to get the same level of embodiment, and if you do want that, then there's other VR headsets that are probably better for you. But it's super lightweight, 189 grams, and it's like a new media consumption option. We've had the Oculus Go and the Gear VR in the past, but more expensive than both of those. So it's kind of hard to know whether or not there's going to be a market here. You know, the big use case that's being described is going onto a plane and having like a 200 inch cinema screen. So is that worth $499? And are there more of these mindfulness and meditation and productivity apps that people just want to have? That's super, super portable, even more portable than the quest, putting into a little thermos and just have it available and to throw it on. If you have extra power source around or battery pack, then yeah, there's going to be new ways of seeing what the affordances of VR are. That's the context. We'll get the full story from Xinyi. I had a chance to talk to him yesterday on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:41.612] Shen Ye: So hi, I'm Shen. I look after all of our hardware products globally at HTC. So we've been working really hard on bringing VR devices out this year. So that includes like the VIVE Pro 2 and VIVE Focus 3 that came out earlier this year, but also the VIVE Flow as well. Yeah, so with something like the ViFlow, it's something that we've been exploring for a long period of time, creating something that's incredibly small form factor, incredibly light to make VR a lot more accessible. With a lot of existing VR devices, we see they're not exactly portable, right? Even with are actual headsets, right? The Vive Focus 3 is designed to be portable, but it's not something that you would chuck into a backpack, as it'll probably take up a third of the space in that backpack. So, you know, we'd be exploring ways of making it more accessible, more portable, so that more people can use it and find more use cases for VR in their life.
[00:04:36.073] Kent Bye: Great. So since the Vive Flow is being announced today and I'm hearing about it and learning about it for the first time, although there have been quite a number of leaks that have been out there. So it's always hard to know, but maybe you could give a little bit of a rundown of like, what's the resolution, what's the processing power behind it. And it sounds like it's not going to have controllers. And so, yeah, maybe you could just do a little bit of a rundown of the baseline specs and what we expect this is going to be really tuned for.
[00:05:00.804] Shen Ye: Sure. I guess as this is more of like what we're thinking of more like a lifestyle device, let me jump into some of the background of why we think there is room for a device like this. And also I want to talk more about the user experience rather than a lot of the specs, but I'll also go into a few things. So When it comes to the VR market, as I said, you have Vypro2 for PC VR, you have VyFocus3 for AIO in our portfolio. When we look at that portfolio, we're also wondering, as I said, how do we expand it? So when we look at other spaces, the one that's analogous is the computing space. VR is very much in massive computing, so let's look at something that's very similar. So if you look at the computing space, We come from several decades ago where people were starting to have PCs in their homes, right? And these were considered small because previously they were the size of server cabinets that we would consider today. So, you know, as PCs evolved, we started to see things like the laptop appear, which allowed you to have that power, but more portable. Of course, it's not going to have the same level of power, right? Like at the end of the day, we're talking basic physics of that thing eats a ton more power than the laptop. But it does catch up. Laptops of a generation will be faster than the desktops of several generations ago. And then you started seeing the tablet as well, which seemed weird initially, but it doesn't have a keyboard. It has limited amount of power and interactivity. It doesn't use a mouse. How would I use it properly? So while we see computing evolve, we also realize that when you have these form factors, they fill in gaps and uses that really benefit people. And they don't disappear at all. If you're a video producer or a 3D designer, if you want the best performance, you're going to buy a desktop no matter what. You might have a laptop on the go, but if you want the best performance, you're going to always have that desktop there. Laptops are great for portability and having that power. It's about a balance. And then you have, of course, the tablet is incredibly more portable. So when you look at PC VR, it's similar. If you want the best of the best, that is PC VR, right? You're going to have all the ray tracing, you're going to have raw video input straight into the headset. So we see that PC VR definitely being around. But we also see AIOs, right? AIOs are fantastic as well. They have that portability and that processing high performance balance. But when you look at something like the tablet space of the VR market, that's where we see something missing, right? That incredibly portable, incredibly good user experience, right? The people that don't need all of that performance, but there are loads of benefits that it can bring to everyday lives. My parents use tablets more when they're doing personal things, right? But of course they use a laptop when they're at work. So how do we bridge that gap? So ViFlow is that device, right? As you may have seen last year where we kind of teased the design language of such a device, what we're calling immersive glasses in that Project Proton concept. That's something we've been working really hard on, right? You know, you can draw something that's super nice and render it, but there are loads of hurdles in terms of the implementation and making it actually a decent product. So number one, you can see it's very different from a lot of headsets because it's super small and super lightweight, and it uses arms instead of having a strap. And that comes down to the weight. So the weight is 189 grams. For British people, that's about the weight of a large chocolate bar. But actually, to put it into perspective, a lot of the demos that we've been doing have been using phones like the Samsung A52s, a mid-range phone, which is actually heavier It's at 190 grams. It's a gram heavier, but that really puts into perspective the weight of the device. I'll go into more about how it works with the phone and everything as well. But yeah, that weight allows us to really get it to a point where we can use arms to strap to your head so that the weight can be spread between your nose, your face, and the back of your head very comfortably. And that also allows you to do a lot of other things. So you can allow users to wear it for a long period of time, but also it allows you to relax and lie down, right? Something you can't really do with existing headsets because there's always something in the back of your head, but having nothing there means that that is something you can do. So a lot of the stuff that we were thinking about when we were designing it was, okay, so, you know, you have to very much the basics, right? Because it's VR, you can do things like run VR apps, you can have your own private cinema screen, right? The low-hanging fruit that we can do. But the other parts were things like, okay, so now we can wear it for a long period of time. You can kind of move around very quickly and have a lot of movement without it, like waving around and the portability of it. It unlocked a few other things. So, and that's where we really thought about the mental wellness side of what we could offer through Vive Flow. So mental wellness and mental wellbeing kind of mean different things across different markets. especially in the US region, people are more open about things like therapy and mental health and meditation. But as you go into other regions, people don't really talk about that. It's not something that they do, but they have their own versions of mental wellbeing. And that could be certain people that just wants to watch a film to really relax, or they want to go into somewhere and just listen to some chill music in a chill environment. There are loads of different things that people do. looked at all of those and thought, you know, this headset could fit amazingly. Right. So, you know, whether you're playing content on there, I'll go into a bit more about the content later, but, you know, we have a little suite of mental wellbeing applications that will be on it as well. You know, we've even added like a blue light filter. So if you're using any of like, for example, the meditation apps to help you go to sleep easier, you know, having a blue light filter really helps with that as well, especially if it's more visual experience. And then one other thing is, as I said, it's a private 200 inch cinema screen that you can have. So we were like, okay, we can get video applications. But then one other thing was, okay, so actually we could mirror our phones. It's something we have with us all the time. It's something that we already have one of our apps on. If we can mirror our phone, we can do a lot of things. For me, one of the most exciting things is being able to be on a plane and having the biggest screen of anyone on that plane, including everyone in first class combined, and being able to watch Disney Plus, Netflix. And because we use Miracast, it supports HTCP content as well. So we can cast protected content straight in. So that's, as I said, that's just a really cool thing that we can do. And we've managed to get to really high quality, low latency. That also means we can do things like if you have Google Stadia or Xbox Game Cloud on your phone, you can also mirror that on. And then use your controller to play games on this giant screen as well. But back to the mental wellbeing, if you have Calm or Headspace as those apps that you go to for mental wellness, those are things that you can mirror on there as well. So, there's a ton of cool use cases that we realized that we could do with something like this. And then when it comes to the phone side, we also were thinking, okay, so what about the controller experience? This thing, it has hinges, it folds up, it can fit into, a fanny pack if you really wanted it to. It's not going to take up much space in your bag. So we see a lot of people actually wanting to carry this around. So we were thinking about the usability side. So when it comes to controllers, we ship controllers with every single one of our headsets. But is that something that we really need for something like this? When we thought about the interactions, the interactions are very minimal. It's not a device that you'll be using to play Beat Saber or anything. Okay, so interaction, we need something to interact in VR. So we also don't want something that if you forget, you can't use the headset, or if you forget to charge, you can't use the headset. So we thought, okay, things that you carry on you every day, your phone, your keys, your wallet, right? And your phone has all the senses of being a pretty good interactive controller, right? So for us, we decided, okay, so, you know, we want to have an application that handles all of the streaming side very seamlessly. So instead of something like your traditional TV, where if you want to cast to it through a mirror cast, you have to go into the TV, open up mirroring mode, read the instructions, find out that that's a version of Android that's three years old. So you have to go and Google it for your phone specifically. We didn't want any of that. We wanted a good user experience. So when you install the phone, because we've tested it on so many different phones, we know how to minimize as much of the interaction. So for example, even on the Samsung phones, it will automatically open up the sharing and then share that screen automatically. So there's no user interaction anywhere there. So we have a companion app, which means we also have Bluetooth access. So, okay, so this can be a really good controller. So for us, when you're using the phone, you have the clicking button, you have the system key, and they're very large zones. And once you go through the tutorial, it's very self-explanatory. And then you can scroll as well. So when you're interacting with your phone, right, instead of actually glancing your phone and see where your finger is, your phone becomes a controller that acts kind of like a touch interaction on the screen. And then you can start clicking things or you can just start scrolling around as well. So that's kind of the decision we made when it comes to the controller. And then in the future, we are working on hand tracking as well. And that's something we see it can be important as well. If you don't have your phone or you don't want to use your phone, you know, simple gestures and simple hand interactions is something we'll get you through a lot of the Viya Flow experiences as well. So I guess coming back to the headset, the hardware itself is actually incredibly interesting, right? When you take the gasket off, it's an incredibly thin device. you know, and especially when you fold it up, it's basically the size of kind of like ski goggles, right? So we did a lot of work to do that. So these are probably the only specs I'll probably go deep into, I guess, is the displays. So let's start off with the displays, the 3.2K resolution combined. So 1.6K per eye, 75 Hertz refresh rate, and a hundred field of view. So pretty decent for a device this size. And then when it comes to the design of headsets, there are two things that make a headset as big as they usually are. One is that you're reserving space for glasses, right? That's something you kind of need for devices like the Vive Pro or the Vive Surface 3. But for something like this, where we want to keep it small, it's something that we decided, okay, let's not reserve that. And then we can build diopters. So if you have short-sightedness and you can't focus well, you can just adjust the dials on the lenses themselves, and it's per eye adjustments, and then you can get a clear image. And as part of the setup experience, we'll teach users how to do it, and we'll have all the guides necessary for people to do that. And also to not over sharpen, because that can also be an uncomfortable experience. But the other thing is, when you design the optics of how the display works, how the lenses work, that fine balance also dictates the size. So your standard setup in VR is kind of like a single Fresnel lens and a display. And that's what we call an optical tube. And that tube is generally, if you've seen a teardown, they can be big, especially if you want high FOV. You get to the point with a single lens that the only way to get a high FOV is having a bigger panel. Bigger panel means bigger headset. And that's why you have some really high FOV headsets that make you look like a hammerhead shark. They have their own place. For us, it's about how do we improve those without compromising on that design? So in Vive Focus 3 or Vive Pro 2, we had a new dual element lens design that allowed us to have that small display, but also a high field of view of 120 degrees. For something like Viflow, it's an even smaller display. It's an even smaller optical tube. So how do we do that? So we have a multi element lens design where not only does it rely on the normal refractance of how lenses usually work, but also reflection. So reflection allows us to gain a lot of distance between the layers of this really thin optical tube. So that's one of the main reasons why we can actually achieve something so slim. So that's pretty much the optics. When it comes to the rest of the experience, we have speakers built into the arms. It's not something I can really convey over a podcast, but, you know, everyone we've kind of shown it to and had briefings to, they've all come back saying, you know, these are so much better than I ever expected those to be. We've done a lot of work to make sure that the sound is incredibly rich. It has a good bass, but it's open. So there's nothing covering your ears. So there's that flexibility, but also if you are, say, in a cafe where you want it to be more private, or you're on a plane where the background noise is just a bit too much, you can also just pair your own Bluetooth earbuds or headphones with Vive Flow itself and have that audio experience as well. At the front, we have two dual microphones. So the microphones are there for echo cancellation and background noise cancellation, very standard among headsets. And then a bit more into the ergonomics, I guess, the face gasket is removable. So it's magnetic as well. So really easy to install, but because it's fabric, it means it's super breathable and it's also really easy to clean. And then when you're wearing any sort of even goggles, swimming goggles, ski goggles, they can fog up. And those things don't even produce any heat. Electronics produce heat, so how do we avoid that? So we have an active cooling system that not only pumps out the heat of the headset away from the user, but we also draw the cool air in from where the face is. So your face constantly gets a supply of fresh air, which helps prevent any fog buildup, but also just prevent any overheating around that facial area. As you saw the hinges allow it to fold up, but there are actually two hinges. So you have one that allows it to fold up and then the other one that is tensioned. So this tension one allows you to adjust this for different size heads. There's actually a lot of work that went into this. Basically everyone's head shape is different, right? So how do we make sure that if your head is super small or if your head like mine is incredibly big, we don't cause the person with the big head to be uncomfortable over a short period of time. And we don't cause how it sits on a small head to be incredibly loose, right? So it's about tuning that tension so it's perfect for everyone. So we did a lot of work on that. It's something that sounds easy. It's also incredibly easy to do it as a prototype. It's very hard to mass produce it. So that's something that we've been working hard on as well in terms of the ergonomics. So it's designed to be worn for a long period of time. And then also just like the design of it is really sleek, right? You don't have any super bulky arms. We tried our best to hide the tracking cameras under the lenses, right? So it actually looks like a sleek design and it's just something we're incredibly proud of. Sorry if I rambled for a long period of time, but yeah, that's kind of a quick dive into some of the specs and that experience. As I said, it's not something where we wouldn't talk about specs. If you want the most powerful portable headset, you know, we'll tell you to go buy a Vive Focus 3. If you want something that's designed for great user experience, for accessibility, you know, a stepping stone for a lot of people into the VR game and a lot of those software features that we mentioned, you know, being able to carry it on you and have it as your private cinema display. A friend of mine that I was talking about this to was joking, like, this would be amazing because he would actually really prefer to have a private display when he's watching films on a plane, right? Last time, he accidentally decided to watch Wolf of Wall Street without realizing how big of a mistake it was that people around him were going to see his display and didn't realize what the content was. So he's saying like, you know, he still hasn't gone back to watch that film. But, you know, something with a private device also allows you a lot of that flexibility when you're viewing content as well.
[00:21:12.872] Kent Bye: Is this a 3DOF display or is it a 6DOF device?
[00:21:16.433] Shen Ye: The headset itself does have physical tracking. So you can walk around with it. Yeah. I think having 3DOF only on a headset, it's not a compromise we're willing to take. One thing that I kind of haven't mentioned is about the way it's powered, right? So for us, it comes down to how do we balance the usability, right? And the performance. So, you know, something like the Vive Focus 3 uses that XR2 and drains as much as it can out of it. But for something like this, we can't really do that because one, we want to keep it lightweight and small. So we didn't want to put a battery in it to make it standalone. It does have a tiny battery in it, but it's more for power reliability reasons. So if you lose power through your power source, it can warn you and it can also safely shut down as well. That's the only reason it's there. It's not designed for sustainability, but there's a tiny cell in that. But in terms of actual power source, you know, we kind of looked at specs in general and thought, you know, USB 3 is very prevalent now, right? Every laptop has it, every device has it, you know, phone chargers nowadays will charge faster than USB 3.0 can actually even provide. So we kind of said, okay, USB 3.0, the power budget is 7.5 Watts, right? And that's the power budget that we gave to the engineers, right? You can't exceed this. which means you can't do crazy things like turbo boost device or super overclock it or anything else. And considering displays aren't exactly energy efficient, at the end of the day, there isn't that much juice left for us to power the performance. For us, the key was one, being able to power off a lot of different devices. So as an example, I can power off a wall charger. I can power off the USB port on a plane or a train, right? So again, not having to have a battery on your head in those situations. So we decided, okay, let's just allow it to be powered externally. In addition, you can power off a battery bank. So, you know, your very standard 10,000 milliamp hour battery bank that you can fit in a pocket, that will run ViFlow for about five hours. And I don't mean like, you know, five hours of power saving mode or anything specific. I just mean like, you can just run the headset for five hours. And then worst case, you don't have any of those. You can also just run it off a phone. The majority of phones deliver enough wattage from their USB ports to power ViFlow, right? So that's one of the things that was key about making a portable device as well, which is that interoperability of having a flexible power supply, right? It can be really anything. So that's another reason why I don't want to talk about specs is it's not about the specs. It's about the balance of all that hardware and software optimization inside that allows us to achieve a device like this.
[00:24:03.887] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess one of the things that was found with, say, the Gear VR was that, you know, you're putting a device like your phone, your primary phone into this headset that then may be draining people's batteries. And I think the battery management for a phone, I think is probably one of the things that with the Go and then the Quest that came along, it was sort of all self-contained. So it sounds like that folks will kind of have to bring their own power supply in some sense here, or either plug into something externally, because it doesn't sound like this is out of the box. necessarily going to be self-sustaining without that external battery source, or people are going to have to charge it from their phone, which what I saw, at least for the Gear VR was that people end up behaviorally trying to save as much power as they can. So I guess that's my biggest concern is if this is relying upon that, then that has proven on some level to be a bit of a blocker for people psychologically, if nothing else, to not have to take undue power from their
[00:24:57.496] Shen Ye: Yeah, I agree. And that's why it's the last thing I mentioned, right? It's the worst case scenario. If you really want to use it and you're making that decision, then that's something you can do. But I guess what we've realized is, you know, in this day and age, you know, a lot of people will have a spare power bank in their back, right? And that's more of like a peace of mind thing rather than something they rely on every single day. So it's something that will work. And again, coming back to, in a lot of those situations, we see people having a power source near them. So by not having to have the battery allows us to achieve that lightweight and the small dimension that we have achieved in Viya Flow. Any bigger and something like the arms become an unfeasible way of mounting to the head. And then we might have to go to something that's more strap style. So that was the balance when it comes to putting the battery inside or not. And then at the end of the day, a lot of the use cases we see, whether using it at home, you're not going to be far away from a power source, right? The majority of power adapters will have enough juice for this, right? You know, any USB 3.0 port you find should have enough juice for this. You know, pretty much every power bank, right? Every modern power bank supports fast charging and fast charging is way a lot more, it's so much more than 7.5 watts. So you're not going to have an issue when it comes to a battery bank powering this. So I guess that's the balance. So for me, you know, if you are someone that is your phone is barely able to make it to the end of the day. It's not something I would recommend using ViFlow on it. Every single day, I directly powered from the phone. But, you know, if you are, say, on your way home, you have 50% battery, you can charge it as soon as you get home, and you just want to see something in VR for tens of minutes or an hour, then that's something you can do, right? It's more about giving the flexibility rather than saying, this is reliant on your phone's power. It's about worst case, you can rely on your phone's power, but in a variety of other situations, you will have the power source to power this.
[00:27:02.167] Kent Bye: Is there a web browser that's going to be coming with the ViFlow?
[00:27:06.349] Shen Ye: I will need to double check and get back to you on that one. I actually don't know off the top of my head.
[00:27:13.123] Kent Bye: Cause I know that there is Janko Rogers of Protocol was reporting that there's been working on HTC verse, which was building off of Mozilla hubs just to be able to watch a WebXR experiences. Then you'd presumably need to have some sort of way of rendering out WebXR content.
[00:27:29.489] Shen Ye: Yeah. While I can't comment on leaks or any of the rumors at all, you know, WebXR is important to us. So let me get back to you on that specific question. Yeah, I believe there is, but I need to double confirm it with the team. Okay.
[00:27:43.460] Kent Bye: So would you imagine that some of these different VR experiences have adapted to using some sort of tablet interface via the phone or using the phone as an input device, or is it more of just say scrolling? I'm just thinking of something like the daydream of Google used to have like a six DOF headset as a three DOF input controller. If you foresee that there's going to be trying to integrate different aspects of the phone to be a viable input device, or if that's just more for selecting things that you're going to be passively consuming within the experience?
[00:28:14.503] Shen Ye: Yeah, for us with the phone controller, it's definitely more passive. Like we're not expecting you to use this as very actively as a controller. We've tried to make it as simple as possible. As I said, you know, you use the touchscreen, but we have zones on there. When you look at the virtual phone in VR, you can still see those zones. When you click, you can see where you've been clicking. So you have some sort of feedback of where you are clicking. And to be honest, everyone knows how to use their phone. They kind of know roughly what areas, what part of the screen. So that's something after a lot of research, we thought was the way to go for a lot of the experiences that we're building for Viya Flow. In terms of the content, so we have content like Trip VR that will be on there. As I said, we have a bit of a focus on mental wellness as well. When we're launching, we're also going to have VivePort Infinity Vista. So VivePort Infinity, I'm sure you're very aware of our subscription service, but VivePort Infinity Vista is basically the curated version specifically for ViveFlow. So any content that you have on that, we would have tested and made sure it works on ViveFlow, but also some of it has been actively created for ViveFlow. We've seeded these devices out to developers as well. so that they can build content for it. So for, yeah, 5.5 Infinity Vista, they'll also come in a lower price as well of 599 a month, right? Much lower than the normal 5.5 Infinity. And again, it comes back to, we just want this to be more accessible, right? We want it to be able to open up VR to a lot more people. I think there are a lot of people that when they see VR, it might be a bit too much for them, right? But offering things that they will be able to use, especially when it comes to the phone mirroring, I think offers a really nice stepping stone as well for a lot of people to start engaging in VR.
[00:30:00.182] Kent Bye: Will there be any say streaming apps ranging from like Netflix or if there's YouTube or if you have any 360 video apps that are going to be made available on here?
[00:30:11.575] Shen Ye: So Viveport Video with streaming capabilities will be on there. And that's right now all I can say in terms of the native app support. But again, that's the magic of having your phone mirroring, right? All the apps that you have on your phone can mirror to it. You know, especially if your phone supports HTCP, then you can mirror HTCP content to the headset, right? So that includes Netflix, that includes Disney Plus, that includes HBO Max. Widely, it's actually more required in the Western region. Actually, in the Eastern regions, a lot of companies don't even protect their content. But yeah, that's why we relied on Miracast because it actually provides a pretty good experience for what we needed. You don't see things like video compression issues because of Miracast. You don't see latency issues because of Miracast. You don't see color and contrast issues with it. So that's kind of why we have that mirroring. It's because Every app that you have on your phone, you can mirror directly onto the Vibe Flow.
[00:31:10.058] Kent Bye: And because this is presumably going to be doing a lot of streaming stuff, does it have like Wi-Fi 6 support or does it have like 5G support? Maybe you could just talk about some of the different ways in which that you foresee that connectivity.
[00:31:22.461] Shen Ye: Yeah, so connectivity right now, it has two major ones. So one is Bluetooth to your phone, and that's how the phone communicates. So not only is it for a controller, but also we have another layer, which is completely optional as part of the setup. You can also mirror your notifications, your calls, and your texts to ViFlow as well. So instead of it popping down on your giant cinema screen, it comes up as a little pop-up notification that's off screen. And that's something we thought was really valuable, especially if you're immersed in it as well. We don't send any of that data to the internet. That's private and completely between your phone and the headset. But if you don't want it, you can also just keep it unticked while you're setting up. So that's the Bluetooth side. And then Miracast uses its own protocol. And then the headset itself also has five gigahertz Wi-Fi. don't know if it's Wi-Fi 6, I need to get back to you on that specific one. Again, specs aren't something we're diving too deep into, but yes, we do have 5 gigahertz Wi-Fi, so it can operate independently with a Wi-Fi connection. When it comes to 5G, I guess it comes back to that power consumption argument right now. If we add a 5G radio, it's going to take more power. Even if we have enough power budget for it, how many frames does that eat into? How much performance does that eat into in the native VR content? So it's a balance there. you know, I wouldn't write off having 5G in a VR headset in the future. But the key thing is for this device, it's about that balance of power, efficiency and performance, and also the weight and everything else along with it as well.
[00:32:57.841] Kent Bye: People wanted to try to pair, let's say, the Knuckles controllers with if they already have a PC VR room, it's all set up. Can you even pair, like say, the Vive Flow and have like external controllers if you wanted to?
[00:33:12.624] Shen Ye: We don't have any official way of you streaming from your PC, not yet anyway, but it runs on the same operating system as WiFocus. So I'm sure someone's going to hack a VR streaming application to it. I'm not going to write that off. And if you do, we've all seen people being able to hack different tracking systems together and somehow calibrate them. So I'm sure someone will do it, but it's not something that we'll be teaching you how to do from day one.
[00:33:39.888] Kent Bye: I mean, it does sound like it is going to be a device that's going to be tuned towards consuming media. I don't know if that's accurate to say.
[00:33:45.891] Shen Ye: Yeah. It's opening up more use cases for VR than what it traditionally has been.
[00:33:53.017] Kent Bye: Yeah. And like you said, it sounds like it's a little bit of like the tablet of VR. It's not like a PC. It's not like the mobile, but it's maybe something that's sort of more like a tablet or phone use for people, the type of stuff that may already do on their tablet. So I don't know if, as an example, can you like pair an iPad and do procreate? Can you stream stuff from an iPad into this?
[00:34:11.958] Shen Ye: So right now we don't support iOS. Again, it comes back to it needs to be the device that has mirror costs. And one thing, as I said, that we've been trying to make sure is also not only is a technical support, is that there is a way for us to do that handshake, that connectivity seamlessly for the user, right? It comes back to all of that user experience. We want this to be requiring as few clicks as possible once you get it set up and as few clicks as possible during the setup. the majority of Android phones have Miracast natively supported, right? And that means there is a framework that we can leverage to do that. And that's one of the reasons why we really only support Android right now is because we can seamlessly enable that connection, right? There are laptops even that have Miracast, you know, Vive Focus 3 even has the ability to cast through Miracast, but it's not something we're saying we're supporting right now, because one, we spend a lot of work making sure that the connection is seamless, right? We don't want to, rely on a hacky solution on a per device basis, where the user has to click and spend five minutes to get it set up. So that's another one of the reasons. But, you know, when it comes to supporting more devices beyond Android, it's something we're constantly looking at. And, you know, we'll announce it as soon as we have something that we think is shippable.
[00:35:32.165] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual augmented reality might be? And what am I able to enable?
[00:35:42.751] Shen Ye: As I said, we all know the goal of where we want XR to be, VR and AR. We want it to be a small, lightweight pair of glasses that we are constantly using every single day, just like our smartphones, and perhaps even replacing the smartphone. We know what the goal is, but what we don't know is all the steps in between. Right. So for me, when people ask what's the future of it, it's like, you know, we all know where the far future is, but it's about all the ways that we get to that future. You know, there are loads of things in the middle, you know, stuff that we've been trying to innovate on, like shrinking the form factor, you know, similar to that tablet discussion, like the performance of things like this will only get higher and higher, right. Battery tech will improve. Display tech will improve. Optical tech will improve. you know, the software will improve, that software ecosystem will improve. And then even aside from the headset itself, infrastructure improves, right? Like when you have good 5G infrastructure, good Wi-Fi infrastructure, good edge computing infrastructure, right? Stuff like that enables a lot more things like on VR, the simple ones are like cloud computing and edge computing, being able to do remote rendering. right? Having PC level experiences on a portable headset, you know, there's a lot of infrastructure that we've set up that can allow that, but it's about the other stuff, like the backend, those servers, right? Having the volume of those servers to drive enough demand from users and then demand from users to drive more investment in those areas. But then also, you know, expanding that infrastructure outside of just major and minor cities as well, being able to access that. And then, you know, on the AR side, you know, just as important as being able to have a CloudFarm rendering it, because you want to keep them, right, like your glasses, incredibly small, incredibly slim, incredibly lightweight, nothing bulky. And that comes back to the same problem we have with Fife Flow, which is how do we balance the performance of it, the battery life, the thermals, everything else along with it. And then, you know, you want to offload as much as possible, right, in terms of the processing. but then you also want to make sure the onboard stuff like networking is also super low power as well. And then things like AI as well, right? I think we all know AI is going to require a lot of AI inferencing, right? And how to manage that offline and online, but then all the privacy stuff around it as well, right? Like for us, we've been trying to be privacy centric on a lot of the designs we've done. So as I said, we allow you to mirror your phone calls, your text messages, and your notifications to ViFlow, but none of that gets transmitted over the internet. It's direct headsets to the phone. When it comes to things like the ViFocus 3, all the tracking map storage is one stored in a way that mathematically you can't change it back into a bitmap image. So if you've been using it in a specific area, no one's going to be able to have a photo of that space. But then also you're making sure it's encrypted as well, just adding that additional layer of protection so that people can't even read that tracking map data. They can't even know where the tracking points are. There's a lot of stuff around that. And then there's also getting people to get into XR as well. And that's where something like Vifo comes in, giving those stepping stones that gets more people accessing VR, giving them something that they can resonate with in terms of a use case. All the tech journalists I've shown it to, not only virtually, but also in person, they've all said, Techtober's coming. When can I get one? I just want to use it on a plane because I'll be flying everywhere and I just want a bigger screen on the plane. So, you know, even a lot of them, they don't have VR themselves, but it's the first device they've considered. Yeah, I would actually buy that because that's something, as someone who travels a lot and someone who can see those use cases enough to actually using it, like it's actually an amazing experience. So yeah, I want to make those more accessible. And then, you know, there's always, I like to say mental barriers as well in terms of, how we approach newer tech, right? I think the two biggest examples I can give is like, you know, when we launched the original HTC Desire, like over 10 years ago, that was a three and a half inch device. And people back then thought, this is huge. No one's going to have a phone this big. Right. And people were laughing about people with their phablets at six to seven inches. Nowadays, A lot of people use six-inch devices and seven-inch devices, and even almost seven-inch devices. It took some time to get through that mental barrier. Similarly, when the Chromebook came out, and that was an infrastructure thing as well, people can't imagine relying on just a web browser to do computing. They couldn't expect to ever rely on there always being an internet connection. But nowadays, it's in a ton of classrooms all around the world. So I think it's up to us to make sure that we keep innovating and then we keep providing good user experiences, improve user experiences and bring in new use cases, not only in hardware, but also software to make it more accessible. But then also the other stuff just also just takes time, not only in research development, but also, you know, slowly making VR more and more accessible and more and more widely adopted and accepted. So yeah, as I said, we all know where the goal is. We're not sure how far away it is, right? Some people say 10 years, some people say 20 years. But for us, instead of thinking about that, where everyone has some sort of clarity on, it's all the foggy area in between that we're trying to figure out, especially as a manufacturer and an innovator in the XR industry.
[00:41:22.522] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Shen, thanks so much for coming on the podcast and giving us a little sneak peek of what's to come with the VIVE Flow. And yeah, good luck on the launch and looking forward for it to be generally available. Is there a launch date for when people can expect for this to be available?
[00:41:36.325] Shen Ye: Yeah. So pre-orders start as soon as this podcast should be available. So on the 14th of October, and so that's when pre-orders start. When you pre-order, you'll also get a bunch of free content, but also pre-orders will get the case for free as well. We have a hard case. So that's the thing we've kind of been teasing. People have been joking, including me, that it's a thermos flask, but that's the case that we have for ViFlo. So pre-orders will have that for free. There's also a microfiber pouch that comes with ViFlo inside the box. So if you don't want something like that, you can put it in the bag, throw it in any backpack that you have without having it get scratched or anything. Availability is early November and the pricing is $499.
[00:42:18.615] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for giving us the whole rundown and the backstory for the intent and how you expect people to start to use this. And yeah, I look forward to seeing how this kind of fits into the overall ecosystem.
[00:42:29.403] Shen Ye: Yeah. Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure to be on here. You know, I've been listening to your podcast for a while. I'm glad I finally had the chance to come on here and explain about our latest and greatest ViFlow products. Awesome. Thank you. Cool. Thank you. Have a lovely day.
[00:42:46.360] Kent Bye: So that was Shen Yi. He's the Senior Director and Global Head of Hardware Products at HTC. And today, HTC launched the 5 Flow. So yeah, I guess my overall take on this product is that there's still a lot of questions that I don't know what the answers are. And I didn't have a chance to try it out yet. So I don't have any of my own first person phenomenological experiences. I'd recommend looking around to other reports that have come out. It's completely possible that other journalists and influencers have had a chance to actually try these out. I'm very curious to hear what the response to this is. My initial take, just hearing the story and hearing all the different specs and everything, is that it's extremely interesting as to where this is going. I do agree that This is the overall trajectory, and this may be implementing some new micro OLED displays, meaning that it's a little bit smaller and other technologies to really handle that. And you get a little bit smaller form factor, but at the same time, it's still somewhat expensive. It's more expensive than, say, an Oculus Go, and arguably, in some ways, less capable. Although this is a 6DOF. But it's not shipping with a controller, and it doesn't even have a way to be able to charge it, so you have to kind of bring your own power source, which, you know, for most people, if they're at home, there's probably a power source around. It's not meant to be a fully 6DoF experience. Anything that you're doing, you're probably not going to be walking around. You're probably just going to be sitting there. There's a lot of different vr apps that you can just sit there and consume different media You know, it seems like you need to be able to stream the content from your phone Miracast only works with android right now. So it is not compatible with ios That was not made clear in the press release and i'm curious to hear How many people end up buying this and if they have the iphone expecting it to be able to stream their phone and not being able to Then I think that's going to be not great for a lot of the consumers So hopefully that gets out but there's other ways to be able to stream to your phone from your pc But again, I think it's more about the media consumption and the selection of different apps that they're really focusing on. The content that they have is a lot of this mindfulness applications and productivity, their sort of brain training, different exercises is one of the things they highlighted. But also, this 200-inch cinema screen, so just watching TV content, being able to pair to your phone and Miracast and be able to watch Netflix or HBO or whatever other thing that you're watching. For $499, you're getting a 200-inch cinema screen. Now, only you can watch it, so if you're planning on watching content with other people, then I think probably a TV is still a better experience, in my opinion. But if you're traveling and on the go and you want to be able to have some privacy and a super large screen, then this does make sense. Assuming you have some sort of power source to be able to power it So it's a hundred degree field of view so they have a little bit closer your eyes to this if you have glasses you can't be able to use that I'm not sure how that their new system of focusing works to be able to account for that and The you know mental wellness I think is the other aspect and with the meditation apps as well. There is the sync app It's a social VR experience. However, it's launching in pro and enterprise versions, and they have new environments, tools, and ways to interact. But it sounds like that's going to be something you also have to buy or pay for. There's a VivePort subscription that you can buy for $499, so there's going to be a curation of specific applications that I think fit well for the Vive Flow. So that's going to be something to see whether or not there's compelling content there. They have been cultivating a lot of this immersive content. They have the Vive Port video, and there's a lot of stuff that's been shown at film festivals that doesn't necessarily get a lot of attention from other platforms. But there is immersive content that you would consume on a device like this that is available. It's just a matter of whether or not you're into consuming some of that different stuff. Did ask about the browser they're gonna be using Firefox reality Which is good to hear that they're gonna have some browser but at the same time Firefox reality team was laid off back in August of 2020 their last update was in like September of 2020 so it's sort of an abandoned project and it's a little concerning as to whether or not either the links browser which they're gonna be using it or a HTC if they have more resources to actually fund the continued development of this, because the WebXR implementation is already out of date, according to Brandon Jones, who works at Google. So I think it would be better to have something that was well-maintained and had commitment from them saying that they're going to be updating it. So that's a little bit of a wait-and-see as to what the official browser is that's going to be shipping with it and whether or not it's up to date to be able to even watch and see a lot of the latest content. The phone's gonna be your controller. You're not gonna have a sixth off device And so it doesn't sound like they're gonna be really focusing on using that as say like a lot of the daydream or oculus go You know 3d off controller within the context of a sixth off des ice That was something that created some fragmentation and a sense of embodiment, but it didn't seem like they're leaning into that at all They're just saying hey You know this is a tablet for VR if you want the full all-in-one experience Then you should get the five focus 3 that has more processing power or you know PC VR which you know you can have the full resources of your computer And it may be possible to be able to hack this together with PC VR, but the quest is compatible with PC VR. So if you're looking for that, then the quest may be a better option. Financially it's $200 cheaper and you could buy five quests for, you know, only getting three five flows. But there is different aspects of privacy architecture and a lot of the oculus products are being subsidized by surveillance capitalism So there is that that if you would actually pay for what the hardware costs and it's gonna be a little bit more expensive So if you want to have an alternative then it's important to support, you know It's it's interesting that last quote that they know where you want to go and this is where you want to go And so they're trying to take the steps to get there If there's one thing that HTC has been doing, it's that they've been iterating quite a lot to be able to have this full range of different options that are out there. I don't know if they've hit a home run with any of them yet, but this could hit a market. My deepest concern is that the price is still a little steep relative to a lot of the different other options and alternatives that are out there. Like I said, a lot of those ones are being subsidized by these big tech companies. It's going to be more of a matter of if this fits your sweet spot. If you're listening to this podcast, you frankly may not be the target audience for this product, because you're already well steeped within VR, and you're more likely to be able to dig into the thing that is the most compelling option for you. It does sound like they're trying to expand the market. It could be timing, some of these things. It could be that the go is too early. Maybe this is a next stepping stone for people to have these immersive glasses that aren't as fully capable, a little bit more expensive, but maybe the form factor is just easier. There's one thing that we learned about the gear VR moving into the Oculus go was better because it was more convenient. And so maybe for some people, this is just going to be more convenient. They can just plug it into whatever power source they have and be able to be fully immersed into whatever they want to do. The resolution is 1.6 K per eye. I don't know what the other vertical or horizontal resolution that just get. you know, whenever they talk about 2K, 4K, that is the longest resolution without getting into the full specifics of what the full megapixels are when you look at the full matrix of all the pixels. So they weren't disclosing that, which, you know, in some ways that's a bit of a red flag in terms of not knowing what the hardware size is, how much space you can have on there. It's meant to be like streaming. So imagine that's going to be pretty slim. The battery that's on board is only meant to kind of power it and, if you lose power, so you can shut down and safely save things. There's just a lot of unanswered questions for me in terms of what the overall specifications are. Like I said, take a look at some of the other coverage that's out. Maybe other folks have been able to dig in and get more information in terms of some of those different specifications. Like Shen said, they're not really focused on the specifications because that's not the thing that people who are making the decision to buy it would be getting it. But I think it is nice to know some of those things just so that you have a sense of how it fits into the overall ecosystem. So the audio there's no headphone jack that I could see you have Bluetooth connectivity and you know spatial audio is included on board But if you're in public spaces, you probably want to use headphones and the connectivity has the Bluetooth headphones You can mirror notifications into the by flow if you want Although if you're trying to escape from your phone if you're out in public, that's the other thing is that I think I think most of the VR use that I've seen is going to be in private spaces. Maybe this is a form factor that makes it a little bit easier to be able to immerse yourself into a VR experience. You probably are going to want to be commuting or in some sort of context where you're not going to be worried about people messing with you in any way. I guess there's a part of having eye contact where people are still expected in some ways to have connectivity with the world around you. There's a bit of sociological taboos that I think this type of device is going to have to overcome, as well. It's a little bit, but as time has gone on and we have more augmented reality, different apps and whatnot, it may be more sociologically acceptable to be able to have a device on your face like this. But I think in the past, it has certainly been One of those things where you don't necessarily want to be in public seeing this, but for people now at this point, maybe they've been in the pandemic for so long that they just want to be fully immersed into whatever experience they're having. So I guess that's a wait and see where that goes. Five gigahertz wifi, not sure if it's a wifi six and it doesn't have 5g. So. Anyway, that's sort of a rundown of all the stuff I was able to dig up. It's $4.99. It goes on sale today. It's going to be available in early November. Yeah, it's interesting. That last comment that we know what the endpoint is, we just don't know what the next step is, I think that's kind of where the entire industry is. I think we'll have to just wait and see to see if this is something that gets picked up in the market and proves to be something that if you are going to be able to already be at home and be quickly immersed into VR. There could be some social VR types of applications that take off. I'm not sure if it's going to be Vive Sync, because that's very enterprise-focused. Something like Rec Room, I think, would be a good use case to see, OK, could you do anything in Rec Room? Can you still have the different types of social interactions? It's not really got a viable input device, so I'm skeptical that they're going to have any Implementation of it VR chat. I know has been working with vive so I don't know if they're gonna skin one of their enterprise Applications to be able to have access to that you know they already have quest access which is degraded But this may even be further degraded than what the quest can even do so yeah It's already kind of a bifurcated ecosystem there and a lot of the most interesting stuff That's happening in VR chats happening in the PC VR end of things anyway But, yeah, I think it's kind of a wait-and-see to see what other different compelling apps or killer apps may be. You know, there's, you know, Trip and other meditation apps that may end up being a thing that becomes a super compelling thing. If you meditate every day and you want something to quickly throw around, then, you know, it could end up hitting a completely new market to be able to expand the overall VR ecosystem. So, kind of like these immersive glasses that are a stepping stone into VR, that's the story. We'll see how it plays out with the market and how they respond to it. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.