HTC released an SDK which allows developers to add finger tracking to their Vive or Vive Pro apps. For the Vive Focus standalone headset the SDK instead provides hand position and gesture recognition.
The feature was first announced back in October. At the time HTC seemed to suggest it would not come to the regular Vive, but thankfully they’ve managed to pull it off. However the Pro will give better tracking quality thanks to its dual cameras.
The software tracks 21 points on the hand at up to 30FPS on PC. On Vive Focus, the hand position tracking runs at 17FPS. As the tracking runs on the GPU, it shouldn’t affect CPU performance.
The Vive Focus seemingly doesn’t have enough computing power for true finger tracking. Instead, it simply provides the position of the hand, not each finger. Gesture recognition is however available. It can tell the difference between pointing, making a fist, making an OK sign, and giving a thumbs up:
The SDK is available as a free plugin for Unity or Unreal Engine. There’s also a C and C++ API. It’s not restricted to Viveport, so developers can use this in Steam apps too.
Since the tracking is using the regular cameras on the headsets and not a depth sensor, HTC recommends against having “complicated backgrounds”. The lighting needs to be bright enough so your hands are visible but not so bright as to cause glare. To make things easier, HTC specifically suggests to “Roll up sleeves and make sure wrist is visible”
In non-interactive VR experiences and social VR, controllers often feel more like a chore than a help. The ability to enter these experiences by just putting on a headset and seeing your real hands will be a welcome improvement.
Enterprise customers using VR for tasks like architecture visualization often forgo controllers entirely due to this friction. Gaming-style controllers are simply much less appealing to non-gamers than directly seeing your hands.
In social VR the ability to gesticulate freely with your real hands adds to immersion and increases social presence. I’ve spent a lot of time in platforms like AltSpaceVR- Leap Motion is by far my preferred method of input. Lets hope these kinds of apps integrate HTC’s new SDK soon.