We now know what those mysterious two cameras mounted to the front of the HTC Vive Pro are actually for.
When the Vive Pro was introduced at CES 2018 just a few weeks back HTC wouldn’t clarify what the camera was actually used for. Some speculated that they might be used for AR, serving as both passthrough cameras and a means of projecting virtual objects into the real world. The answer, in reality, is a bit simpler than that; they’re used for object detection and even basic hand-tracking.
Engadget confirmed as much at HTC’s event in Shenzhen, China last week. HTC Vive’s Vice President Raymond Pao explained that the cameras capture depth data from around one to two meters away and point out objects in the real world for users to avoid (though HTC is still working with Valve to figure out how best to implement this feature). This system would be in addition to SteamVR’s existing Chaperone system, which warns users when they’re close to their room-scale tracking borders.
But Pao also noted that HTC would be distributing developer kits for the camera to see what kinds of uses they might have in games and experiences. In one experiment, a haunted house game from a developer with early access to the kit, players could see their own hands as they navigated creepy hallways with glowing torches. The tracking may not be as advanced as with something like Leap Motion, but users can apparently still see their fingers.
It will be interesting to see hand-tracking on Vive Pro is fully embraced, or if it’s set to remain a niche use case. The headset itself is releasing as a single device for existing Vive owners to upgrade to later this quarter, while a full package with SteamVR’s new base stations will be shipping later on in the year.