Back at Google I/O last year, Daydream Standalone was teased as the next big thing in VR from Google. A big part of that plan was a special headset from HTC that didn’t require a phone to work, but instead, we’ll soon be using the Lenovo Mirage Solo as the first Daydream Standalone headset. What happened to the HTC design? It became the Vive Focus, running its own software with its own Vivewave app store, and is currently only available in China.
I got a few minutes to try one out at GDC 2018, alongside a few minutes with the Best Vivewave Game, the award-winning Spark of Light, and to be honest I’m more than a little bitter I can’t buy one of these headsets right now.
Vive Focus is an untethered Six Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) headset, which means you can move around like you would if you were using an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, but the headset isn’t attached to a phone or computer. All of the tracking, processing, and connectivity bits are contained within the headset, with its own battery and controller. Where Daydream, Cardboard, and Gear VR only let you turn your head to explore a virtual space, the Vive Focus lets you lean down to see more of the world. It’s a whole new level of immersion if you’ve only ever experienced phone-based VR headsets.
What makes the Vive Focus really stand out for me is the head strap. Adding a battery and embedded display and processor to these headsets adds some understandable weight, and to solve this the head strap is designed to hug your noggin perfectly. Where most headsets are starting to adopt the “halo” design that hugs your head like a crown, this strap system moves down to grab closer to the base of your skull. There’s a gear to tighten the strap down across your head, ensuring the pressure is away from your eyes and nose. As a result, it’s one of the most comfortable headsets I’ve ever put on, and does a great job making it easy to take on and off.
When asked if the Vive Focus would ever come to the US, the response was an almost programmed shoulder shrug.
As freeing as this comfortable 6DoF headset feels, that’s exactly how restricting the 3DoF controller is to use. You can rotate the controller around in your hand and point at things like you would on Daydream or Gear VR, but if you move your arms around like you would a Vive or PlayStation VR, nothing happens in the headset. Instead, you have a trigger and touchpad for interacting with the world around you. Spark of Light, the award-winning game I was able to demo with this headset, worked hard to take advantage of this limitation. The game walks a character through a series of puzzles happening all around you, making it so you enjoy turning around and leaning in on the details while only occasionally clicking on specific set pieces to set up the next part of the puzzle.
When asked if the Vive Focus would ever come to the U.S., the response was an almost-programmed shoulder shrug. It’s not impossible, but doesn’t seem overly likely anytime soon. Google is fairly focused on Daydream Standalone everywhere outside of China, creating an opportunity for HTC to build a platform with Vivewave that lots of manufacturers can participate in over there. Which is a shame, because if that headset were available for me to purchase today I would absolutely do so.