Vive Focus Plus first look: Standalone VR with a big control boost

MWC 2019: This VR headset is not built for fun though

It was almost a year ago that I was at the same booth at MWC trying out the Vive Focus for the first time. The standalone VR headset with its dinky controller was still only available in China before it finally broke out into the west at the end of 2018.

Now the headset is back with a slightly redesigned headset and pair of more sophisticated looking controllers. But I'm not going to shoot baddies and watch 360-degree videos with it this time. This time, I'm getting to play nurse.

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That's because Vive has decided that its new Focus Plus headset will be aimed at the enterprise world. If you're interested in something more playful, then you're going to have to wait for the Vive Cosmos, which will launch at some point this year.

As Paul Brown, general manager of Vive Europe, tells me, it wanted to offer something for everyone and there has been a growing demand for VR uses outside of the gaming and entertainment realms. So that's really why the Vive Focus Plus exists.

Vive Focus Plus first look: Standalone VR gets a controller boost

The headset itself hasn't changed a great deal. It's still not the most svelte setup, and you do have that same 1,600 x 1,440 OLED display found on the Vive Pro, which serves up a maximum resolution of 1,600 x 2,880. It's still powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and it has those integrated speakers and built-in battery too. Apparently the headset's design has been tinkered with slightly in terms of weight distribution to make for a more comfortable fit, although I can't say I noticed a huge difference on that front. What I did notice is that my forehead felt very sweaty during my brief demo with it.

The big changes lie with the controllers, which look far more grown up than that single 3DOF controller that was bundled with the Vive Focus. They will instantly remind you of the ones that play nice with Vive's high-end VR setups. You've got that trackpad in the middle, two buttons below that and a trigger button. Unlike the first Focus, these controllers unlock the ability to offer six degrees of freedom, which means support for a greater range of movement in the VR realms. It will now track hands as they move and rotate along three different axis. So that's left and right, up and down and backwards and forwards.

As mentioned, the Vive Focus Plus is not for fun times. So my opportunity to experience the new hardware comes courtesy of a nurse training demo produced by French-based startup SimforHealth. The startup develops VR-based training programs for health professionals and has already built programs using the Vive Pro.

Vive Focus Plus first look: Standalone VR gets a controller boost

With the headset on and the controllers in my hand, it's my job to check in on a patient's dressing in their home. It's a 20-minute demo to fully recreate the entire process that's needed to the job properly, but I'm only going to sample a part of that demo. I'm able to use the locomotion feature to transport myself into the patient's bedroom by pointing the controller at dotted areas on the floor. I can also use the controllers to reach out for items like bandages, wash my hands and press the pressure sensitive analogue triggers to pick items and place them on the patient.

It's a largely issue-free experience on the whole, aside from a couple of moments where the controllers didn't seem to want to select some items, which seemed more to be an issue with the software as opposed to the hardware. Ultimately though, it was a nice showcase of how these new controllers are able to offer greater finesse with regards to your interactions in VR spaces.

Initial verdict

It's actually a bit of shame that the Vive Focus Plus isn't built with consumer audiences in mind, especially with the Oculus Quest on the way later this year. With the addition of these more fully-featured controllers, the setup feels a lot more polished than the Vive Focus. The headset's visuals still really impress and now that you have greater freedom to move and interact in that space, it feels like it has the potential to be a better setup for gaming.

But it's also clear that dependent on the price (HTC hasn't revealed that yet), the Focus Plus will enable HTC to get high quality, easy-to-use VR into more environments that can really benefit from it – and that is definitely a good thing. Hopefully, HTC won't entirely rule out offering something based on the Focus Plus that could appeal to gamers too, because I think the Focus Plus proves there's something solid to work with here.


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