HTC asks owners of its Vive VR kit to put down another two hundred bucks for a Deluxe Audio Strap.
Whilst there's no doubt in my mind that the HTC Vive offers the best VR experience available right now, it's not the most comfortable device to strap to your noggin. Out of the three main VR devices, the HTC Vive's standard elastic strap is by far the worst mounting method. Top marks for comfort go to the PlayStation VR then followed by the Oculus Rift.
The Vive's standard strap takes a bit of practice to get right, with many owners complaining of blurred visuals early on, just because the thing wasn't sitting properly on their face. I can only assume this lack of refinement was due to HTC rushing the Vive to market and avoiding being beaten to retail by the Rift.
A year later and HTC are now offering Vive owners an upgrade to their VR experience, The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap. But is it worth the $200 cost?
When I first opened the box and looked at the plastic replacement head-piece, my heart sank. It didn't really look that deluxe to me, but anything had to be better than the existing strap and having to pull my headphones over the top of it.
Removing the old elastic strap from the Vive head mounted device is not for the faint-hearted. You have to twist the strap mountings on the side downward until you hear a click, which may or may not be you snapping a bit off your expensive VR toy.
Taking the old strap off is nothing compared the business of putting on the new one. Following the instructions, you need to apply a fair amount of reasonable force to the mounting clips to push them into your Vive HMD. It's all a bit nerve-racking, made all that much worse by tales on the Internet of people buggering up their Vive by being a bit heavy-handed when replacing the strap.
Once fitted, however, you can discard your old audio cable and headset, as the built-in headphones have their own cable that's just long enough. That's right, no more audio cable hanging over your shoulder.
The 3-in-1 cable (power, USB and HDMI) has its own clip on the right side of the device, but at the at the bottom rear of the strap, you need to use a rather shoddy bit of Velcro to run the cable down the centre.
Despite my initial misgivings, once fitted, the Deluxe Audio Strap makes the Vive look a lot more professional and robust.
Putting it on, the solid back piece neatly cups your skull, taking some of the pressure off your cheeks, but still feeling very stable. You can still tighten the headset tight on your face, if you wish, by turning the tightener on the back, but it really doesn't need to be that tight.
Borrowing the circular tightening knob from the PSVR and integrating headphones like the Rift, HTC make no attempt to cover up the inspiration for the new strap.
The Deluxe Audio Strap's integrated speakers make things much easier, the cups clicking into place over your ears, and easy to adjust in order to get them just right. The audio quality was fine for me, although I can see some audio connoisseurs wanting to stick with their existing headphone. This isn't a problem, as the Deluxe Audio Strap's headphones can easily be removed.
If you've already spent all that money on an HTC Vive, an extra couple of hundred to turn your experience up to eleven is nothing. The Deluxe Audio Strap fits snugly, but firmly, on your head, allowing you to move your head quickly without it moving around on your face. Also, not only are the integrated headphones great quality, they remove the need for another cable to dangle from separate cans.
As far as I'm concerned, the Deluxe Audio Strap is an essential purchase for all HTC Vive owners.