Interview: Thomas Dexmier- HTC Vive Country Manager ANZ
With the recent announcement of the new Vive Pro 2 and Vive Focus VR headset, TechDay's Darren Price sat down for a chat with Thomas Dexmier ANZ HTC Country Manager.
TECHDAY: How are you?
THOMAS: Good, everything's going fantastic for us at the moment.
TECHDAY: I see that Vive Pro 2 is available for pre-order.
THOMAS: The pre-orders have been going extremely well for us. I wasn't expecting that, to be completely honest. I knew that it was going to be alright. But if look globally, Valve's Index is completely out of stock. They can't keep up with the production. And the Vive Pro 2 is an Index beater.
TECHDAY: Talking about the Vive Pro 2, it seems it's now marketed at the high-end gamer, rather than just the business users like its predecessor. What's going on with that?
THOMAS: What, the fact that we are looking at the Pro series for the consumer?
TECHDAY: Yeah, because that a bit different, isn't it?
THOMAS: It is, yeah. We've always seen a little bit of a gap between the adoption of the product lines in North America EMEA and APAC. I've always managed to keep my Pro series for commercial clients- education, arcades, and whatnot, and continue to push Vive Cosmos and Cosmos Elite for the consumer. These are still the only two products you'll see in your traditional consumer retail with EB Games and Harvey Norman.
But the reality is there are territories where the original Pro is actually selling really well in the top end of the consumer market. So, we thought, you know what, we may as well make sure that we continue to show that HTC has a very strong appetite to deliver the best possible PC VR for the consumer.
The announcement we made on Focus 3 is extremely clear, that we going all-in on our standalone business for commercial applications. We wanted to make sure that we continue and we sustain that story around high-end consumer, prosumer, and commercial for PC VR.
Whilst I haven't sold a lot of Pros to consumers, because they're not in consumer retailers, we are seeing a gap in the market at the top end of the range specifically here in territories where there's no Index.
Indexes, globally have always been the gold standard in terms of PC VR for the hardcore guys. We thought you know what, we've got a product in the Pro 2 that stacks up well against the Index. We know we're going to be selling the Pro 2 for some highly demanding commercial applications, let's make sure that we make it available for the top-end of the gaming market.
TECHDAY: You mentioned the Vive Cosmos. We've got the Focus 3 as a standalone business solution and we've now got the Vive Pro 2 for gamers. Where exactly does that leave the Vive Cosmos? You've got two products that are effectively going to be competing against one another.
THOMAS: Cosmos is AU$1299/NZ$1399, so when you look at the price point, Cosmos remains the most affordable consumer VR HMD from HTC. We've got a special promotion on the Vive.com website where you can buy Cosmos for AU$999/NZ$1099. We see Cosmos to be a bit more like your family coffee table device, where there's an application for everyone.
You don't need external tracking, you don't need submillimeter accuracy, to travel to Egypt to do a little bit of education for the kids or to do a little bit of FPS. There is a bunch of experiences available on Viveport now that have opened up VR to the non-gaming market and that's where Cosmos is our lead product. Harvey Norman, EB Games, all the IT retailers have it. You're not going to see the same distribution footprint for the Vive Pro 2.
TECHDAY: I thought that the Cosmos was good, but I always saw it as being three steps forward from the OG Vive, but two steps back. The Vive Pro 2 just seems to be the way to go over Cosmos with the Elite Faceplate. It's an interesting recalibration for Vive, isn't it?
THOMAS: There's there still demand for Cosmos from part of the population that is very keen on VR but doesn't necessarily have all the technology or the space that external tracking requires.
We've seen people in the non-consumer business take up the Cosmos because it is flexible, it's plug and play, it's easy to use. At the end of the day, they care about the experience. They care about the available content. They care that they can set it up themselves even if they are not a tech guy. And once you've got all three of those combined that's what makes the Cosmos stick around as a highly popular device in mainstream VR.
Then obviously when we go up the chain. You've got to make your decision. Do you want to go super high res? Do you want to go IR tracking? You know all the options around the table, but at AU$1299 and now temporarily down to AU$999, Cosmos is a great deal and it sells really well.
TECHDAY: The Vive Pro 2 still uses the Valve tech for the base station tracking. Is this still a collaboration with Valve?
THOMAS: You're right. On the tracking, we do share that. We've got a relationship with Valve. They also do the Index, which is a great product but only available in the US. The Index was not available when they launched Half-Life: Alyx.
We were promoting the Cosmos Elite, which was very timely and great for us. Adoption and connection of VR headsets to the Steam platform was one of Valve's big challenges, so regardless of the hardware, the Cosmos Elite was better for them than nothing. Now it seems that they're struggling, as they've always done, with supply of the Index.
The Vive Pro 2 is being received as a great news story, specifically in markets where Index is historically available but there's no supply right now. Australia and New Zealand is a very different story. There are quite a few other markets where there's no distribution for the Index, so people have had to buy grey imports or second-hand, which is not good.
TECHDAY: The Vive Trackers are becoming almost the de facto standard for VR and entertainment and stuff like that. I'm always seeing those trackers on the back of cameras and what have you. I see that there's a new version of the Vive Tracker on the market, what can you tell me about that?
THOMAS: I was going to say you'd be surprised, but maybe you wouldn't, to see that there's a lot of people that use all our peripherals, not necessarily the headset, but more the tracking rig, the base stations, to track a camera with a Vive Tracker for virtual production or full body tracking. And it's not just in the entertainment space, it's also heavy industry.
At the end of the day, there's nothing that comes close to what the base station tracking system can do. The new Vive Tracker 3.0 lasts 75% longer so folks over in arcades are just crazy about it. When you've got full-body tracking and they wear six of them on each of the players. Two rooms, six players each that's 84 trackers.
TECHDAY: Moving on to another Vive accessory. Six years later, we've still got the same Vive Controllers. I'm surprised that they haven't had an update. Why can't we have a Cosmos-style controller for the Vive Pro 2?
THOMAS: That's a fair point. On the other side of the spectrum, you've got people that use these in the mining industry, their thumbs are the size of my hand. I've run them through the tests. Cosmos, they love it but hate the controllers, the joysticks are too small for them. Vive controllers last forever. Hit it against the wall, I'd worry for the wall rather than the controller.
I think everybody was expecting that at some point there would be a bit of refinement in the controllers. We decided to refine and redesign the Focus 3 controllers. I think you will enjoy them. There are even some brand-new capacitive touch sensors on the side for more natural, gesture-like inputs to the content.
But for Pro 2, we are selling the HMD only and we let people pick and choose what they want. If you want your Base Stations 1.0, Base Stations 2.0, your Vive Controller, or Valve Knuckles, go for your life. You can select your modular set-up a la carte. Assuming you can find the Knuckles and assuming you are willing to pay 300 bucks for the Index controller.
The Vive controllers are very durable. We designed them to cover a wide number of applications and types of people that use VR. I'm shifting the conversation towards more commercial applications. For high-end gaming, I think the best combination has to be the Pro 2 and potentially a third-party controller.
TECHDAY: The Vive Cosmos had the halo head strap design for the flip-up visor. Was there any ever any talk of utilising that sort of design for the Vive Pro 2.
THOMAS: The plan was always to stick to that existing Pro design. The Vive Pro received a number of design awards. People see it as durable, something they like to wear, something that's evenly balanced, something that lasts forever and we thought well, let's continue in that direction. The Pro series has become a bit of a flag-ship now, franchise-wise. At no time were we thinking to have the Pro 2 belong to the Cosmos series it was always going to be a Pro on steroids.
TECHDAY: I prefer the Pro's foam tight on my face than the Cosmos halo.
THOMAS: The thing with the Cosmos halo is it's great for individual use. But the feedback that we've received is that when you start showing the headset to many people, it's easier to find your sweet spot on the Pro.
TECHDAY: Is the Vive Pro 2 heavier than the original Vive Pro? We've got a better screen in there, is the tech getting lighter?
THOMAS: I had that question a few times for the Focus Plus and the Focus 3 but I've never been asked about this one. For me, it feels about the same. It's something that you'll find very hard to notice if there is a difference. The audio is the same. The cable that we use to go back to the link box is a bit different.
The only thing that you notice really on the Pro 2 when you pop it on, is that the lenses are slightly more squarish. You've got a much wider field of view. What is the actual impact on the weight of the lens itself? The panel is the same size, it's got the higher pixel density but it is the same size. And again, the point is, because it's been designed so well once you wear it, you tend to forget what you're wearing.
TECHDAY: It's pretty clear that HTC is in the VR game for the long term. What do you see for the future of VR?
THOMAS: I see an obvious trend of people going down the path of standalone. The hybrid product we're launching now, Focus 3, has the best of both worlds, but it is designed for standalone. I mean you look at the design, it's absolutely beautiful.
It has the arm with a 45-degree angle on the side, similar to what you've got with the Pro, so that it wraps around you as opposed to badly designed products that just slip over the ears with a piece of fabric. The Focus 3 can be connected to a laptop or PC as well. So, if you want to do some PC VR on it with the optional live streaming cable, you can.
We've seen 5g networks starting to become a bit more ubiquitous and this big thing that people like to call edge computing- the point in time where you can start streaming content from the network as opposed to having it locally installed on a PC or a standalone headset. The impact of this on the design of VR products will be is such that you can start stripping it apart, you don't need such a big battery.
The heavy lifting will be moved to the edge of the network, and so you don't need the GPU, it becomes a tracking and streaming engine. The industrial designer is going to go from what it is today, which we call HMDs, to goggles, to who knows. Are we going to call them glasses at some point, for VR? I'm not sure.
The XR world- AR, mixed reality, and VR headsets will be better designed, easier to wear, and easier to use anywhere. Private 5g networks will be a big game-changer. You will be able to pop on your headset anywhere you are, whether you are on site or using a VPN, and get access to all the company information that you need to get your job done.
TECHDAY: So, when are we going to get this new technology? The Vive Pro 2 and the Focus 3, are they are both available from the beginning of June?
THOMAS: The 4th of June for the Pro 2 HMD, so it's the headset only in ANZ. The Focus 3 will be available on the 24th of June, but there will be slightly different strategies in terms of channels and distribution.
They are both available on Vive.com. Pre-order for the Pro 2 has already started. For the Focus 3, because we're targeting business channels it's a slightly different path to purchase. People get in contact with HTC Vive from our website and we engage in conversation with them.
Alternatively, we will have some system integrators and value-added resellers, as well as IT channels that will sell the Focus 3. It is specifically designed for enterprise which means that the channel footprint is going to be different from what you've got with the Pro 2.
There's always going to be a crossover between what we're doing with Pro 2 in the prosumer/hardcore gamer space and how Pro 2 is going to be adopted in the commercial world. We've already seen large volume orders come through for commercial applications. So, it will become a gold standard for people that require the best-in-class display. You're talking architecture, automotive, people that need to get the best possible rendering and textures and lighting, or colour accuracy. Yeah, so the outlook is very bright. Very exciting.
TECHDAY: It certainly is. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Thomas.
This interview has been reformatted for clarity.