It’s almost as if I’m in the Matrix. I’m in that same expanse of infinite white space that was also Neo’s training grounds in the movie. A pattern of hexagonal tiles appears underneath me. They start to rise and fall randomly and rapidly. Hesitantly, I step forward, slowly walking across the field of unstable tiles, trying to get a feel for this strange, foreign environment. Suddenly, I encounter a gridded wall. It seems the space isn’t so infinite after all. I was, of course, not in the Matrix. Instead, I was in a stark, windowless room inside the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona. On my head was the HTC Vive. And for the next 20 minutes, I was about to have a virtual reality experience unlike any I’ve ever had.
Before we get into that, let me tell you more about the Vive. It’s a VR headset made by HTC in partnership with Valve Corporation, a company perhaps best known for the Steam PC gaming storefront and titles like Portal and Half Life 2. The hardware itself looks like something from a science fiction movie. Its dark gray, plastic faceplate is pockmarked by multiple sensors, making the whole thing look like it’s clad in deep-set digital eyes. Look behind it and you’ll find all the trademark signs of a VR headset: thick foam padding, a pair of goggle-like lenses and, of course, the straps that hold it all in place. It has two discrete 1,200 x 1,080 displays that refresh at 90 frames per second, offering 360-degree views. On the top of the hardware are an HDMI port, two USB ports and a headphone jack.
It’s worth mentioning that the HTC Vive is not a mobile solution like the Gear VR — it connects to a computer like the Oculus Rift. The Vive is part of HTC’s “Re” line of connected devices and exists as a separate division from the company’s phones. As such, the Vive is competing less against Gear VR and more against the likes of Oculus and Sony’s Project Morpheus. The key difference between the Vive and the other two? It’s that it comes with a couple of SteamVR base stations that tell the Vive headset where you are via laser position sensors, thus tracking your physical location as you walk about the room. The whole thing only works in a space up to 15 x 15 feet, so you’d encounter that aforementioned gridded wall if you hit the edge.
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In the room where I had the demo, the two base stations were located where the ceiling meets the wall, about 90 degrees from each other. Attached to the Vive was a slew of cords; one was to a computer located at the far end of the room, while another led to a pair of controllers that look a lot like the Wii’s nunchuks, except in place of joysticks, there are touchpads. The left and right sides of the grips are clickable and there’s also a trigger button located where your index finger would naturally rest. A small shield of sensors that look similar to the ones on the Vive’s faceplate are located in front of each controller. An HTC spokesperson tells me that the final version of the controllers should be wireless instead of wired, but for now, I had to strap on a belt full of cords as well as the Vive to prevent the headset from weighing me down.
So there I was, with a headset strapped on my face, a controller in each hand, a belt full of cords at my waist and a large pair of headphones on my head, completely blind to everything around me. I felt awkward and skeptical, completely ready to be unimpressed.
And then the software clicked into place. A welcome screen appeared, filling my field of vision. I was instantly struck by how bright and sharp everything looked. I saw the animated versions of my controllers in front of me. The HTC spokesperson instructed me to move them around and get used to the controls. He told me to hold down my left trigger button to inflate a balloon, and I did. I then used the right one to bat it away. After playing with that for a while, the scene transitioned to the Matrix-like hexagonal tile demo I mentioned earlier. This tile intro, my guide told me, is to get me used to moving around the room. My movements were a little hampered by the amount of cords that I had to walk over, but I otherwise had no problem with balance or spatial awareness. I didn’t get any kind of motion sickness at all.
Next was a demo called “The Blu Encounter” by Wemo Lab. Everything went black. Soon, I found myself underwater, standing on the deck of a shipwreck. Schools of fish swam around me and I was able to swat them away by waving my controller-filled hands. It sounds terribly cliche, but everything was incredibly lifelike. It genuinely felt like I was there. Everything from the fish to the shipwreck was sharp and detailed. I walked around the deck, absorbing everything around me. Soon, a giant humpback whale swam right next to the ship, scaring the bejeezus out of me with its presence — I’ll admit I yelped and took a step back.
I then went from the deep blue sea to a cartoon-like kitchen, where I controlled a pair of animated hands. In a demo titled “Job Simulator” by Owlchemy Labs, my task was to add a list of ingredients to the pot on the stove before time was over. Of course, instead of doing that, I explored the kitchen. I picked up the rolling pin and the mushrooms and opened the refrigerator door. The controls were responsive for the most part — I only really used the trigger button — though there were a couple of times when the accuracy seemed a little off and I picked up the wrong thing by mistake.
The scene changed again and then I was a giant looking over a miniaturized tabletop battle. Called “Quar” by Steel Wool, the demo showed tiny soldiers fighting a rather epic battle, with tiny men riding on tiny horses and brandishing their tiny swords. I was able to crouch down, move around and look at the detail of the miniature figures from all angles.
Then, the HTC spokesperson said, it was time to get creative. I was suddenly in a demo of “Tilt Brush,” a 3D painting app that has already been around for a few months for other VR environments like on the Oculus Rift and Google’s Cardboard. The difference here, however, is that you could literally use the controller as if it was a brush, painting abstract scenes of fire and light. And then when you’re done, you can walk away from your creation and view another perspective of it, giving it an almost sculptural quality.
HTC and Valve saved their best demo for last. The spokesperson told me that he would keep quiet from then on and I was to follow the instructions given. As the scene faded from black, I found myself in a very familiar environment. I could feel myself smiling, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t help myself. I was in an Aperture Science testing facility. Yes, I was inside the world of Portal.
It looked as if I was in some kind of repair room. A disembodied voice came over the speakers and told me to open a drawer. I looked around me, saw some built-in drawers and walked over to them. I opened a drawer, only to see blueprints and tools. The voice said I opened the wrong one, so I tried again. This time, I saw a moldy cake. Apparently that was the wrong one also, so I opened another one. It contained tiny, little cut-out people at tiny, little office desks who went berserk at the sight of me. The disembodied voice told me that I had made a mistake and that I was now their god.
Suddenly, Atlas awakened, and lumbered toward the room. It was so imposing and realistic that I backed away instinctively from the door.
Giving up on me, the voice then told me to walk across the room and pull on a lever. I did that and a giant door opened. Behind it were two of Portal 2‘s androids, Atlas and P-Body, lying on the floor broken and in disrepair. Suddenly, Atlas awakened, and lumbered toward the room. It was so imposing and realistic that I backed away instinctively from the door. The voice then told me to press on a button to expand its components so that I could repair it. I did so, pulling on its front exterior to expose its electronic guts. The next thing the voice told me to do was so complicated and full of technical jargon that I knew it was impossible. The voice told me to keep calm while also warning me with increasing urgency that if I didn’t accomplish the task in time, I would fail.
And, of course, I did. Atlas collapsed on the floor with great noise and fanfare; the floor gave way and the room started to fall apart around me. I was told in a deadpan manner that I was now not qualified to do anything. Then, a familiar voice popped up. It was GladOS, Portal’s AI antagonist, wondering out loud how a robot could possibly fail this simple mission until a camera popped by and saw me, to which she responded, “Oh.” As the room started to get rebuilt around me, she said that I had done well as far as humans go, and that I was relieved of my duties. The demo then faded out to an outro and it was over.
But I didn’t want it to be. I wanted to stay in that world. I wanted to keep playing. I wanted now, very badly, to play Portal 2 in virtual reality. It was the most immersive experience, and frankly, the most fun I’ve had with a VR headset strapped on my head. The ability to walk around the room and directly interact with objects around me makes a huge difference. It’s made me a convert to VR.
Clearly, the HTC Vive used in the demo is just a prototype. Its design simply doesn’t inspire the same reverence as the company’s smartphones. But that’s going to change. “Our goal is to design something that can live in your house or on your nice desk,” says Claude Zellweger, HTC’s chief designer. “We don’t want to think of it as a geeky gamer accessory.”
“For me, there’s a triangle of elements that make the experience: the audio, the headset, and the controllers,” says Zellweger, on what makes Vive so special. “It’s amazing. You don’t need to see your hands at all, so long as you have fully tracked controllers, you have a full sense of yourself.”
Obviously, however, HTC still has some challenges. For one, all those cords make it really difficult to walk around the room without the fear of tripping and falling over. Even if the controllers will be cordless eventually, HTC says the headset itself would still probably be tethered to a PC due to latency issues with wireless connectivity. Plus, not everyone will have the room or space to hook up two laser base stations so that the Vive will work. We also have yet to know what the minimum PC requirements are for the Vive to work as smoothly as it did. If we’re to guess, we’d surmise it’s quite demanding.
Yet, I walked away from the demo a complete believer, not just in VR, but in HTC and Valve, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. HTC has said that the developer edition of the Vive will be available later this Spring, while a commercial retail version will be in stores by the end of the year. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to afford this yet, but if I can? Sign me up.
For what seems like an eternity, we have known that a HTC smartwatch is being worked on behind the Taiwanese manufacturer’s closed doors. However, HTC has probably learned from just putting out devices that everyone else is churning out, and is really taking its smartwatch project very seriously. In an interview at MWC, HTC CEO Peter […]
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Back in January, we asked our staff and readers about the looming realization that the HTC One M9 would look just like the M8; based on leak-after-leak, the unthinkable seemingly became more plausible. As of March 1st, it became reality. Hopes of HTC pulling the most epic case of trolling the tech world had ever seen were dashed in the presence of what looks to be the same device from last year, minus a Duo camera. In this piece, we’re going to take a look at what this means for HTC and why it’s not all bad.
As a quick refresher, leaks in earnest for the HTC One “Hima” began a short while ago via renders from case manufacturer Spigen. In the days leading up to MWC 2015, these leaks had expanded to promotional videos to carrier promotional material. Still, there was the image that so many were convinced was the real M9, or at least hopeful enough to suspect Taiwan’s most famous smartphone OEM was trolling us all by releasing the so-called “M8s” pics.
With the official unveiling now done-and-dusted, we all know the leaks were legitimate, and HTC wasn’t stoking the flames of countless potentially burned bridges in the form of businesses around the world who had bought into a fake promise.
A Costly Creation:
There is one very large problem with the M9’s existence, and arguably this isn’t so much an opinion as it is a sad reality: customer confusion and apathy. We all know the difference, granted. But think about the hundreds of millions of casual customers in the world; it could be your parents, your children’s teachers, the people who deliver your newspaper (assuming anyone reads physical paper these days), anyone really. Think of them, and then consider the following three scenarios:
A. You don’t care about phones nor do you follow them. They are a tool and nothing more. Your 4-year old model isn’t working well these days, so you go to a carrier store to get a new one.
B. Your family member needs a new phone. A casual/mainstream user at best, they don’t care about specs at all.
C. You bought a phone a few months ago and it just broke. You didn’t get insurance and are thus out the money.
Now imagine any given carrier store: The HTC One M8 is available for free on a two-year agreement. The HTC One M9 costs $199 for the same. You look at both; the cheaper One has two cameras, the other has a single One.
Decision: Which do you chose? As much as some might deny it, the demands of life dictate that people will chose the free model, hands down, especially if the so called “new” model doesn’t look the slightest bit different. Make no mistake, this isn’t Apple wherein a casual consumer might be tempted to get the newer model just because they know Apple. This is Android, there are dozens of devices, and HTC is just one of the many companies selling one from a country far away. Money is always an issue to all but the most extreme enthusiast.
These are but three scenarios; imagine an infinite number more. Now consider what are, arguably, the only two wherein someone might actively buy an HTC One M9:
1. You love HTC. Money is irrelevant.
2. You must have the latest and greatest. Money is irrelevant.
Granted there can be numerous variations of these situations as well, but there is one key factor here: extreme minority. The specific “niche” needs of those with cash to burn don’t match those of the masses, and therein lies the problem HTC faces: it has just started to recover from a prolonged period of financial dismay, and the last thing it needs to do is alienate mainstream customers, the very individuals who can “fix” its cash flow troubles. Were the M9 to look different, it would immediately be taken as a “legitimate” new product by all those who don’t care about the difference between a Snapdragon 800 and an 810; the consumers who don’t snap photos constantly.
The Samsung Situation:
Now on the other hand, let’s revisit the same carrier store and take a look at say, the Galaxy S5 vs the Galaxy S6. The difference is night-and-day to say the least. While one might argue the S6 isn’t as beautiful as the M8/M9, it doesn’t have to for people to notice. The fact that the S6 has a QHD SAMOLED screen is a major sales point, as could be other elements like the fingerprint sensor, bio-metric reader, and more. Even if customers don’t understand what these mean or how to use them, marketing trumps sensibility more often than not.
Ah yes, the final thing Samsung has going for it, ironically speaking: The Galaxy S6 looks a bit like that phone. You can bet your britches that at least some mainstreamers will actively seek to purchase the S6 for its similarities.
Many of you will recall the infamous real HTC One M9 picture that @evleaks published, and which was subsequently used by case manufacturers in their own leaked renders. Here’s a reminder:
While engineering and manufacturing limits might have rendered this pair of concepts an impossible concoction, at the very least, they look different from what the real M9 ended up looking like. Heck, they arguably look different from just about anything out there, yet still have that HTC feel to them. In an effort to determine just how many people liked this (now) fake design better, I ran a small survey on Google Plus. The question: was the evleaks render preferable to the real product.
As of the time of publishing this story, 135 people responded and 75%, an overwhelming majority, said yes, they liked the fake render better. Is this a massive sample size? Obviously not, but at the very least it is one way of substantiating a belief that even fans aren’t necessarily happy with the design choice.
Don’t write-off HTC yet!
While this opinion has been of a largely negative tone, there are a few important things to keep in mind. For one, the M9 is by no means an ugly or underwhelming phone. The body may be recycled, but it’s still a stunning piece of design in 2015, and with the Duo Ultrapixel camera set up now gone, the phone need no longer be plagued by rampant criticism of the picture potential. In fact, here’s a checklist of just why the M9 is such a significant improvement as compared to the M8: better CPU and graphics, more RAM, better camera, bigger battery, more LTE bands, new colors, Lollipop out-of-the-box, and it’s even slightly smaller/lighter.
HTC also has the benefit of possibly drawing in customers who were on the fence about the Galaxy S6. Maybe Samsung’s decision to remove microSD support or replaceable batteries has irked them. Perhaps the S6 doesn’t look different enough from the S5. This could be said about other OEM’s offerings as well.
Truth be told, just about the only thing (arguably) not good about the HTC M9 is its reused design: with all the improvements contained inside the premium build, there is absolutely no question this is a brand new, state-of-the-art flagship that can hold its own among rival products.
For the full break-down of spec comparisons between the M8 and M9, please see our comparison coverage here.
Let us know your thoughts!
If you’ve followed our coverage of Mobile World Congress 2015, you’ve probably noticed that HTC has released its latest flagship smartphone, the One M9. As you would expect, the M9 features the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM and BoomSound speakers on the front of the device along with a refinement of the all-metal body. If you would like the chance to win a HTC One M9 before they even go on sale to the public, HTC are holding a SweepStakes promotion to do just that. We have the link after the break.
As promised, the link to the contest is just below. There are some requirements sadly, namely that you must be a US resident, and be 18 or older. Competition entries must be received by March 24th, with the winner to be randomly drawn by an administrator. You can enter by clicking the link below and filling in your details. Good luck!
Come comment on this article: Enter the HTC SweepStakes Promotion to win a HTC One M9
HTC One (M8) users on Verizon may be glad to know the carrier has finally started to roll out Android Lollipop to the device on their network. The update just started rolling out this evening, so it may be a few days before you receive a notification letting you know it is available in you have an HTC One (M8) on Verizon. You can check for the update manually by going into your Settings and checking for updates.
The new version of Android brings the standard fare we know about for Lollipop, like the new notification panel and lock screen notifications. Verizon notes that World Clock Globe has been removed for “memory considerations.” In addition to Lollipop, the Verizon update includes a couple other enhancements. Band 4 roaming has been enabled on the HTC One (M8) and the 3-way calling feature has been improved.
For more information you can hit the source link below for Verizon’s announcement regarding the update.
Come comment on this article: Verizon starts updating HTC One (M8) with Android Lollipop
When HTC released the HTC One M9 at MWC 2015, one of the benefits they touted was their new Sense 7 user interface layer. HTC’s version of a launcher now includes support for themes like many third-party launchers and HTC decided to include some “stock” themes to help people get start with the customization of their devices.
After the break you can check out some screen shots showing these themes. Once you take a look at them, be sure to stick around for more MWC 2015 coverage.
Come comment on this article: Check out the theme options that come on the HTC One M9
The Nexus 9 has been out for a little bit now, and while not perfect, the latest Nexus tablet is still one of the best options out there on the market, especially for stock Android fans. If you’ve considered the tablet but found yourself turned off by the price, Office Depot has an offer that might be right up your alley. For today only, the retailer is offering an $80 discount over the retail price of the 16GB Nexus 9, giving you the chance to snag the tablet with free next-day shipping for only $319.
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For those that need a brief refresher, Google’s Nexus 9 features an 8.9-inch with 2048×1536 resolution. It also boasts a dual-core 2.3GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 6700mAh battery. Obviously an even bigger draw is the fact that it comes with stock Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box and should receive timely upgrades to all future Android updates.
Not sure if the Nexus 9 is the right tablet for you? Be sure to check out our full review.
It was an unusual journey leading up to the One M9 launch this past Sunday, as many of us weren’t quite sure what to expect from HTC. Though the countless leaks revealed a phone extremely similar to the M8, there was a few that showed a whole new look coming to the M9 including a leak from the evleaks Twitter account that showed the presumed One M9 and One M9 Plus. Almost everyone around the internet seemed to love this new look, but more and more leaks began to contradict themselves until we weren’t quite sure what HTC had in store for us.
But the HTC One M9 is official, or should I say, the One M8S, and most of us have to admit we’re a bit disappointed. However, I feel as if I shouldn’t be. HTC improved upon just about everything that it needed to from the One M8. The bump to 64-bit processing thanks to the new Snapdragon 810, more RAM storage, and they obviously listened when they ditched the 4 Ultrapixel camera in the rear for a 20.7 megapixel senor.
HTC’s One M7 and M8 have won numerous awards in the past couple years, with many sources claiming them smartphones of the year. HTC knows they have a good thing going for them as sales are picking up again and they’re finally pulling in a small profit. Their announcement is a perfect example of the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
On the other hand, customers want something recognizably new. For HTC’s customers who bought the One M7, this is the time when most of them will upgrade. Does the One M9 offer enough to make them want an HTC phone again? I, for one, crave something new when I upgrade to a new phone, especially after two years.
HTC has distinguished itself from other phones by offering a device that’s like “jewelry”, and they believe their phones are of higher quality than any other phone. While there are only a couple subtle changes in the One M9 to further improve it’s amazing quality, such as the new gold colored metal framing on the sides, Samsung has knocked the ball out of the park with the design of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge smartphones. Their metal framing and all glass front and backs are very nice to look at, and the S6 edge is something completely new to consumers. To many, the new Galaxy phones rock as much “premium quality” as the One does, so has HTC done enough to make us want their new phone rather than Samsung’s?
To highlight a few features of the One M9, I am excited to hear their new Boomsound speakers with the integration of Dolby 5.1 surround, which will make these smartphone speakers the best on the market by far. In the camera department, nobody can say for sure how theirs will act, but despite the absence of OIS (which is standard for modern smartphone cameras), HTC looks to be going in the right direction with that whopping 20.7 megapixel sensor.
While not considered a highlighting feature by many, the fact that HTC stuck with a 5 inch 1080p screen is fantastic in my book. Many people do not want anything bigger than that, and consider that a perfect size. The 1080p resolution will help the Snapdragon 810 perform even better compared to a Quad HD display, and of course the battery life is presumed to be stellar as well. Also, HTC has kept the option of SD storage expansion in the One, which Samsung decided to ditch. This alone could turn the tables.
All in all, I’m curious as to what you guys think. Were you happy with HTC’s decision to keep their exact design for the M9?
HTC announced its latest flagship Android experience, the One M9, at Mobile World Congress on March 1. According to HTC, the handset will begin trickling out to a number of carriers starting as soon as this month.
We’ve gathered up links and details for the various U.S. wireless providers; these will help if you’re interested in signing up for additional information or want to pre-register for your own device. Pricing has yet to be announced by any party however we’ll update this page over time.
HTC hosted a little event yesterday. You might have heard that they announced the all new One M9, the Grip wearable, and the Vive VR. Maybe you got to watch or it maybe you were too distracted when trying to watch it. Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t matter, because you can watch it again and again and again if you wish. You can watch it tonight, tomorrow, or next year because it’s on YouTube today and forever. All you have to do is hit the break for the complete show.
Don’t forget that you can send this video to your TV via Chromecast or if you have Android TV, just favorite it, and open the YouTube app on your Android TV device and navigate to favorites.
Be sure to check out our complete Mobile World Congress 2015 coverage.
Come comment on this article: Watch HTC’s unveiling of the One M9, Grip and Vive VR anytime anywhere