HTC Vive Pro can do what Vive can't: use your hands as controllers

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The HTC Vive Pro was one of the more interesting reveals at the CES 2018 tech show, in part because of the two lenses on front of the visor that sparked much discussion. Initially, HTC wasn't saying much about them.

Could they mean that the new HTC Vive was going to support augmented reality? (That was my guess.) Could they be some kind of built-in tracking feature? The questions made the device seem more exciting than some of the features we heard about during the official announcement.

As it turns out, the new lenses are stereoscopic cameras that do, in fact, serve as tracking sensors, and they'll allow users to use simple hand gestures without the use of an external device, Engadget reports.

Unfortunately, as related by HTC Vive Vice President Raymond Pao, the sensors' VGA resolution isn't good enough to support the kind of inside-out tracking found in the HTC Vive Focus (currently available only in China). 

They also only work from around one or two meters away, although they're strong enough to register all five fingers on your hand.

Notably, the new sensors aren't merely there to enhance the interactivity of a virtual reality experience; they also help ensure that you're not going to bump into a bookcase while getting too caught up in the virtual action.

The Vive already has a Chaperone feature that helps with this embarrassing tendency, but the new stereoscopic cameras should improve it considerably.

Open for suggestions

Unfortunately, Pao didn't provide many other examples of ways the technology might be used. Instead, he seems eager to let developers see what they can do with the technology, and so HTC is planning on sending out more Vie Pro development kits soon.

This approach has apparently already proven fruitful, as in the case of an unnamed Japanese developer who used the sensors in a haunted house game to create the impression that users were welding torches without the need for Vive controllers. 

And, of course, the option to use controllers would always be there if users or devs desire a more precise experience.

It sounds fun, but perhaps more importantly, the tech might make the Vive Pro more appealing for potential buyers who don't want to be tethered to controllers. At its best, it's a step toward an increasingly possible future in which controllers won't even be necessary.