If you’ve ever worn the HTC Vive for any amount of time, you know two things: one, it’s very much the future of video games, and two, it can really wear out your neck muscles.
Want to keep your neck in virtual reality-ready shape? Get yourself a Vive Deluxe Audio Strap, a $99 (£99.99, about AU$130) peripheral that adds a pair of on-ear speakers to the Vive and shifts the weight of the headset from the front of your face to the back of your skull.
This weight shifting might not sound like a huge deal, but if you spend a few hours with the Vive every day the strain the headset puts on your neck adds up.
To that end, the Deluxe Audio Strap is a weirdly important peripheral for the HTC Vive: It’s the HTC’s first peripheral for the headset, which in itself is a major milestone, but it helps correct a few of the niggling problems we had with the Vive when it first launched.
First and foremost the on-ear headphones look and sound similar to the Oculus Rift’s and replace the shoddy in-ear earbuds that come with the pricey headset.
But the bigger problem we had when the headset first came out was the strain it put on our necks. Redistributing the weight of the HMD not only reduces that strain, which can mean more time spent in VR, but also reduce blurriness, too.
After spending a weekend with the Audio Strap we're happy to report that our necks are less fatigued, and ready to take on the next week of VR gaming.
Does that make it worth its $99 (£99.99, about AU$130) price tag? For dedicated VR gamers like ourselves the answer will be a resounding ‘yes’.
The key to comfort
The questions you should ask yourself are: How much time do I spend in VR? Do I dabble in the surreal, supplanting experience, or is this going to be a thing I do on the regular? Finally, am I currently or do I plan on becoming a developer?
If you plan on spending an hour or two with the headset every day – or even a few hours each week on the weekends – you’ll save yourself a ton of neck strain with the the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap.
That means VR-heavy gamers should definitely look into this but the most ideal target of the headset is a video game developer – for someone who spends most their work day in VR, this comfort is well worth the cost of admission.
So why the heck is it so gosh darn comfortable?
The secret lies in the new cranial band that comes over the top of your head and terminates in a twistable locking mechanism.
The locking mechanism gives you a more precise fit that not only can reduce blurriness that happens because the headset is too loose on your face but helps redistribute the weight of the headset further back. Add to that a comfier foam pad at the back and you’ve got all the makings of a well-supported headset.
Two birds, one stone
The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap is a double-whammy of comfort and audio. So, how does the headset sound? (Audio is the accessory’s primary concern, after all...)
Actually, decent. It’s not mind-blowing in terms of quality – especially if you’re used to wearing a pair of over-ear headphones – but it’s a huge step up compared to the in-ear earbuds HTC packs in with every headset.
Music on Audio Shield had decent clarity and while it wouldn’t be my first pick for listening to my music collection, it did a decent job representing the audio fidelity of my favorite songs. The drivers can pick up on positional audio cues, which is essential in making VR games immersive, and do a fantastic job as far as sound isolation is concerned. This would be the accessory to bring to a crowded show floor if you wanted to give someone a more immersive experience without them being disrupted by outside noise.
The back locking mechanism also makes it easy to take on and off – another nice bonus if you’re someone working on a game and you’re constantly switching between a PC and the headset.
Where we wouldn’t recommend the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap is for people who sort of pop in and pop out of VR – if your Vive is collecting dust on a shelf and only sees the light of day for a few minutes on the weekend, the Deluxe Audio Strap isn’t going to change that.
But if you’re committed to VR, ready for an aural upgrade and have suffered the dull ache of VR-onset neck stiffness, the Deluxe Audio Strap might be the fix you’ve been waiting for when it goes on sale to the public June 6.