HTC’s Vive Pro Eye VR headset with eye-tracking arrives for $1,599

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Virtual reality and eye-tracking seem like an incredible match – for reasons I’ll illustrate below – and now HTC’s first dedicated stab at an eye-tracking headset has arrived in the US and Canada for $1,599. That’s the word from HTC’s official blog post, following an earlier release for the headset in China and Europe last month.

Why eye-tracking? As my colleague Nick explained when he tried the Vive Pro Eye in January, it not only allows you to control things in VR just by looking at them, but can also produce higher fidelity VR images with less processing power – by only rendering the parts of a scene that you’re actually looking at in high resolution, instead of wasting those resources on your peripheral vision too. It’s a technique called foveated rendering.

That’s important because it takes more processing power to render VR scenes to begin with than today’s flatscreen 3D applications and games, which has left many VR experiences looking less graphically impressive than they might otherwise be. Eye-tracking can also theoretically give you a much more compelling avatar in a virtual world when you’re interacting with other people, since it can show them where you’re actually looking even though you’ve got a headset on your face:

HTC says it’s got plugins for Unity and a wrapper that works with Nvidia to make foveated rendering easier to integrate, but these benefits won’t come entirely for free; most rely on developers building them into apps and games, and there isn’t enough reason to do that if the headsets don’t exist out in the real world.

HTC probably won’t be changing that with the relatively expensive, enterprise-focused Vive Pro Eye alone. But it might be a big enough start for optimistic developers.