HTC recently introduced the Vive Tracker – a new way of bridging the gap between VR and the real world. Here's everything we know about the device so far.

One of the HTC Vive's most promising technologies in 2017 is the Vive Tracker – a device designed to add a new level of immersion to movement input in VR. Here's what you need to know about the Vive Tracker ahead of its launch later this year.

What is the Vive Tracker?

The Vive Tracker is one of the latest accessories on the horizon for the HTC Vive, with the goal of bringing real objects into the virtual world. This simple disc-shaped device is designed to easily attach to physical accessories, mapping their movement as an input for VR experiences.

Connected by a 6-pin connector on the bottom of the device, the Vive Tracker hooks up directly to any Vive Tracker accessories. With the device already in the hands of developers, various products are already in the pipeline that can take advantage of the technology.

How does the Vive Tracker work?

Based on the same technology as the HTC Vive and its controllers, the Vive Tracker calculates its position in a room based on infrared signals emitted from the base stations. Where these signals fall is tracked via an array of sensors on the device and converted into an equivalent in-game position.

Controller inputs can also be transmitted by Vive Tracker, with every HTC Vive controller input being mappable to any compatible accessories. From simple button presses, trackpad movements or even rumble commands, each of these can be sent and received by the Tracker, to be translated for use on the accessory in question. This allows Vive Tracker accessories to be a viable replacement for the HTC Vive controller, provided the game has support baked in for the accessory. Accessories will also have to consider for the Vive Tracker's 270-degree field of view, to avoid blocking incoming signals.

What are the features of the Vive Tracker?

Thanks to a recently released developer guideline for the Vive Tracker, we've also had a closer look at the technical specifications of the device. This has broken down each of its features and given us an insight how the device may be used. Here's a breakdown of the Vive Tracker's notable hardware features, in accordance with above image taken from the developer guidelines.

  1. LED Indicator: Like on the HTC Vive controllers, the LED indicator is used to show the current status of the device. This indicates which of the various states the device is in, such as charging, low on battery or in the pairing process.
  2. Power Button: Hidden within the Vive logo on top of the device, the power button is used for turning the device on and off, while also sending it into pairing mode.
  3. Sensors: Like on the existing HTC Vive headset and controllers, these sensors are used to receive signals emitted from the base stations.
  4. Mounting: As indicated by the diagram, the Vive Tracker mounts to accessories via a standard 1/4 inch camera mount (like seen on camera tripods and the existing HTC Vive base stations). This is stabilized by a pin, to prevent the device from unscrewing when mounted to an accessory. To relay controller input information, the device must connect via the Pogo pins located next to the mount.
  5. Micro-USB: Like the HTC Vive controllers, a Micro-USB port can also be found on the device for charging.

All of the Vive Tracker's data will be transmitted wirelessly to a USB 2.0 dongle, hooked up to your PC. Unlike the existing HTC Vive controllers, where all data is transmitted via the headset, the Vive Tracker will operate independently. However, for the sake of keeping things tidy, the Vive Tracker could be connected through the HTC Vive's spare USB port on the headset.

What experiences can we expect from the Vive Tracker?

While the Vive Tracker still has a few months until launch, we're already beginning to see demonstrations of the technology cooked up by various partners. Alongside the device's reveal at CES 2017, we've already begun to see how the Vive Tracker can be a valid controller replacement with certain titles.

Among the device's demonstrations, we've seen experiences that put the tracker on weapons, sporting equipment, and other Vive Tracker accessories – each adding their own unique slant to their VR experiences. One firm is even working on Vive Tracker gloves, to offer precise, real-time hand tracking.

According to HTC, of the 2,300 developers that requested early access to the Vive Tracker for projects, 60% of those requests were for non-gaming applications. That means there's going to be a lot of games, but there will also be quite a few practical applications available later this year.

How can I get my hands on the Vive Tracker?

HTC plans to make the Vive Tracker available to developers for $99 on March 27, with plans to release commercially later in the year. This gives developers time to build Tracker features into apps and games, so there will be plenty to do when it's time to jump into Vive with your Tracker-enabled accessory!