The first of many accessories slated for the HTC Vive this year has shipped to those who pre-ordered, and it's all about adding audio and structure to the Vive experience. It's called the Deluxe Audio Strap, and HTC is asking $100 for this upgrade to what is already the most expensive — though also most feature complete — virtual reality kit you can buy today.
Is this new strap worth the upgrade fee? Lets break it down.
Deluxe Audio Strap HTC Vive See at HTC
Rails and pads and knobs, oh my!
While the word "audio" gets top billing in the name on this accessory, the main event in my opinion is the strap design itself. Instead of the flexible skull container included in the Vive assembly, the Deluxe Audio Strap is made of rigid parts. The pieces that wrap around the back of your head are a rigid plastic with thick padding, with a top strap made of the same flexible material as the original design. Along the sides of the headset there are now spring-loaded rails, so you can pull to "stretch" the headset on and off your head.
The thing that really completes this experience is the knob on the back and the cable manager on the side. The rear knob is used for tightening the headset down once it is adjusted the way you want it, creating a secure hold which distributes the force more evenly across your head. The previous elastic straps applied all of that pressure to your face, which became uncomfortable quickly if you were doing anything particularly active. That feeling is all but gone with this new format.
Instead of running the cables from the top of the Vive straight back behind you like the original strap, you can now move the cables to one side of the headset and secure them to one side. This isn't beneficial in every playspace setup, but if your VR PC is directly in front of you when you play this small change shifts the position of the cable enough to make stepping on it less likely in a lot of moderately paced games. It's a small change that can have significant impact on immersion depending on your experience, which is great.
Upgrading Audio, but not by much
Instead of needing to attach your own headphones or earbuds, the Deluxe Audio Strap includes a pair of on-ear headphones which can be positioned to lay over just about any ear. These headphones click into place with a satisfying snap to let you know they aren't going anywhere during gameplay, and the pleather exterior with padding underneath ensures the headphones are both comfortable and reasonably sweat resistant.
It's a popular experience on the Oculus Rift, and it's nice to see HTC take that idea and improve upon it for the Vive.
These headphones are a noticeable upgrade over the earbuds that were included in the Vive box, but don't expect to be blown away by superior audio quality here. They're plenty loud, and you won't have any issues with distractions like distortion at any point in your gaming experience, but the bass in these headphones is a little on the mediocre side and the highs are about what you'd expect from $60 headphones from your local electronics store. This isn't a bad experience, just not exactly what most would call "deluxe" compared to standalone headphones.
The biggest feature here is the design upgrade. Not needing to pull away the entire headphone band to hear someone in the real world, and instead needing only to slide one headphone away for a moment, is a big deal. It's a popular experience on the Oculus Rift, and it's nice to see HTC take that idea and improve upon it for the Vive.
Should you buy it? Absolutely
Unless you have a killer pair of headphones which deliver mind-numbingly good audio you can't live without, this strap is worth every penny. The rigid exterior delivers some much needed structure to the Vive design, and while you could spend that $100 on much nicer headphones the integration with this design is absolutely worth the price of admission.
Long term, this should just be the default option on the HTC Vive. Instead of dropping the price at some point, HTC should just start including this strap in the box.
Deluxe Audio Strap HTC Vive See at HTC
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