Valve’s newly announced second-generation Lighthouse trackers won’t be compatible with first-generation HTC Vive virtual reality headsets. Although existing trackers will work with new headsets and future accessories, the new method of laser-based tracking will be non-viable for Vive units already sold.
SteamVR Tracking 2.0 has a number of advantages over its predecessor. The hardware itself will be lighter, lower-power, quieter, cheaper, and more reliable, according to Valve. The software will also be able to support more than two base stations, allowing for much larger and more complicated tracking areas. This goes beyond the LED configuration changes we have already seen with Lighthouse sensors.
That’s because the new base stations use a different method of tracking. They use what’s described as a “sync-on-beam” technology, according to UploadVR. Bursts of data are delivered through laser and sync hits, rather than the current method, which uses blinking laser flashes for the same purpose.
This change in tracking method requires an internal hardware refresh with new Lighthouse base stations, most crucially a chip from Triad Semiconductor, which Valve is now recommending all hardware partners use in their developments. That chip can be recognized by the first and second generation of SteamVR tracking systems, but because it isn’t present in the first-generation HTC Vive headset, new Lighthouse trackers, which exclusively look for it, will not be able to track the older design.
This means that existing headset owners won’t necessarily need to buy an entire VR kit when they eventually upgrade to a future, unannounced Vive 2.0 headset, though they can if they so choose.
Valve is currently slating the new Lighthouse trackers for mass-market availability by November 2017, which is sooner than we would expect a second-generation Vive to be released. However, with other SteamVR-compatible headsets like LG’s expected to debut before the end of the year with SteamVR support, it’s possible they could take advantage of the improved tracking capabilities of Valve’s new Lighthouse solution.
Although we don’t know yet when we can expect a new-generation of the Vive VR headset, HTC’s Dan O’Brien said in a recent interview with DigitalTrends that such features as wireless and new, much more detailed displays are likely to be important additions.