When I reviewed the HTC Vive in 2016, I praised its room scale tracking and controllers but had some problems with the ergonomics of the headset, particularly compared to the much lighter Oculus Rift. "Designing a VR headset is an enormously complex task, but I believe HTC could have—and should have—shaved more weight off the Vive, and developed a sturdier strap system to better support its bulk," I wrote at the time. Well, HTC has done exactly that, and after a few minutes demoing Vive games with the new strap, I'm pleased to say it's a serious improvement.
The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap looks like it took some inspiration from the Oculus's plastic strap system, with a similarly soft-but-rigid structure and integrated audio. The earphones are on small arms that are easy to position on your ears with the same range of motion as the Rift's. Given the $800 price, the Vive's pack-in earbuds always felt like a cheap cost-cutting measure. Integrating quality sound helps justify the $100 price of the new strap, which, let's be honest, sounds like a lot of money for a thing you attach to your head.
From my hands-on, though, I'm more excited about how the strap changes the experience of fitting and adjusting the Vive. Instead of three separate velcro straps to adjust, there's now only one on top of the headset, which HTC told me you'll almost never need to adjust. The rest of the frame is rigid and can be tightened or loosened by twisting a knob at the rear of the strap. I slid the Vive over my head, twisted it a few notches to the right and suddenly had a great fit.
My biggest problem with the Vive's old straps was headset sag. Even when I got the side straps on pretty well, the weight of the headset would often drag it down on my face just enough to blur my vision of the screen. When I let go of the headset after adjusting the Deluxe Audio Strap, that didn't happen. And the process of adjusting it was far faster than I've ever gotten the Vive settled on my head before.
The Deluxe Audio Strap is a great improvement. Is it worth $100? That's a harder call. Even with onboard audio, paying $100 on top of the $800 Vive buy-in is asking a lot. I'd like to see it become the default headstrap. Packing it in would shore up one of the Vive's major weaknesses compared to the Rift. For now, HTC plans to start taking pre-orders for the strap in May, with an intended ship date in June.