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HTC is reportedly launching a mobile VR headset this year

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Amelia Krales

HTC will be showing off an unusual mobile virtual reality headset in the next few months, according to CNET. In an interview, chief financial officer Chia-lin Chang said that HTC would reveal a VR product compatible with the new U Ultra smartphone, and that it would launch by the end of 2017. “We have a good plan in terms of combining mobility with VR,” Chang said. “Vive is very top end, and in the coming months you'll see our plans in terms of mobility and VR, and it's not a phone slapped onto a headset ... It'd be a different thing.”

HTC’s best-known foray into VR is the Vive headset, but it has previously shown signs of interest in mobile VR as well. It launched a phone-based VR app store called Viveport M in China last year, and a leaked concept video included a smartphone with Vive branding, although there’s no evidence HTC ever intended to make one.

Most mobile VR involves snapping a phone directly into a headset shell, taking advantage of its screen and motion sensors. Recently, there’s been more interest in standalone headsets, which don’t need to be connected to a phone at all. Chang’s statement suggests HTC is taking a third approach. He might be talking about something like the LG 360 VR, which had its own screen but connected to a smartphone via USB-C cable.

The 360 VR had big problems, but the idea was sound, especially because the headset could be much lighter without a smartphone’s weight dragging it down. (Incidentally, Magic Leap’s augmented reality supposedly uses a similar power pack, although it looks more like a backpack right now.) The biggest remaining question is whether HTC will be working on some kind of mobile inside-out tracking — a big leap forward that most VR companies are still struggling with.