No-one would describe the HTC Vive as a particularly slick, user-friendly piece of consumer hardware, which is perhaps why I’ve so far been mostly happy with a new accessory called the rEvolve. Ungainly, unattractive, and in general unlike what you’d expect from a commercial product, the rEvolve nevertheless does a whole lot to improve on HTC and Valve’s pioneering VR headset design.
The rEvolve is a replacement strap for the Vive that basically does three things: makes it more comfortable and easier to use, improves the field of view, and lets you flip it up without taking the whole thing off your head. It’s very obviously 3D-printed — if you asked me to describe the fit or finish it wouldn’t come off well in either regard.
“As a small manufacturer we decided to use additive manufacturing for the rEvolve to give us full control over every millimeter of the final product,” says John Toner, CEO of rEvolve manufacturer SynergyWiz. “Recent enhancements in 3D printing materials allowed us to deliver a final product with the strength you expect from consumer level products.” The rEvolve does feel strong enough, but it certainly doesn’t look pretty.
Installation is relatively simple, involving swapping out the original Vive strap, replacing the face mask, and rerouting the cables, though I couldn’t configure the earbuds as instructed. When complete, you’ll have something closer to PlayStation VR than the original Vive — the rEvolve rests the weight of the headset against your forehead rather than forcing you to strap it tightly to your face. It’s easier to put on, easier to adjust, and a lot more comfortable.
It makes the Vive look a little better when you’re using it, too, with a thinner face cushion that gets the lenses closer to your eyes and increases the apparent field of view. This isn’t a profound change, but it’s nice to have and does make the headset more immediately immersive when you put it on. You couldn’t really use this thinner cushioning with the regular Vive setup because you’d have to strap it even tighter to your face.
The final big improvement is the way the rEvolve converts the Vive into a flip-up headset, allowing you to check your physical surroundings without physically removing the headset. I couldn’t imagine how this’d work in practice, but it’s actually a really clever design — since the Vive’s weight is now more evenly distributed around your head, the rEvolve lets you release the headset with a button and flip it up with a latched hinge. This would be useful for professionals working in VR content creation who otherwise constantly need to be taking their headset on and off, or just people like me who find it difficult to maneuver a whisky glass underneath the Vive.
At $95, it’s tough for me to recommend the rEvolve to anyone in particular as it’s such a niche product. I’m also planning to test HTC’s Deluxe Audio Strap soon, which may prove to be a more mainstream take on a similar idea. But the Vive itself is somewhat of a jury-rigged design, and I have a feeling that some of the customers who were willing to drill holes in their walls to install headset-tracking laser boxes might be open to this kind of thing. If that sounds like you, the rEvolve will start shipping this month; SynergyWiz only plans to make around 1,500 units.