When the Vive was revealed it was obvious it was not going to be the most comfortable piece of VR kit to shove on your face. Wearing what is essentially a diving mask pressed onto your coupon was never going to be a pleasant experience for any long periods of play.
I always wondered why the Vive was designed to take all the weight and pressure on the front of the face instead of the more balanced approach with it resting on the forehead and weighted better at the back. Even 90s VTR kit did that. Sony realised that was the best way to wear VR with the PSVR headset, but HTC didn’t.
Hold your horses though, because now for the princely sum of around $100 USD you can buy a new head strap accessory gizmo. It replaces the diving mask strap with rigid adjustable side straps and more support at the back of the head. Oh, and they’ve also added built-in headphones for good measure.
The new Deluxe Audio Strap (for that is its name) arrives in a box with a small manual. There’s really not much to it and you are left wondering why this costs $100. I mean, it’s only partially solid. The strap that goes across the top of the head is still material. Still, despite initial concerns about its flimsy look it was time for me to connect it up.
Removing the old straps on the side of the Vive is easy. Pull them clockwise downwards and they unsnap from the main visor. Next, you clip on the new strap side connector to the headset. Once that’s done, the in-built headphones need to be connected to the Vive headset.
On the new Deluxe Audio Strap there’s a curly wire which connects to the built-in headphones. This is now connected to the main body of the headset where the 3-in-1 cables enter the main headset. The top compartment needs to be opened up by sliding it forwards, and the old audio cable connector extension needs to be pulled out and removed. Once removed, the new curly cable for the built-in headphones is plugged in. The panel is then closed up.
With the new strap connected, the 3-in-1 cable needs to be pressed into a slot to keep in place on the side of the headset. With the old strap, the cable ran over the top of the head, but not any more. This has been changed so as not to obstruct the dial for the now adjustable side straps. Instead, the cable passes down the side and needs to be held in place at the back with a piece of (supplied) Velcro.
With that, the new strap is setup and ready to go. The only fiddly bit with the setup was removing the main panel on the headset to change the audio cable. It was a little tricky getting the old cable out and replacing it. Other than that, it’s quite simple.
It was then time to fire up some VR games and see if the new strap improved the support of the Vive; and to see if the in-built headphones were any good.
With the new strap having rigid side arms there was a benefit I wasn’t expecting. As a glasses wearer, pulling on the Vive was always a pain. Now, it’s easier. You can put the mask on first with the main strap raised above the head, and then slide the main body of the strap down onto the back of the head. It comfortably slides on to the head and the main mask stays in position, keeping your glasses in place. This is a huge improvement and it makes the front mask feel more like an adjustable visor.
The main reason to buy this new strap is for comfort, and although they have not gone for a rigid strap to reach from the back across the top of the head, the material top strap provides a decent amount of top support. I would still, however, prefer it to be rigid to take more pressure from the top of the mask on the face.
With some adjusting, you can almost emulate what a rigid top strap might feel like by making the top strap tighter and lengthening the side arms by adjusting the back dial. This applies more pressure to the top of the mask onto the forehead and keeps the mask from being really tight onto the face. It’s not perfect, but it’s not too bad. Still, let’s not forget what this costs; it should be super comfortable.
The adjustable headphones on the side can be pulled away from the ears, slid up and down, or, if you hate them, they can be removed. Despite them looking a bit cheap, the audio quality is pretty good and I can see no reason to remove them at all. Not having to connect a separate set of headphones makes the Vive a lot more convenient and usable.
When playing games in room-scale, the new strap makes the Vive feel more secure and less cumbersome. Important if you’re moving around a lot. The comfort level is superior to the standard Vive strap.
There have been some great DIY Vive straps created with welding masks that are probably more comfortable than this, thanks to proper forehead support. But if creating one of those in the shed is not your thing, then this new Deluxe Audio Strap is worth the rather expensive price. It’s disappointing that the price is so high considering this design should have been implemented by HTC in the first place. It’s not rocket science to create a comfortable VR headset; there have been some great designs from the past to pull from, as well as the more recent PSVR.
If you have the cash, and don’t want to make your own, then pick up the new Deluxe Audio Strap. It takes a lot of hassle out of using the Vive and it is more comfortable.
The Deluxe Audio Strap is available from the Vive store.