HTC’s wireless Vive Air headset outed by a premature award

HTC’s next major product-reveal event is looming in May, but for at least one of its upcoming VR products, the surprise has been spoiled—by an award, of all things.

The IF World Design Guide Awards, held in Germany for decades and bestowed upon many disciplines, released its latest pool of winners earlier this month. It’s unclear when HTC’s new “Vive Air” VR headset was uploaded to IF World’s awards list, but its appearance began making the rounds on Monday after images appeared on Discord chat feeds, and then the award itself was found by VR critics Cas and Chary.

As described on its award page:

VIVE Air VR headset is specially designed for virtual fitness, optimized for high intensity with long use. Inspired by sports shoes, the new headset introduces knitted materials to VR to provide unprecedented comfort and fit. The breathable and quick-drying fabrics improve ventilation in the heated exercise. The innovative lightweight structure allows users to forget the presence of the head-mounted display to focus on virtual content. The quick-release design allows the removal of ergonomic soft components for washing.

While the award series’ decades of operation have established a reputation for covering real products, as opposed to vaporware, the Vive Air could very well go back into hiding for any number of reasons—so don’t grab your pre-order money just yet. Still, this leak follows a recent HTC announcement of ViveCON 2021, scheduled for this May 11-12 as a livestreamed event, and a headset that looks like a true rival to Oculus’s popular Quest hardware—standalone, no PC, no wires, no “tracker” boxes—would sure make a splash at a two-day event, especially after 2019’s uneven Vive Cosmos.

HTC representatives did not immediately respond to questions about the award’s legitimacy.

Perks for any VR use case, really

HTC has recently announced other VR accessories, but since an early-2020 announcement of various new headset concepts, the manufacturer has gone relatively dark on the new-headset front. Considering the Vive Air award mentions a “2021” release window, its inclusion in ViveCON 2021 seems likely, though HTC may very well have additional headset announcements next month. That could even include the Magic Leap-like HTC Proton, but due to that device’s mix of high ambition and paltry evidence of real-world existence thus far, I’m not getting my hopes up.

The award’s gray-and-neon-yellow images line up with the above fitness-first description, as this VR headset model certainly resembles a pair of cross-training sneakers. That aspiration also aligns with a major segment of the VR software ecosystem: fitness. In the past two years, the wireless Oculus Quest headset line has seen a massive uptick in “trainer” apps, which ask players to move their head and arms through various rhythm-timed rings, orbs, and lines—effectively simulating traditional cardiovascular workout routines.

And as described, a total hardware revision designed for fitness could be a feather in HTC’s cap after losing so much sales ground to other VR competitors. I’d honestly love to see perks like removable fabrics, increased breathability, and better weight distribution for any VR use case. What benefits fitness certainly benefits hours-long dives into beefy games like Population One and Half-Life: Alyx. Hopefully, ViveCON 2021 doesn’t leave us hanging on crucial Vive Air questions like specs, wired-VR options, and cost.