First Look: HTC Vive

Posted on May 24, 2016 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 0 Comments

htc vive hero

Oculus or Vive, Oculus or Vive…Oculus or Vive. I asked myself this question a dozen times and gave up trying to figure out what one to buy. I ended up ordering both to see which would arrive first and in this case, it is the Vive; I canceled the Oculus pre-order.

The Vive is my first serious dive into VR, while I used an Oculus earlier this year and it is a good device, they both target the same objective and do so in similar ways which means owning both is pointless. The biggest difference between them is that the Vive ships with two controllers (Oculus will have these available later this year) but the Oculus has a more mature games ecosystem since it has been publicly developing the platform for a couple of years.

Opening the box, you find a lot of wires, boxes, a hub, power bricks and of course the large headset. I consider myself well versed in the tech space but unboxing all the items that ship with the Vive can be a bit cumbersome at first; especially because the included instructions are meager at best. You need to download the setup application to get the full instruction list and once you have the app open, it does become easier to configure the device.

You place the cubes in the corner of your room (they need power, so be aware of that) and then connect the headset to the PC (six wires in total, three from the headset into a hub, three from the hub into your PC). SteamVR walks you through mapping out your virtual play area and helps your register your device to the cubes in your room so that you can be accurately tracked.

The headset fits snugly on your face and there is a dial on the bottom of the device to adjust your IPD to make text sharper; I will say that the ‘sweet spot’ of having text be in focus is smaller than I had hoped, even after a lot of adjustment there is still room for improvement. Unlike the Oculus, headphones are not included, so you either need a decent pair of cans or speakers attached to your PC; included is a long audio cable to make it easier to connect headphones to your PC.

Steam hero

Once you are up and running, VR really is impressive. The Vive is highly responsive and the controls are incredibly accurate. With the headset on, you can see the controllers in the environment and I can toss them up and catch them without any noticeable lag; HTC nailed this experience.

Both the headset and controllers are plastic which is fine, they feel good in your hands (or on your face) but be aware, you will bash them into things. It’s quite easy lose track of where you are in the room and even though the Vive shows a ‘virtual wall’ when playing a game, if you are swinging your arm, it doesn’t show up fast enough to stop you from bashing into something.

I’m still early into my usage but I have bought several games including PortalVR which is a lot of fun and a few simulations like Apollo 11 and Universe Sandbox 2. These experiences are what make VR stand-out and you really can get lost in the environment and lose all cognition of where you are. My wife, who wasn’t immediately sold on the idea, after playing Job Simulator for an hour straight, was impressed.

Even though we are still in the early days of consumer VR, it’s easy to see the potential here. Things like visual clarity in the headsets need to improve, content needs to mature and the price needs to come way down (Vive will set you back $799 and you need a higher end PC to be able to use it) but I am optimistic about its future.

I’ll have a full review in the coming weeks after I get a chance to run through a few more games and dig into the finer points of the product; If you have any questions, let me know.

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