HTC VIVE – HEADSET REVIEW
|Product Name:||HTC VIVE|
|Sensors:||Motion, camera, external motion tracking|
|Controller:||HTC Vive motion controllers|
HTC VIVE – the current king of virtual reality headsets
As of right now, HTC Vive is the most complete VR experience on the market. HTC’s Vive is a comprehensive package that includes a headset, two motion controllers, and two base stations for defining a “whole-room” VR area. It’s technically impressive, and is the only VR system that tracks your movements in a 10-foot cube instead from your seat. It also includes a set of motion controllers more advanced than the PlayStation Move. This is important, since it allows the Vive to offer a much more immersive experience than using a traditional controller.
The headset contains two 1080p screens which makes for a very crisp image. Unfortunately it’s not quite high resolution enough to prevent you from being able to discern individual pixels when you wear it. Vive is still the highest resolution headset on the market right now.
The only Vive’s downside is its price (799,99$ at Amazon). It’s expensive, double the price of the most expensive console that’s currently out. And its equivalent in price to the kind of beastly gaming PC you’ll need to run it. For comparison, the Vive costs twice as much as the PlayStation VR and $200 more than Oculus Rift. Now, ultimately the question is whether you’ll find that it’s worth the extra cash for a better experience.
A standout feature of HTC Vive
If you have enough space in your real room. If you’r room allows you to walk around a space that’s 4.5 x 4.5m big. This really adds another dimension to the feeling of presence that you experience while using it. You’re not just pressing up on an analogue stick, you’re using your legs to walk over to it. HTC Vive has a perfectly natural 110-degree field of view. Movement feels natural. It has best in-class controllers and the experiences. The demos and the games available through SteamVR, simply blow the competitors away.
How does the HTC Vive work?
Like other virtual reality headsets, the Vive has the arduous task of completely immersing you in a video game by producing two images simultaneously. However, unlike PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift (499,99$ at Amazon) that use a single camera to track your head and extremities, HTC Vive has two base stations, which sit on the wall attached to the included wall mounts or a high shelf and help map track your movements as you walk around in the 3D world. What the stations track are small divots on the top of the two controllers and on the headset itself. There are 72 of these dots speckling the controllers and helmet that help accurately track the Vive.
Inside every box is a Vive headset unit, two controllers, two base stations, a cloth to wipe down the lenses, a small hub that sits between the headset and your PC, charging cords for the controllers and power cables for base stations. Also packaged with every unit are games: Job Simulator, Fantastic Contraption and The Lab. It’s everything you’re going to need for a great virtual reality experience.
New to the consumer version is a spectacularly simple setup program. It should allow you to breeze through the setup process. Once you’re plugged in and the room has been mapped out, you’re free to roam around every inch of the digital space. This means digital worlds can be more expansive and more immersive on the Vive than the other two systems and, thankfully, less nausea-inducing, too.
The only limitations you’ll encounter once inside your digital world are faint blue walls made up of lines that keep you inside the playzone. SteamVR superimposed these blue lines into your game. The software put out by Valve that’s running underneath every virtual experience. It’s called “chaperone mode,” and its practical application is to prevent you from moving too far outside the area that you’ve set up for the Vive and potentially stumbling into furniture, plants, animals, etc. around your home and hurting yourself.
The final iteration of the HTC Vive (Wikipedia) is best described as a bulbous visor taken straight from the pages of a science fiction novel. It’s heavier (and therefore a bit less comfortable) than both the Oculus Rift (499,99$ at Amazon) or PlayStation VR. But the additional weight isn’t something you notice once you’re fully immersed in Vive’s brave new world. The headset is supported by three velcro straps that wrap around the top and sides of the Vive and meet in the back to form a cradle for your noggin.
This cradle keeps the Vive from falling off or slipping too far left or right. And while they do a fair job preventing major malfunctions, the straps are arguably the least user-friendly part of the Vive. Adjusting them takes a bit of trial and error. But, once you finally find a position that feels right, all that’s left to do is turn the knob located on the right side of the headset to increase/decrease the focal length of the lens to reduce blurriness.
HTC Vive allows you to use your own headphones instead of forcing a pair on you. Vive welcomes anything from a pair of high-end Sennheisers to cheap earbuds.
Inside the headset is a 2160 x 1200 OLED screen that runs at 90Hz. For comparison, that’s slightly less than the PlayStation VR’s 120Hz refresh rate. But because the Vive is running off a more powerful GPU, it’s not exactly comparing apples to apples. You can expect a 110-degree field of view, which is one of the largest available on any VR headset and results in a more immersive experience.
The base stations, which are crucial to mapping the playspace and tracking you as you move about the room, should sit on a nearby wall or high shelf in order to do their job to the best of their ability. The latest version of the stations are smaller, wireless and make a dull hum that’s almost inaudible unless you’re standing right next to them. A minor annoyance we found is that the power cables for the base stations are a bit short. eventually they will force you to re-arrange your living room and place the cameras closer to an outlet.
Similarly the controllers are also much more versatile compared to the competition. They are giving developers many more tools to work with. Each controller has a clickable touchpad and a rear trigger that has two stages to allow for more refined interaction. While they’re a bit bigger in stature than the Oculus Touch or PlayStation Move, the Vive’s controllers function exponentially better than either.
The main buttons you’ll need to familiarize yourself with are start and connect buttons located above and below the touchpad, two side buttons that can be pushed with your ring finger and the palm of your hand and the trigger on the back.
Moving around in-game might take a combination of pressing a trigger and the touch-pad, using a trigger to jump from spot to spot or physically walking from one part of the room to the other, depending on the title. While the Oculus Rift (499,99$ at Amazon) can track a playspace of around 5 x 11 feet. PlayStation VR can spot you in an area of around 8 x 6 feet.
HTC Vive has a maximum tracking area of 15 x 15 feet. It’s a substantial difference and one that takes VR from a sedentary experience to a truly immersive one.
Vive is not only immersive, but also strangely social. An additional window pops up on your monitor whenever SteamVR is active. It shows onlookers exactly what you’re seeing in-game. We found this incredibly helpful when guiding friends through games for the first time or for the times when we wanted our friends to see what we were seeing in VR.
HTC Vive: Design
Where the Oculus Rift (499,99$ at Amazon) seemed to purposefully go for an understated look, Vive designers yelled screw it, and let their geek flags fly high and proud. Crafted almost entirely from a matte black plastic, the Vive headset looks like the one Major Motoko Kusanagi wears in the Ghost in the Shell series.
Instead of a smooth faceplate surface, the Vive has 32 strategically placed photo-sensors surrounded by wells of varying depth. You’ll find a dial to adjust lens distance along the lower right side of the headset and a button to toggle between interfaces on the left.
A large camera sits bottom center of the midline that leads to the
prominent HTC logo stamped on the front of the device. Directly behind the emblem is the space where the front headband and cables needed to connect the head-mounted display to the PC are located. One of those cables has an adapter where you plug in either the earbuds that ship with the headset or your own personal pair. The side bands are held in place on either side by a pivoting joint marked with Vive. The adjustable, Velcro-lined bands are much wider than the ones on the Rift, but are also much shorter, leaving less leeway to get a comfortable fit going.
HTC Vive: Headset and hardware
The first thing that struck you after opening the box is just how much kit is included. The headset is naturally the most interesting and enticing object in the box. It’s the device you will be strapping to your face each time you want to wander in virtual lands. It is curvier than rivals and, perhaps, stranger to look at as an onlooker. That’s because it has camera and sensor pockmarks spattered about its face like an acne-ridden teenager, there to inform the separate base station sensors the location of the headset and where it is looking at any given moment in time.
Also as important are the trio of thick cables protruding from the top of the headset. The same triple-A performance without wires just isn’t possible right now. So they can be intimidating to virtual reality newcomers.
Regardless of the leads though, the HTC Vive headset and visor is comfortable to wear and easy to put on. You’ll need to ensure the straps are pulled as tightly as possible. That will provide the cleanest and sharpest visuals. They are simple to adjust on either side of the headset.
As is often the case, the Vive’s beauty is on the inside rather than out. There are two displays within, comprising an overall resolution of 2160 x 1200. And while you can see the individual pixels if you look for them, just as you can with any current VR tech, that’s crisp enough for them not to distract.
There is also an adjustment knob on the side of the headset, which moves the lenses closer or further apart to best suit the positions of your eyes and therefore enhance images. And should your face be skinnier than the norm, HTC provides a separate foam surround for the visor.
HTC Vive: Installation
While in some cities, selected by Vive, you can have your Vive system quickly installed by a professional. Setting up Vive by yourself is not quick nor easy, no matter how gently the installation wizard guides you through it. You might experience some of installation quibbles that make the whole process drag. It might took you the best part of a day to get the headset working as you want.
Vive Setup will walk you through setting up your Vive and installing all of the software that you need to use it.
You’ll get the:
- Setup tutorial
- Desktop app where you can browse, purchase, download and launch Viveport and other VR experiences
- Vive Home VR app, your own customizable VR environment
- Steam Client if not already installed
In our instalation one of the controllers wouldn’t pair initially. The sensors took a while to get into the right positions, and without proper mounting were never absolutely ideal. Our PC has 16GB of RAM, a 4GHz Intel Core i7-4790K processor and Nvidia GTX Titan X graphics card, so more than enough spec to cope, but not everything would work seamlessly without more exploration and effort.
We actually had an easier time when setting-up Vive with an Asus ROG G752VY gaming notebook, so ended up using that predominantly instead. It still had a few issues, but the process was a bit smoother. Plus then had the added bonus of being able to place it near our Room Space play area.
HTC Vive: PC requirements
Both the PCs we used in the Vive setup exceeded the recommended specifications, but still suffered glitches during installation. When actually running the games or experiences, though, they both did so very capably.
The Asus laptop wasn’t so great at running Elite Dangerous at higher resolutions and detail. But all of the native SteamVR games arguably played better than they did on our desktop.
HTC’s recommended spec isn’t the minimum you could have to run the Vive. But you have to consider that the experiences themselves might not look or run their best unless… you have a PC at hand with the following or better:
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or better
- CPU: Intel i5-4590, AMD FX 8350 equivalent or better
- RAM: 4GB or more
- Video Output: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
- USB Port: 1x USB 2.0 or better port
- Operating System: Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1 or later, Windows 10
HTC Vive: Controllers
When we first went hands-on with an early version of the Vive, we used two motion “wands”. As HTC called them. They did some similar things to the versions now included with the consumer model, but had strange hexagonal tops and a thumbstick. In fact, you can still make out their shape in the setup wizard, with the demonstration stickman wielding similar-looking controllers.
The final versions are actually far better than the ones we originally used. They offer more precise control, extra buttons, and are essentially capable of the same functionality as the Oculus Touch controllers demoed at the same time as the previous HTC wands. In the box are two motion controllers, one for each hand. There is a trackpad on the back of each, a trigger and, seemingly new, large buttons on the handles to offer grip mechanics. They are lightweight and rechargeable through mini USB.
You can even see a battery indicator on the virtual version of each controller when in the virtual world. So you will always know how much juice you have left. Most VR games currently available on Steam will make use of the controllers in some way and, at times, their use is magical. The touchpad on the rear is sensitive and intuitive. And the squeeze buttons have other uses outside of gaming, such as pulling up the virtual keyboard in desktop mode.
What’s most impressive though is how little lag there is when using them in VR, especially as they are wireless. Most of the time, especially in the main SteamVR hub, you see them in front of you in their virtual form, any movement you make is instantly translated so it is as natural as moving and seeing your own hands in front of you.
As well as the included controllers, some games require a keyboard or standard game controller. You will struggled with playing games on a keyboard when wearing the Vive for a number of reasons. Obvious reason is that you can’t see the keys and can only use it in a seated or static position.
HTC Vive: Link Box
One of the smallest items in the package, but no less essential, is the Link Box. This is the slim, light connection box that sits between the Vive headset and PC. It also receives the wireless signals from the controllers and base stations. And it’s easy to setup.
The box doesn’t have a HDMI passthrough option so you can’t feed a monitor and the headset at the same time. Instead, if you are using a desktop PC and a graphics card with only one HDMI, you will need to find another solution. For us, that meant a mini-DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort cable (which isn’t included in the box) to use the box’s available mini-DisplayPort socket to connect PC video output, therefore leaving the one HDMI port connection on the graphics card to hook-up a monitor or TV. Alternatively, you can connect your external display through DVI or DisplayPort, leaving the HDMI port free. The other ports on the Link Box are for power and USB 3.0 connection. On the side that connects to the headset, there’s an audio output too.
HTC Vive: Headphones
Headphones are not built into the HTC Vive and must be added separately. It does come with a small pair of in-ears in the box, with a shortened lead that connects to the audio cable input at the back of the headset.
We found them to be only okay in performance and a real pain to pop into our ears each time. That’s mainly because you naturally put the headset on first and then insert the earbuds. Seeing which is left or right with Vive over your face can be difficult. You have to lift the headset off again to look for the little “L” and “R” indicators. Each bud is not distinct enough to know which is which by touch alone.
We recommend that you use third-party over-ear headphones. Preferably a pair that you can tell their orientation without having to look. We most often used the Plantronics RIG 500E eSports cans (you can buy them on Amazon.com for 149,99$) which worked very well indeed. These particular headphones can also be setup to receive virtual 7.1 surround audio when plugged into the PC separately through a USB port. Or you can use a normal set of headphones plugged into the headset’s audio connector.
HTC Vive: A walk-around virtual world
The biggest selling point for Vive is its unique take on physical space. Using what HTC calls Room Scale it can map a room and give you the option to physically move around that space, which is mirrored in your virtual environment.
It is often compared with the fictional Star Trek Holodeck, because the option to physically move around in a virtual, hyperreal space adds a tangible element that aids immersion further. Assuming, that is, you have a room large enough to handle it. The minimum area of 2 x 1.5 metres (6.5 x 5ft) is a bit restrictive in use, we’d say it needs more than that to work at its best. Vive can also be used like other headsets, which offer a static experience.
But back to setting-up Room Scale. You determine how large your room is through tracing the outside of the playable area (or clicking in the corners in advanced setup) and the Vive’s in-experience Chaperone mode ensues that whenever you are in danger of bumping into a real wall or item of furniture on the outside of your chosen zone, a virtual wireframe barrier appears in your field of view to tell you to back off. This is all determined through mapping of your actual location by the included base station sensors. Sensors track the headset and controllers in real-time and send the location data back to the main PC.
Consider that while these sensors sync and work wirelessly, each of them requires power, so you’ll need outlets near their positions. They need to be installed in opposite corners so their 120-degree field of view overlaps to see the front, sides and rear of any trackable device and it is highly advised that you wall-mount them as high as possible, as they need to be well above head height and pointing downward to “see” the environment with the best possible vantage.
One of the issues we faced with them came from the fact it was not possible or practical for us to use the included wall-mount brackets. We only live in a rented accommodation and there’s guarantee that we won’t be moving in the next few months. HTC advises, in this case, a couple of (tall) tripods, because the base stations come with the requisite screw fittings on underneath for ease of use. And naturally, these tripods don’t come in the box. Our one available tripod was just tall enough to cope, while we used the top of the living room door to mount the other sensor, as it swings inwards.
If you are using the supplied mounts, make sure that your chosen positions work in all circumstances before you actually screw them into the wall. We found we had to fiddle with our sensors a lot thanks to controllers and even the headset being lost in “dark zones” at times. The latter is especially alarming, even nauseating, as it can cause the virtual experience to jolt, shudder or flip madly before turning off.
HTC Vive: Games & content
You will need a Steam account to run your HTC Vive headset. Setup software will guide you through creation of account if you don’t have one already. Then that gives access to more than 150 compatible pieces of content. Some of them are free, others pricey, and most are existing games converted to work with VR. A lot of them are compatible with Oculus Rift (499,99$ at Amazon) too. (But many make extra use of the Room Scale technology, so are enhanced when playing using Vive.)
“So far I’ve used words like “imprsive,” “amazing” and “best headset on the market, bar none” when describing the HTC Vive. I could rant for pages and pages how much I’ve enjoyed my time with the headset but, without trying it for yourself, it’s tough to fully appreciate just how close to perfect this technology is.”
Vive can intelligently track exactly where you are in the room and what you’re doing with your hands. While other systems lag behind your movements or have a noticeable delay. When you don’t get one-to-one tracking, it’s an absolute nightmare for your brain. It can create a sort of cognitive dissonance that makes you feel both nauseated and unnatural.
The games and demos you’ll experience on the HTC Vive range in levity, from casual, low-stress romps, to crazy firefights, to a surgeon simulator and even a horror title or two to keep you on your toes. While experiences on PlayStation VR are better kept to the former, the Vive is versatile enough to do either and is probably the only one capable of the latter without causing severe motion sickness.
There was 49 titles the morning the HTC Vive launched, 19 more than the Oculus Rift (499,99$ at Amazon) launched. Valve won’t even provide reviewers with a definitive number on how many titles will appear on Steam over the time. That number is prone to doubling or tripling within a week of launch. With all these games, it’s a major boon for the system that switching between games takes seconds. To move from one game to the next, all you need to do is press the system button to pull up the Steam VR interface and then select another title to load up.
The Lab: Best described as the Hello World of virtual reality. To introduce players to virtual reality programmers gave us a free VR-only collection of games – Valve’s The Lab. It offers players few short room-scale experiences which range from photogrammetry to castle defense with a bow and arrow. For many with the HTC Vive, the game has become a starting point to introduce friends and family to VR. Valve says they’re continuing to work on VR content, but they’re not saying what exactly will come next. “We are certainly continuing our work to expand Steam VR for developers and aspiring content creators, and working on our VR content. But we have no specific announcements to make today.” Doug Lombardi, Valve’s VP of Marketing.
Audio Shield: Audio Shield is a deceivingly simple game. First, pick any audio file from your music library. Then, once the beat starts, block the incoming colored projectiles with the color-coordinated shield in time with the music. It’s Dance Central meets 300 in a very weird, but totally enjoyable music mash-up.
Vanishing Realm: Rite of Steel: Vanishing Realm fulfills the quota of one fantasy title needed to release any new system. In it, you’re tasked to explore a cave and fight off the magical undead minions that have overrun the joint. Along the way you’ll find swords, bows and arrows and wands galore that will help you get the job done.
Water Bears VR: Water Bears is best described as the virtual reality equivalent of Where’s My Water? In it, you’ll be asked to direct streams of colored water to similarly colored globes that contain the eponymous aquatic ursines. Direct the water to the right bubbles and the miniature creatures will bust out of their liquid prisons.
But, after all, there are some parts of the Vive VR experience that aren’t as great as you’d hope. For one, there’s still that wire connecting you to your high-end PC, and it’s easy to trip over it when you forget it’s there. You can’t blame HTC too much for this, as the Vive is streaming two distinct Full HD images without a hint of latency, and the gaming experience needs to preserved above all else. At this stage at least it’s easy to tell the virtual world from the real one.
One interesting feature is that in case you need to search for something in the real world, or just really don’t want to take off the Vive, you can take a peek outside using the headset’s Room View feature, which utilizes the built-in camera. The feature can also be used in conjunction with Chaperone so you can see what you’re about to run into.
Until you try it for yourself you can’t possibly predict how much you’ll enjoy the HTC Vive. (But, if we had to guess, We’d say the answer will be “a lot.”)
HTC Vive: Current challenges
In the build-up to release, much of the attention was focused on Vive’s pricing structure. It is considerably more expensive than rivals. The biggest concern is whether anybody would spend this much cash on a first-generation doohickey. We also need to mention possible tripods, cables and the unavoidable need for a worthy PC to run everything.
All considered, price is not the major concern. Instead, we wonder whether the headset’s most attractive feature is also its Achilles heel: while Room Space and the in-experience Chaperone system is magnificent when it works well, setting it up the first time is a laborious process that is neither simple nor intuitive.
It also requires a large, open area to work in the first place. If you don’t have area dedicated to HTC Vive, you might find yourself in the position of having to move furniture. You will need to recalibrate your room setup each and every time you want to play with the headset.
The future of HTC Vive
There are still few more features that the HTC Vive is capable of that no one has talked about. In no particular order, they include multiplayer gaming, videos in virtual reality, using the front-facing camera for augmented reality games, integrating the headset with your cellphone to enable texts and calling without taking off the headset, the gloves that promises to take handheld controllers out of virtual reality, allowing players to use natural hand and finger motions and using the cameras and your headphones’ microphone to virtually meet up and chat with other players through SteamVR.
Some of these features may already be implemented, others may be in the works. We see these potential features more with excitement and less with disappointment. We can’t wait until Valve finds a way to show off videos made in virtual reality. Or until it finds a way to enable multiplayer between two people using HTC Vives.
The experience you’ll get on the HTC Vive is unrivaled. It’s lightyears ahead of Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, miles ahead of PlayStation VR and completely floors its main competitor, the Oculus Rift (499,99$ at Amazon).
It’s also important to remember that experiences vary based on the hardware you’re using. If games run trouble-free on a friend’s computer, and horribly on yours, don’t blame the headset. If you have the budget, HTC Vive VR headset is the most complete package for experiencing VR that you can buy today.
HTC’s full kit for gives you everything you need to control and move around in real (and virtual) space. Plus a library of games that seems to be growing in size at an uncontrollable rate. The highest complement we can give to the HTC Vive is just how right it immediately feels, and how easily all your reservations about VR (Virtual reality) fall away as soon as you start using it. The Vive remains the best virtual reality headset on the market.
Pure and simple, the HTC Vive is awesome
Need to know
Resolution: 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Tracking: 360 degrees, full space
FOV: 110 degrees
Controller: wands with touchpad, buttons, haptic feedback, 3D tracking
Sensors: Dual room-scale trackers