HTC Vive Review – Virtual Reality is Here, But Will it Sur-Vive?

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Now that we got that horrible pun out of the way let’s get started. The virtual reality wars have begun in full force! There are currently two and soon to be three virtual reality headsets on the market, The Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, and The HTC Vive which we will be reviewing today. Now before I get into this review I will admit that I am slightly biased towards virtual reality as a whole, I love this stuff. This review will attempt to cover everything you need to know about The HTC Vive and if virtual reality is just a fad or here to stay. I’ve been changing my opinions ever so slightly on The Vive and I have waited for the dust to settle on my purchase and this is my review after spending a little over a month with my Vive.

What actually is Virtual Reality?

Imagine yourself playing a well known game such as Minecraft and being able to actually step into this virtual world. You can reach out and touch the blocks, move your head to look around, and even physically walk around this world from the safety of your own room. All you can see is this vast landscape in front of you just waiting to be explored. This is perhaps the simplest way of explaining virtual reality but trust me, it’s quiet possibly unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.

The Setup

I will admit that I was a bit worried about having enough space in my home office to set up the Vive but I happily found out they recommend at least a 4 ft by 6 ft space to set up what they call “Room Scale.” This is simply the size of the physical area that can be explored at any time in virtual reality. Every movement you make is tracked by two infrared lighthouse cameras that are required to be hung on the wall in opposite corners of the room. When combined with the built in sensors on the headset and controllers themselves the results are very precise movement within games. The Vive aslo comes with some wall brackets that make mounting these little gadgets fairly simple and quick.

The rest of the setup is fairly straight forward, plug a few cords from the headset in to your computer and you are just about ready to go after installing the necessary program which is built into Steam. The final thing that needed to be done was tracing the actual boundaries of my room that I wanted to play in. This was as simple as moving the controller around the perimeter of my desired play space while holding down the trigger on one of the controllers. The Vive has a nice feature called “Chaperone” that tells you when you are getting close to a wall in the form of a small grid that appears to you in game. This has absolutely saved me from walking into the wall on multiple occasions. I give the setup a 10/10.

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One of the lighthouse cameras mounted on my wall.

The Controllers

While the Vive can be used with a traditional controller it comes with 2 controllers made specifically for virtual reality, and most VR games require them in order to play. These controllers do look a bit strange but they work wonderfully for what they are designed to do. The giant donut shaped top of the controller is the sensor that I mentioned earlier. The controller itself feels really solid and definitely has a sturdy construction to it. They are also rechargeable via USB, which is always a plus. They have two wrist straps that I  highly recommend using as some games can have you moving around quite a bit.

On the rear of controller is a single pressure sensitive trigger that falls right where your index finger lies. This trigger is most commonly used to grab/pick up an object in the virtual world. For example in one of my favorite VR games, “Job Simulator” you are tasked with the mundane goal of being a worker at a variety of jobs such as an office worker or store clerk. One of my goals in the office was to simply make coffee. At first it felt almost unreal being able to physically reach out and pick up this coffee cup that I needed to pour my coffee into. All I had to do was reach my hand out, pull the trigger and the coffee cup was in my hand. It sounds silly, but it absolutely blew my mind. For the first time in my life I was able to directly reach out and PICK UP a virtual object.

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The wands

Besides the rear trigger, these controllers have what is essentially a circular touchpad and that is also clickable. These touchpads can behave as a mouse like device, a typical d-pad like you would find on a PS4 or XBOX one controller, and they can even vibrate to provide haptic feedback. Above and below the touchpad are two additional buttons. These are essentially  start and select buttons as found on most controllers. Lastly there are two buttons on the sides of controller that I will admit are somewhat difficult to get used to due to the odd location (right above the HTC symbol in the picture).

The controllers may look strange but it took me no time to get used to them as they became my hands, laser pistols, swords and shields as well as various other objects in different games. This is a great example of a company not being afraid to take risks and make a different kind of controller. A controller that is made specifically to enhance the virtual reality experience. I give the controllers a 9/10.

The Headset

Sure you may look goofy while wearing this thing but that’s a small price for the level of immersion and depth that it brings to the wonderful world of video games and entertainment. The headset itself contains 2 screens, (one for each eye) each with a resolution of 1080 x 1200 and a refresh rate of 90 Hz. I’d like to briefly mention that the 90 Hz refresh rate is fairly important to having successful VR experiences. A 90 Hz refresh rate simply means that games will display at 90fps, anything lower than this can result in motion sickness. To push out 90fps on both displays is no easy task and you do need a fairly powerful computer to pull that off which can be a downside for some people. Keep in mind that this is the first generation of VR displays and over time computer parts may become cheaper and more efficient at running VR.

It weighs in at about 1.2 pounds which isn’t too bad when you first put it on. But I have noticed that after a long hour or two VR session my head and neck do get a little sore. Whether or not this is tied to the weight of the headset itself or the constant moving while playing is yet to be determined. The headset is adjustable of course and even works with glasses. There is also an IPD knob on the headset to make fine-tuned adjustments. Now plenty of people (myself included) worry that the cord connecting the headset to the computer will get in the way or is easy to trip over but I can honestly say that I have had zero problems with this. One nice little feature is the addition of a camera on the front of the headset, which at the push of a button lets you see back into the real world without taking off the headset.

Once you put on the headset all you can effectively see is whatever game you are playing, and let me tell you that this is nothing short of amazing. Prior to purchasing I had very high expectations for my first VR experience and I’m happy to say those expectations were not only met, they were exceeded. When you put on the headset it’s like you are stepping into another world, and there are no distractions. You’re not constantly looking at your phone, you’re not paying attention to the kids yelling outside, you’re completely sucked into this virtual world and it is absolutely wonderful. All you can see is this virtual world all around you, it really does feel as if you are there. I can look up at giant buildings or mountains and really feel the immense height of them. On the other end I can walk over canyons or peer over cliffs and get that gut-wrenching feeling of being up too high and I absolutely love it.  Never before has a game managed to make me feel like I am part of this virtual world, I’ve always been watching through a window, simply an observer, but now I can actually be part of the game itself. My only complaint is that the headset can be bit heavy after long sessions and can sometimes get knocked out of focus if not tight enough. There will always be room for improvement but for the first generation of VR, I give the headset a 9/10.

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Be prepared to look a bit ridiculous while having a blast.

Current Games

As of writing this review there are a solid chunk of VR games playable on the Vive. Unfortunately many of them are more like short demos than full fledged games, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t quality games either. For example, one of my favorite games to play is Space Pirate Trainer, a wave based shooter. You find yourself on a platform high up in the clouds with the controllers turning into two laser pistols. Little robot drones fly out every wave that you must shoot down before they can shot you. It sounds simple but this concept works very well, you have to shoot them and at the same time physically duck, dive, and jump out of the way of oncoming fire. Without going too far into detail I will say this is easily one of my favorite VR games due to the fact that it is simple and fun.

Another really solid game is Audio Shield, in which your arms turn into giant shields. These shields are then used to block incoming projectiles that come at you to the beat of the song. While this sounds like a rather basic game I can assure you it is insanely fun and a fantastic workout. After a solid half an hour in this game I have to take a break due to being out of breath and a bit tired, but it’s so worth it.

What’s interesting about The Vive is that games I wouldn’t normally play, such as Space Pirate Trainer, are what keeps bringing me back to my Vive. If this game was being played with a traditional controller on a screen it wouldn’t be half as fun as it is on The Vive. I believe this is the Vive’s biggest strength: Simple games that are straightforward and classicly styled based on old school principles. This allows the Vive to be simple to pick up and play as well as bring back an entire genre of games. I do find myself wishing for a little more variety in The HTC’s current Library but this will grow over time. I score the current games library as a 7/10 overall.

Conclusion

I believe that The HTC Vive is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the future holds for our entertainment. After having my Vive for over a month I am entirely convinced that this is not just another fad or gimmick like the Kinect or Playstation Move. Virtual Reality is here and it’s absolutely mind blowing, I can assure you that it’s going to be a game changer. But there is one thing that does bring up some concern and that is the price point. The HTC Vive retails for $799 and don’t forget that it also requires a pretty beefy computer as well. But if you are a VR enthusiast and want to experience the next frontier in the word of entertainment, get yourself an HTC Vive. You won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 8.75

The final score is taken from the average of all 4 topics.

Matt is an occasional writer for The Geekiverse mainly due to the fact that he now spends way too much time playing inside of virtual worlds.

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