After months of development and beta testing, the HTC Vive is officially shipping to consumers. Announced just over a year ago, it’s the most high-end VR headset you can buy, and, as a result, the most expensive among its contemporaries, which includes the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR.
What makes HTC’s version so special, and do its features justify that $800 price tag?
Here’s what you need to know.
The Vive is powered by SteamVR, including SteamVR Tracking 1.0 and a Chaperone guidance system, which utilizes the headset’s front-facing camera. Two wireless remotes come in the box, along with two wirelessly synced base stations; the base stations are used to track where the headset and remotes are relative to the virtual reality experience users are viewing.
The headset sports a display with a resolution of 2160 x 1200 (1080 x 1200 per eye), and a refresh rate of 90 Hz, which should help eliminate that “screen door” effect. Elsewhere, the headset sports a series of sensors, and can operate within a diagonal area up to 3.5m x 3.5m.
As we found out during our setup, that diagonal area is key. Most folks won’t have the area necessary to accommodate the Vive, or any VR system for that matter (except maybe PSVR), making space paramount to whether or not this technology can go mainstream.
Much of the early media designed for VR has been for a “sit down” experience, but Vive also tracks the headset’s movement, allowing users to walk around in a designated space. As immersive as this is, not everyone has the space necessary to best take advantage of what Vive can do. We set it up in our office and found out very quickly that the room we chose wasn’t going to work, requiring us to use another space. Not only that, but it needs to be tethered to a computer, so there’s always a big cord connected to the back of the headset.
Once we did find a large enough space, actually setting up the entire experience took hours—and that’s no exaggeration. To get everything to sync properly—controllers, base stations, headset, SteamVR—took a lot of trial and error, but we did finally get things to run smoothly. Know that this is not a “plug and play” experience.
The target audience hoping to get their hands on the Vive might already be anticipating some bumps in the road. After all, this isn’t exactly aimed at the masses just yet. In addition to that $800 price tag, consumers also need to have a beefy Windows machine. HTC recommends an NVIDIA GeForce GTX970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or better graphics card, an Intel i5 or AMD FX 8350 or better processor and 4GB of RAM. In addition, you’ll need an HDMI 1.4 output, a free USB 2.0 port, and Windows 7 SP1 or higher. You’ll also need to be signed up for Steam, which is free.
As daunting as the Vive setup sounds, HTC partnered with Valve early on when making the headset, which means it will have excellent indie developer support. Steam is a huge platform with a very large community, so Vive owners should expect plenty of games over the coming weeks and months. Right out of the box, Vive offers three free VR apps: Tilt Brush by Google, Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives by Owlchemy Labs, and Fantastic Contraption by Northway Games and Radial Games.
Valve has also released its OpenVR software development kit along with other software for developers, so there should be no shortage of content for owners to experience. And it won’t just be tailored for gamers either; other possible applications include education, healthcare, and even Hollywood movies, adding a level of immersion right out of a sci-fi movie.
To learn more about what the HTC Vive has to offer, check out the video above. It’s quite the experience that requires a lot of patience and troubleshooting, but when it works, it works well. And, if nothing else, it’s so much fun to watch someone use the Vive and get lost in a virtual world. Surgeon Simulator has never been more ridiculous.