Features and spec
The HTC Vive features a beautifully high-resolution display (2160x1200) which when split across two eyes equates to two gorgeous 1080x1200 displays. The HTC Vive provides one of the best virtual viewing experiences out of all the headsets we’ve gone eyes-on with so far (although we’re yet to see the consumer version of the Oculus Rift), with no real lens distortion or pixelation issues. The 90Hz refresh rate provides users with a beautifully smooth video feed, which helps to make the overall experience more immersive.
The VR headset itself features more than 70 sensors, which help the headset to track your head movement to 1/10 of a degree. This means that even the smallest head tilts are picked up by the headset and replicated in the virtual world with no lag whatsoever.
However, it’s not just the headset that tracks your movement. As briefly mentioned above, the HTC Vive also comes with two base stations that’ll track your physical location in a 15x15ft space (it can be smaller for those with less space, don’t worry!) enabling users to physically walk around the virtual environment and interact in a way that isn’t possible with the likes of the Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR. The tracking is instant, and really makes the experience what it is – especially when playing fast paced shooting games where you’re constantly moving around, ducking and running.
It gets the adrenaline going and helps to trick your senses into believing it’s a real experience. For example, we played a futuristic shooting game called Space Pirate Trainer where you battle increasingly difficult waves of flying robots. Instead of being stationary, we found ourselves ducking and diving and running from side to side avoiding bullets and returning fire.
It was a surreal experience, and we completely forgot that we were playing a game – we jumped quite quickly to the side at one point during the experience (to avoid a barrage of bullets of course), and almost crashed into a physical wall. It’s almost too immersive, and a slight shock when you do come back to the real world.
Let’s say, for example, you’re in your virtual world shooting zombies and having a generally great time, and you get a text/call/notification. Usually, you’d have to take the headset off (thus ruining the immersive experience) and check your phone, but the HTC Vive features Bluetooth connectivity and can connect to your smartphone. This means that any calls/notifications can be displayed in the virtual world, meaning you don’t need to take the headset off to look at your phone – you can even reply to text messages using pre-defined replies.
HTC thought a lot about the user experience and how people will interact with VR, and this is just one of many features that make the HTC Vive system incredibly user-friendly.
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Before we go any further, it’s worth discussing the setup of the HTC Vive – an area that many gamers may excitedly overlook. When you first receive the HTC Vive system you’re prompted to download the setup software from the Vive website and follow the on-screen instructions. The setup explains all the different components of the system – from the headset to the base stations and controllers – and guides you through setting them up, one by one. As well as that, it installs Vive software on your PC and also adds the SteamVR software to Steam (if it’s already installed – if not, Steam will be installed first).
The first (and only real issue) we had during setup was where to place the base stations, an issue that we think many gamers will have during setup. You’re provided with two mounting kits that allow you to attach the base stations to walls, but it’s not something that we wanted to do. Attaching a base station to the wall is a very permanent solution, and doesn’t give gamers the option to easily move the setup if/when needed.
Thankfully the base stations can also be screwed into tripods and light stands, which is what we opted for because we could easily adjust the position, angle and height of the base stations, and is what we recommend for prospective buyers. It also means that if a reflective object (like a TV, mirror, etc) affects the base station tracking – something that users wouldn’t notice until later in the setup – the base stations can be easily moved to a different position.
You also have to set up your play area, be it a large space (or ‘Room scale’ as HTC refers to it) or a standing space for those with limited space. While we thought it’d be a fairly long-winded process, we were surprised at just how easy it was to measure and set up your play space. Once you’ve decided whether you want standing or room scale VR, you have to first show the base stations where the ground is by placing both controllers on the floor.
Once you’ve calibrated the floor, you then have to trace the play area with one of the controllers by holding the rear-facing trigger key. It’s as simple as walking around the edges of the play area to map it out, and the vibration of the controller provides tracking feedback. An Advanced Mode provides users with the option of simply mapping out the four corners of the play area, though both methods yield the same result. Once you’ve mapped out the area, it’ll be analysed by the software and you’ll be shown your active play area on-screen.
You’ll then be prompted to put the headset on where a Portal-esque robot will take you through the basics of using the HTC Vive including how to access the Steam menu and how to use various aspects of the controllers. Once you’ve gone through the fairly simple tutorial, you’re ready to start downloading and playing games in room-scale virtual reality.