Review: HTC Vive and the virtual reality revolution
Tech Tools: Jumping into virtual worlds comes at a hefty price
Have you jumped on the virtual reality bandwagon yet? It’s not surprising that some people are hanging back, for two reasons: the cost, and the tricky question of which system to go for.
I’m already a fan of PlayStation VR. The system is easy enough to set up, has decent games expertise behind it and if you already own a PS4, it’s one of the most cost-effective. Oculus, meanwhile, has signed up with Microsoft to stream games through Windows 10 to the VR headset.
HTC’s headset, the Vive, is intriguing though. But going up against the Oculus Rift in a direct head-to-head, the Vive has a couple of things going for it.
There’s the partnership with Valve and access to Steam, which should make for some decent games down the track. There’s also the technology to consider. The Vive comes with room sensors that, while a massive pain to set up initially, help you map your play area and warn you when you are skirting the edges of it, saving you a few embarrassing wall/face moments. Be warned though, if you have an average-sized room, you will see those grids pop up a lot.
In the box you’ll find those two sensors, the headset and two controllers, plus the necessary cables. There are lots of them. An almost baffling amount, to be frank. Getting set up is not an easy process. All those cables mean you need to set aside some time to get things up and running and park your impatience. And just when you think you are finally done, another cable falls out of the box.
It’s worth persisting. As a gaming experience, I’ve always been impressed with Vive, even from early demos. It’s immersive, more so than the mobile VR headsets, although they too have their place.
You can transport yourself to underwater environments, going eye-to-eye with giant whales or battling stormtroopers on Tatooine. The controllers, which are tracked by the room sensors, can be used to interact with your environment. They respond well to your instructions and they’re intuitive, so there is only a slight learning curve. The headset looks bulky, but isn’t too heavy once on. It’s definitely bigger than the Oculus headset, but it has a built-in camera on the front and also allows you to adjust it a little more, which will make it more comfortable for glasses wearers.
Comfort is important, because nothing will pull you out of your VR experience quicker than the sensation of having your head squeezed by weighty headgear. It also blocks out the light from the surrounding room, unlike some of the cheaper headsets that suffer from light leak. The displays inside the headset are high quality too.
But – and this is a big but for some people – the cost of the device may be a stumbling block. While you can buy the Rift headset for €699, the Vive will set you back more than €930. The caveat: Vive includes the controllers for that price, while Oculus only gives you an Xbox controller. The Oculus Touch controllers can be picked up separately for €250. That puts it on a fairly even setting price wise. In fact, it’s only the PlayStation VR that undercuts both, at €399.
It’s not just about the headset though; you need a decent computer to go with it. There wasn’t a single laptop that I could beg, borrow or otherwise liberate that would run the software needed for the Vive. There are computers available that are setup to run Vive, but it all adds to the cost. You’ll need a decent graphics card, so any old machine you have lying around the home just won’t do.
If you are looking for something that is a pure gaming machine though and you are already on the console track, the PlayStation VR may make more sense.
The quality of the Vive is excellent. The high quality displays on the headset mean you aren’t jarred by any sudden deterioration in visual quality. And put the headphones on and you could be in any one of a number of different worlds.
The not so good:
The set up. Once the Vive is installed, do yourself a favour – don’t take it out. You don’t have to install the room sensors on your walls permanently – you can put them on stands – but it will be far easier.
You also need a lot of space for the Vive, as you do with any VR system, to avoid stumbling into the sofa as you’re trying to escape a whale, enemy stormtroopers, etc.
The price may also be off-putting to some potential players.
For most people, it’s going to be a toss-up between Vive versus Rift. But Vive includes the controllers in the box, the room sensors are standard and the extra cameras give you a better perspective on the outside world when needed.
Vive is pricey, but a good option if you have deep pockets and a hankering for virtual reality.