Review: HTC Vive – TechCrunch

7 months ago Comments Off on Review: HTC Vive – TechCrunch

Well, the Oculus Rift was the best VR headset you could buy for about a week.

The HTC Vive virtual reality headset drops today at a $799 price point just a week after Facebook’s Oculus released its highly-anticipated Rift headset. In comparison, the Vive has kind of flown under the radar outside of developer and VR junkie circles during the past couple years. There have been no South Park episodes, nowhere near the quantity of think pieces and quite a bit less anticipation among the smartphone using populace who couldn’t distinguish a Gear VR from a HoloLens.

I’ve had a chance to show the Vive consumer version to my VR virgin friends and responses have rarely deviated from them saying the Vive is the coolest piece of technology they’ve ever seen.

The consumer Vive may hold that crown for me as well. It certainly bests the Rift in terms of immersion and is already developing an ecosystem that looks as though it is going to attract non-gamers particularly well in the coming months. It’s a bit less-refined and intuitive in terms of its feature set, but it nails so many of the futuristic pursuits it reaches beyond reality to find.

Finding physical space for your virtual reality

The setup of this system is a bit of a doozy.

With the Vive, physical space is a pretty precious commodity. The system’s room-scale tracking, which sees you as you move through space, requires a decent amount of room that you may have to get creative to find.

I set up my Vive space in my cramped little college apartment, and in order to achieve even the minimum space allotment I ended up having to shift my bed on its side up against the wall. Not really all that effortless in my case, but I suppose if you live in a 4-bedroom house in Waco you won’t have this problem.

Mounting the two Lighthouse sensors (which track your headset and controllers) in opposite corners of the room was mostly painless. The lighthouse infrared cameras don’t need to connect to each other or the PC so that made things much easier.

Once you have a nice space cleared and have your sensors set up, you then need to craft the boundaries of your play space. The way you do so is immeasurably custom and quite cool. You really just walk around the outside corners of your space, controllers in hand, mapping the wall while accounting for any irregularities that you may need to.

From there, the Vive employs what’s called the chaperone system to remind you of the physical borders of your measured space if you’re ever about to put your controller through a wall while in VR. It does so through a couple ways. First, a physical grid that pops up clearly showing your boundaries, and second, if you have the Vive’s head-mounted camera enabled, a 360-degree 2D image of the objects in your immediate vicinity pops up.

This was incredibly useful for finding a chair or grabbing a water bottle after long sessions with the headset without taking it off. The way this feature allows you to interact with real reality turned out to be pretty effective and ensured that you were never fully blind to your surroundings. When Oculus Touch launches in the second half or this year, this feature is going to be sorely missing.

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HTC is generally known for it’s pretty sharp design chops, but I will say here that I still generally prefer the design of the Rift headset over the Vive.  It’s the little things like the Rift’s more rigid spring-loaded straps that distinguish the very much refined feel of Oculus’s offering from the considerably less sleek Vive.

Looks are hardly everything. It’s a solid fact that you’re going to look like a moron while you’re wearing one of these regardless, and there are certain other hardware items that shine brightly on the Vive.

The motion-tracked controllers that ship with the Vive really are something special. They are a bit oddly shaped. They feel a bit like wii-motes with little shot glass cup holders built into the top, which as I write this I realize I should definitely try out. They feel very solid in your hand though, and while I do in many ways prefer the ergonomics of the Oculus Touch, the button layout on these controllers is pretty top-notch.

One interesting thing I noticed from trying out the various launch titles is how effectively game developers are aligning their designs of in-game tools to the real-world form factors of the controllers. What results is a level of immersion that makes you believe you might actually be picking up a gun when you grab the controllers off your desk while inside the environment.

I found myself missing the Rift’s integrated headphones. The Vive allows you to easily use whatever headphones you have at your disposal but I generally found that having another cord in the way was annoying and most of my headphones are quite heavy so I ended up just using the included earbuds, which weren’t all that awesome but performed fine.

Speaking of cords, the Vive is still a tethered experience. On the Rift it’s annoying, but on the Vive it’s pretty restricting at times. The difference comes with how much you’re moving and spinning around, tangling the cord and tightening your leash without even knowing it in the meantime. There’s not much that can be done about this at the moment, high frame rates necessitate the tethered computing power, but I question whether the thick flat cord was the best choice here.

The Vive also does manage to do a much better job at blocking out light by enclosing the nose gap much more effectively than the Rift, it’s really surprising how much this helps in terms of achieving immersion while playing different titles.

Review: HTC Vive – TechCrunch