I’ve been waiting a long time for the HTC Vive. From the moment it appeared on the Steam store webpage, I dreamt about unboxing one of my very own. I watched countless videos of lucky testers trying out the DK2 prototypes. I lapped up every taste of virtual reality I could get from demos in Microsoft and Best Buy stores. As of three days ago, I finally have one. My hype level was in outer space, and the Vive still blew me away. No amount of gameplay videos can prepare you for what it’s like. Virtual reality (VR) is indescribably cool.
Setting up the Vive is a bit less euphoric than using it. After putting in some elbow grease to clear the absolute minimum area required for room-scale play, I had to figure out where to mount the two base stations that track the Vive HMD (head-mounted display) and two controllers. I drilled one into a wooden support in one corner of the room. The other is currently attached to the remains of a makeshift bike rack wedged between the floor and ceiling in the other corner.
With the base stations set up and powered and my play area cleared, I donned the HMD and was immediately blown away by what is essentially a glorified main menu. The SteamVR Home application is a virtual house with a virtual balcony overlooking some virtual mountains. A wall in the house displays and launches the VR games in your library. I spent quite some time just looking around in awe and tossing around the simple objects scattered around the room. I made each of my family members put on the HMD just to look out at the mountains.
VR tricks your brain into thinking you’re there, so it takes some time to get used to navigating the room-scale play area without hitting anything. I had heard many horror stories of broken monitors, ceiling lights and noses, so I made sure to respect the boundary visualizations displayed in-game. It’s disorienting at first, but the longer I played the better I got at navigating within the Vive while still keeping track of my real-world location.
Another thing that takes some getting used to is locomotion. Moving within the virtual world is referred to as locomotion and different games handle it differently. In some games, you move by pointing with the controller and teleporting. Other games use the trackpad to move the player in the direction you’re pushing, much like a conventional console game. Some games make you move your arms in a running motion to move. My favorite so far is teleportation, solely because it is the only one that doesn’t make me feel dizzy and sick. Smoothly moving the character in-game while not moving in real-life is incredibly disorienting. While more experience with those locomotion modes is known to reduce adverse reactions, I’ll be sticking with teleportation for now.
The major downsides of the Vive are the resolution of the screen and god rays. The HTC Vive has a screen resolution of 2160 x 1200 pixels (1080 x 1200 pixels per eye). This is low enough to clearly see individual pixels in-game, and makes seeing faraway objects nearly impossible. God rays are light artifacts that appear when viewing the screen through the Vive’s round lenses. They are most apparent when looking at bright objects or text. Cleaning the lenses regularly with the included cloth helps, but doesn’t remove them entirely.
Despite these negatives, watching Vive gameplay doesn’t compare to being in the HMD. Sure, you won’t see god rays in a video and the resolution will be better, but after a few minutes of play, my brain stopped registering the downsides. I was too busy having fun and being completely, utterly immersed. Taking off the HMD after a long play session is a surreal experience. You’re telling me, after all that, I was in my living room the whole time?
Even my mom, who is generally skeptical of my expensive taste in video games, tried out the Vive. All she did was look around in Google Earth, but even that is a breathtaking experience in VR. She crouched down to look at our house, and reached out to try to touch virtual mountains. Some choice words were uttered when she found herself on the edge of a cliff.
I could write an article about all the fun games and breathtaking experiences the Vive has to offer. But the truth is, any expectations you have for the Vive are probably selling it short. Go out and try it—you won’t regret it.