The HTC Vive is the VR love child birthed by the efforts of Valve (creator of Steam and many award-winning games) and HTC, giant consumer electronics company. Though both companies were working on virtual reality solutions separately, they banded together to give us what is now arguably the best virtual reality headset of this year. But what’s so special about the HTC Vive? Well, that’s what this article is about. Buckle up as I take you through all the features the HTC Vive has to offer.
Review of HTC VIVE
The HTC Vive is an incredible piece of hardware. It has all you need to not only be transported to any virtual environment you seek but to be able to interact and move around that space. Within the slightly costly $599 package, HTC Vive delivers the headset, two Vive Controllers (popularly known as Vive Wands), two tracking stations and their mounting kits, a stereo headset and a lot of cables. If you also purchase one after October 11th, you gain free access to Fallout 4 VR which is bound to be an awesome experience if past Fallout games are any judge. If you purchased an earlier version, you’ll be given access to other great experiences like Richie’s Plank Experience, Everest VR, and Tilt Brush.
HTC VIVE REQUIREMENTS
Unfortunately, not all things are roses and rainbows in the VR world offered by the HTC Vive. In addition to the initial $599 cost of the headset, one also needs to purchase a VR ready PC. These are powerful PCs that can process the high amount of computing and graphics that high immersion virtual reality content the Vive runs. These PCs can be built or purchased as a whole but they cost about $1000, most times higher. Here are the minimum specifications your PC must have to be VR read.
- Processor: Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350
- GPU: NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290
- RAM: 4GB
- Video output: One HDMI 1.4 or one DisplayPort 1,2
- OS: Windows 7
- USB: One USB 2.0
This is the bare minimum specification required to run average VR content on the Vive. Some other experiences might require a better graphics processor though, hence it is recommended to have a GPU that’s at least on the level of a Nvidia GTX 1060. Running the Vive with lower specifications would work but performance would be quite poor with frequent frame skips.
Asides from the VR-read PC, the Vive also recommends you have a dedicated play area. This is because it supports full room scale tracking which loosely translated means it can track all your moving between a given space. Many experiences make use of the feature in the sense that they expect you to have enough room to walk around and do stuff within their virtual environment. To this purpose, it is recommended to have at least 2m x 1.5m space as a dedicated play area when using the HTC Vive.
DISPLAY; REALISM OF THE REALITY
Nobody likes watching a low-resolution movie. It’s plain annoying and sometimes hurts the eyes. In virtual reality, this point is tripled. Individual pixels can be more easily seen as the screen is really close to the eyes. And as immersion is very key to virtual reality, anything that is blurry or low resolution would ruin the experience. HTC and Valve understand this and have gone to quite some lengths to produce practically the best display present in consumer-ready virtual reality headsets. Many of the display properties are similar to the Oculus Rift (one of the HTC Vive’s main competitors) and they are as follows:
- OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) Display: Moving one step further from conventional LED or LCD displays, OLED emerges. It not only has improved picture quality but less power is required to power OLED displays. Due to these attributes, HTC Vive used two OLED displays in its headset.
- Resolution: Resolution of a display is simply how many pixels are packed on that display. The more the pixels, the clearer, and sharper the image. To reduce screen-door effect(the phenomenon where black lines are seen in the space of pixels) to a minimum, the HTC Vive has a total 2160 x 1200px resolutions which break down to 1080 x 1200px per OLED screen.
- Refresh Rate: Normal 3D games displayed on 2D screens can afford to have a refresh rate of 45HZ. This is basically 45 frames per second. VR, on the other hand, can’t afford this luxury lest motion sickness be the order of the day. Hence the HTC Vive has a refresh rate of 90HZ.
- Field of view: The HTC Vive has a rated horizontal field of view of 110 degrees. But it is believed to be slightly higher due to the effect of the Fresnel lenses it uses.
- Lenses: To save up on weight and space, the HTC Vive uses Fresnel lenses which are significantly thinner and lighter than conventional dome-shaped lenses used by the likes of PSVR. This makes it lighter but scatters more light creating a less cohesive image. But the difference is hardly noticeable except in experiences with bright lights.
POSITION TRACKING; LIGHTHOUSE
The HTC Vive uses Lighthouse tracking for positional tracking which is actually amazing technology. With lighthouse tracking, the two base stations provided can accurately track where exactly the receivers (headset or controllers) are in space and what direction they’re facing. This gives incredibly accurate room-scale tracking where the user can move around a given space and interact with virtual objects. Here’s a bit of how it works. The base stations are, just as the name gives away, little lighthouse. They flashlights with the use of spinning light emitters, which spin as fast as 60 times a second. The receivers (headset and controllers) have photosensors on different parts of their bodies and these senses when the invisible lasers touch them. Using the knowledge of when the flash occurred, when it hit the photosensor, which particular sensor it hit and fancy math, it determines where exactly the receiver is and what direction it’s facing. So there’s actually no optical tracking, just great maths, and accurate timing. Amazing right?
CONTROLS; INTERACTIONS IN VR
Although being able to just move around and fully immerse yourself in a virtual space is phenomenal on its own, the HTC Vive comes with two controllers (one for each hand) commonly referred to as Vive Wands. These controllers use the same lighthouse tracking system as the headset to track their positions in space and the directions they’re facing. Hence, they’re the replacement for your hands in space. On each controller, you have two buttons (menu button and system button), a clickable trackpad and a trigger. At the side of each controller, there’s also a grip which, when clench acts a button pressed. This is mainly used to pick up virtual objects in most experiences. These controllers have been used in multiple innovative ways and they really increase immersion and functionality within VR.
From the first glance at the HTC Vive, it’s pretty obvious HTC and Valve placed functionality over design. The HTC Vive looks just like how you’d imagine virtual reality headsets in their early states; like large unfashionable ski goggles. But that is not to say it’s uncomfortable or very heavy. Weighing at about 555g, the HTC Vive falls in the middle of the PSVR (610g) and Oculus Rift (470g). The headset itself is covered with numerous indentations which act as photosensors to pick up the lasers from the base stations. It has velcro straps to hold the headset to your face and cushions to deter it from scratching the face. It has a dial at the side to adjust the Interpupillary distance (IPD) and two dials to adjust the lens-to-eye distance. These make the Vive very adjustable and allows different glasses users to utilize their glasses while using the Vive. Unfortunately, the design doesn’t allow for a lot of air, hence it can get quite hot and sticky. Another shortcoming is the cord. It’s thick and long and can get pretty annoying when you’re deep in your experience.
As Valve is one of the bodies behind the HTC Vive, it’s no surprise that the platform for getting content is Steam. Steam VR to be precise. You plug in your HTC Vive and you’re automatically transported to the Steam VR Home, where you can see all the experiences you have downloaded and the ones in the store. It’s pretty nice looking and quite customisable. Another place for content is Viveport which is the official HTC Vive platform offering a range of experiences tailored to the HTC Vive. It’s basically HTC Vive’s Oculus Home but it comes with an extra feature. The Viveport Subscription. The is HTC Vive’s solution to users who aren’t ready to pay $60 for an experience they’re not even sure they’d like. For just $6.99, users gain unlimited access to any 5 titles they want. At the end of the month, they can either extend those 5 titles for another month or choose 5 entirely new titles. There’s also a discount if you purchase any of the content you try out with the subscription. If you’re still unsure about the Viveport Subscription, you can sign up and get a free month to try it out.
Asides from the experiences offered on Steam VR and Viveport, the HTC Vive can also play experience downloaded off the Oculus Home via a third party software called Revive which can be found here. It’s a bit of a hassle but it works. With Revive, you can play some Oculus apps like Robo Recall, Lucky’s Tale, Dead and Buried and other great experiences. A list of Oculus experiences that can be accessed with Revive can be found here.
The HTC Vive offers a great many features, from immersive VR display, incredibly accurate tracking, impressive controllers, and a special platform that not only lets you download content but try them out for a month. Albeit it’s slightly unattractive form, the HTC Vive is a powerful machine that makes virtual reality very immersive and interesting. So if you have $599 to fork over and a powerful PC with the necessary specifications, you definitely won’t go wrong with the HTC Vive.