Virtual Reality

HTC Vive review: The best tracking in VR needs more great games

HTC Vive review: The best trac...
After eight months, New Atlas re-reviews the HTC Vive
After eight months, New Atlas re-reviews the HTC Vive
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After eight months, New Atlas re-reviews the HTC Vive
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After eight months, New Atlas re-reviews the HTC Vive
The Vive is still the main home of 360° room-scale VR
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The Vive is still the main home of 360° room-scale VR
Vive controller
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Vive controller
Vive (l) and Rift, head-to-head
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Vive (l) and Rift, head-to-head
Two of the top HTC Vive games: Arizona Sunshine (l), Raw Data
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Two of the top HTC Vive games: Arizona Sunshine (l), Raw Data
HTC Vive with bundled controllers
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HTC Vive with bundled controllers
Vive controllers in hand
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Vive controllers in hand
Pros and cons of the HTC Vive
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Pros and cons of the HTC Vive

You could say revisiting our HTC Vive review eight months after launch doesn't make a lot of sense: Its hardware hasn't changed at all and its gaming library hasn't seen a dramatic overhaul. From another perspective, though, those are precisely the reasons to re-evaluate the Vive. With its biggest rival, the Oculus Rift, recently adding new controllers and a wealth of fresh games, the playing field has changed – even though the Vive hasn't. Is this a case where standing still (or close to it) equates to moving backwards?

The HTC Vive is still the best place to find 360-degree, room-scale virtual reality. The Oculus Rift now supports this as well, but a) its tracking is more limited and b) it isn't clear how long it will take developers to make games and experiences that fully exploit it. The Vive, meanwhile, was built from the ground-up for this free-roaming, face-any-direction-you-like style of play. Its best games reflect that.

The Vive's Lighthouse tracking system is easily the best in VR: Two mounted base stations plug into wall outlets to beam invisible lasers into your playing space. Photosensors on the Vive headset and controllers use those lasers to calculate their precise positions in space. The result is pinpoint-accurate tracking from all angles: In the eight months of using the Vive, I can't think of a single time when the tracking was anything but perfect.

And while each of the Rift's sensors requires a USB cable running to your PC, the Vive's base stations require no PC connection whatsoever.

HTC Vive with bundled controllers
HTC Vive with bundled controllers

Though the Rift now has its own room-scale boundary system, the Vive's "Chaperone" pioneered this. After initially setting up your Vive playing space, a grid will pop up once you get close to the edge, triggering your don't-smack-into-walls instinct (an instinct Crazy Jimmy in the 7th grade apparently lacked).

Our opinion of the Vive as a tracking marvel that dances around the outermost boundaries of VR hasn't changed.

The problem is we haven't seen enough new killer Vive games since the system's April launch. I can name two: Arizona Sunshine, a zombie apocalypse action/adventure game, and Raw Data, wave-based action/combat. Even when you add favorite launch titles like The Lab, Vanishing Realms, The Gallery and Job Simulator, we're still looking at a short list.

Two of the top HTC Vive games: Arizona Sunshine (l), Raw Data
Two of the top HTC Vive games: Arizona Sunshine (l), Raw Data

On the whole, the majority of titles in the Vive's content library have a rough-draft feel. Having spent eight months trying new SteamVR releases, often ringing up for around $20-30 each, my expectations for return-on-investment have sunk. Too many are low-budget indie projects that, after that initial evaluation, aren't worth returning to.

Indie games made by small teams can sometimes incubate creative ideas you wouldn't see from big publishers. But when you're paying US$1,500 or more for Vive + gaming PC, you expect to see more high-end content for your high-end purchase.

Meanwhile the Rift has a long list of titles – made for both gamepad and Oculus Touch – standing firmly in "polished/complete" territory. Superhot, Dead & Buried, Damaged Core, The Unspoken and Edge of Nowhere are just a few of the Rift games I voluntarily go back to on my own time. They have more of a AAA, console feel, thanks to Oculus' aggressive funding and collaboration with developers since the Facebook acquisition.

Vive controllers in hand
Vive controllers in hand

The Vive's controllers are very good, but less ergonomic than the palm-hugging Oculus Touch. They also lack Touch's rudimentary finger-tracking: sensors on the surface that know when you lift your fingers, triggering finger movement on your virtual hands.

While Vive controllers are great for handling weapons in games (their shape sort-of resembles the handle of a gun), they make for a clunky approximation of bare hands. Oculus Touch is equally adept at simulating both.

There are finer details we appreciate in the Vive. You can slide its lenses forwards and backwards to easily make room for glasses. The headset is well-ventilated, never giving us lens fog problems. Its camera lets you get a glimpse of your real surroundings without taking off the headset. And its field of view (110°) and display resolution (1,200 x 1,080 per eye) stand eye-to-eye with the Rift's.

Vive (l) and Rift, head-to-head
Vive (l) and Rift, head-to-head

If you told me you had $800 to spare and were going to buy the HTC Vive, I wouldn't try to talk you out of it. It will give you some of the most immersive experiences in VR, and it's always possible there's a glut of higher-quality content set to arrive soon (if it does, we'll be happy to re-evaluate again). Most importantly, both the Vive and Rift are head-and-shoulders above all other virtual reality today.

But unless room-scale VR is your top priority, we recommend the Rift with Touch controls over the Vive. Not only do you get the more ergonomic controllers and a simpler headphone setup, you can play with the Rift every day for months and still have plenty to do. Unless you enjoy experimenting with indie passion projects, the Vive is more likely to start collecting dust after a few weeks of plowing through its most-polished games.

Pros and cons of the HTC Vive
Pros and cons of the HTC Vive

The HTC Vive is available now for $799, a package that includes headset, controllers and tracking system in one box. Don't forget a VR-ready gaming PC.

Product page: HTC

This article was updated on December 26 to reflect further impressions of the Rift's room-scale tracking.

9 comments
PaulM
I have been using Vive since the "Pre" days and generally agree with your assessment. One notable exception to the "trickle of new releases" observation, though, is Google Earth VR. If you have not tried it yet, you should do so. It is free and it is phenomenal. I have shown it to a lot of people and they are universally impressed.
Brian M
Somewhat reminiscent of the VHS v Betamax and other fights to the death in technology, best technology doesn't always win! :(
OkinSama
Not sure why you think the Rift + Touch isn't a good room-scale option. It actually is, when you try it. It's now certainly my preferred home VR solution. With just 2 cameras, my 8x8ft play-space in my bedroom is fully tracked, and I haven't had any problems at all. The tracking when I watch my hands move even seems smoother than the dev Vive we use at the office. This is the biggest misconception the online comparisons seem to have.. Yes, the Vive can accomplish larger areas, and is great if you have that space.. But the vast majority of potential VR owners don't really have that much space to spare for VR. The size that the Rift+Touch can do, is plenty for most people. All of the Vive's room-scale games, work perfectly fine with Oculus Touch. You just need to be smart about setting up the cameras.
DaveWesely
I've been watching these 3D reviews for some time now, but have not read much about my preferred application - 3D CAD design. Designing 3D on a 2D monitor is limiting and has a steep learning curve. Considering New Atlas's audience has a lot of innovative readers, inexpensive (relatively speaking) new 3D design applications would probably be of interest to them. Just thinking of having an insect's, or giant's, or life size view of a design project that is easy to edit or create makes me giddy. And it could be used by more than engineer/designers. Think about buying or renovating a house. You walk in, put on some goggles and view or change the space as you want. The same goes for appliances, cars, or anything that is hard to stock in a retail space. Games drive the market here, but there are far more potential applications.
JohnHoggard
My work has both a Vive and an Oculus Rift CV1 (we still have our DK2 too) and I still prefer the Vive. I can wear my glasses - it's more comfortable to wear for a long time. The new ATW function in the SteamVR driver means that applications like Virtual Battlespace 3 now work jitter free. Applications such as Onward make the Vive a joy to use. We haven't got our Oculus Touch controllers yet - but Oculus have had what 7 months more tweaking to get that right prior to release? So you'd damn well hope they'd got some decent controllers now. If we want VR not to go into another fug for another 10yrs we need both systems to be strong - only rivalry will drive the market and drive innovation both in terms of hardware and software.
Grunchy
Coincidentally, for $800 I can replace my 4 barrel carburetor with a FITech go street 400 HP throttle body injector kit. These self-learning kits are plummeting in cost, now I can ditch my old, finicky, difficult to tune carb that has been giving me nothing but grief & finally have a car that starts & runs reliably, gets better mileage, produces less noxious emissions. Video games are fun, but $800 is a lot of money & I can easily think of plenty of other worthwhile things to do with that kind of cash.
AndrewLiddell
This seems like a slightly short-sighted review, which when boiled down says the Vive is better hardware but there's more games for oculus?... Buy a vive then download re-vive for free to get access to all of the oculus content too.. voila! best of both worlds. I'm lucky to have both systems at my disposal and have used both of them alot. I've been working with the oculus touch controllers since earlier this year in beta and they are admittedly MUCH nicer than the current vive controllers, but I believe that is set to change when vive release their new controllers in 2017. For ease of setup, system usb requirements, cabling, stability, proper room scale tracking, access to both steam and oculus store (with re-vive) and overall comfort/fit, I'd recommend Vive over oculus any day.
RodneyJohnKirby
Do these higher level V.R. goggles have the same heating problems as the Samsung gear vr. The Samsung s7 I use heats up very fast and this is a nusiance
DanielMcBride
@rodneyjohn Kirby I have the vive and the gear VR for Note 4. Vibe does not get as hot as the Gear VR.