Virtual Reality

Hands-on with the mesmerizing HTC Vive

Hands-on with the mesmerizing ...
The HTC Vive's free-roaming element puts your entire body into virtual reality
The HTC Vive's free-roaming element puts your entire body into virtual reality
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HTC's Executive Director of Global Marketing Jeff Gattis showing off the Vive
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HTC's Executive Director of Global Marketing Jeff Gattis showing off the Vive
Firing an arrow inside the HTC Vive
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Firing an arrow inside the HTC Vive
The HTC Vive's free-roaming element puts your entire body into virtual reality
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The HTC Vive's free-roaming element puts your entire body into virtual reality
The HTC Vive has sensors that two base stations track, to let you roam freely
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The HTC Vive has sensors that two base stations track, to let you roam freely
The Vive's wireless controllers "give you hands" in your VR worlds
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The Vive's wireless controllers "give you hands" in your VR worlds
Leaning down to examine something in one of the HTC Vive's virtual worlds
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Leaning down to examine something in one of the HTC Vive's virtual worlds
Roll up! HTC is touring the US, with a truck that transforms into several Vive demo areas
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Roll up! HTC is touring the US, with a truck that transforms into several Vive demo areas

HTC is giving folks a taste of its Vive headset in a truck that's touring the US. Gizmag swung by its first stop, right next to Comic-Con in San Diego, for a taste of the most impressive VR headset to date.

All of the big players in VR – a group that also includes the Oculus Rift, Sony's Project Morpheus, the Samsung Gear VR and perhaps even Starbreeze's StarVR – have very good products right now, sharing a similar ability to teleport you to wild and wonderful places.

But one thing the others are missing is the ability to let you walk around those virtual worlds – not just with a controller, but actually strolling around with your own two feet in a space that's mirrored in the virtual world.

The HTC Vive lets you do that – and it's nothing short of amazing.

The HTC Vive has sensors that two base stations track, to let you roam freely
The HTC Vive has sensors that two base stations track, to let you roam freely

When you strap on the Vive, you get a quality headset that, if it alone were its selling feature, would be good enough to be up there with the rest (my glasses fit underneath more comfortably than with Oculus or Morpheus). But once you start walking around, it's a bit of an "Aaah, okay, this is what VR is supposed to be" moment. The ability to stroll around that 15 x 15 ft. space makes other headsets, with all due respect, look a little last-gen.

If HTC and Valve can launch the Vive with at least a solid software library, this is the one to beat. The free-moving element is that big a step forward – and that well-implemented.

Our first Vive demo had us walking around the deck of an underwater shipwreck, watching various sea life swim around us. This one was only mildly interactive, but the sense of immersion (feeling like you're present in the virtual world) was the highest we've experienced. The two controllers I was holding gave me "hands" in the virtual world, and I could walk freely, exploring as I would as if I was really there.

The Vive removes an obstacle to tricking your brain that no other headset is removing. Walking around a space makes it feel even less like you're playing a video game, and more like you just quantum-leaped into another place.

Leaning down to examine something in one of the HTC Vive's virtual worlds
Leaning down to examine something in one of the HTC Vive's virtual worlds

Another demo had us gathering ingredients to cook up a meal. Sounds boring, right? Nope. It was nothing short of mesmerizing, as the Vive's wireless controllers (very similar to Oculus Touch) let me pick up ingredients, walk across the room, then drop them back into a pot (or, as I enjoyed doing, throw them around the room to see how many things I can break and how much havoc I can wreak).

Yet another demo let me paint in a 3D space, choosing among options like fire, ink or rainbows (the palette sat in my left hand) and then drawing with the "brush" in my right hand. I could walk around the room and draw patterns in 3D space. Again, the key is that it all felt real, with my muscle memory able to take over and act intuitively, using my entire body as if I was really doing this.

The 3D light painting demo was one of the trippiest things I've ever experienced (and my old high school friends will tell you, that's no small claim). People are going to take drugs, strap on the Vive and go on one hell of a ride.

Firing an arrow inside the HTC Vive
Firing an arrow inside the HTC Vive

It's about full-body freedom. All good VR tricks your mind into thinking it's somewhere else … but when your body isn't involved, there's still some disconnect. Putting not just your hands into the virtual world, but also your entire body – as only the Vive does right now – sets you free to completely experience VR as if you were there.

What feels intuitive to you, the ways you'd interact with this world if you were really there, is exactly what you do.

HTC's Executive Director of Global Marketing Jeff Gattis showing off the Vive
HTC's Executive Director of Global Marketing Jeff Gattis showing off the Vive

That's the experience, but what about the technology? The magic happens courtesy of a pair of base stations that you place in the room, which track your head (the sensors on the Vive headset) and your hands (the wireless controllers). The controllers are a bit like more advanced Wii controllers, with triggers sitting where your index fingers rest, grips on the sides (which respond to the natural gripping gesture which will be your first instinct) as well as touchpads on the front.

It's the same principle as Oculus Touch, and HTC's version is in very good shape. There was no perceptible latency, and it felt completely natural.

While the controllers are wireless, the headset itself is still wired, so you do need to keep some awareness of the long tail hanging down from your head, as you mill about the space. We'll look forward to future versions that go wireless, but I didn't trip once during my half-hour inside these wonderful virtual worlds, so as long as you don't act the fool and try to run while wearing the headset, it probably isn't a major concern.

There's also the fact that you'll need a room for the Vive. While many people can temporarily take over their living rooms or reserve something like a loft or recreational room for VR gaming, folks like college students in dorms or adults who live in studio apartments may not even have the option of unlocking the Vive's full capabilities.

Like Oculus, you'll also need a PC to pair with the Vive. HTC's Executive Director of Global Marketing Jeff Gattis tells us that the company still isn't ready to announce the minimum specs for that paired PC at this point (mostly because it could change before launch), but we should find out within the next few months.

... and Gattis also tells Gizmag that the Vive is still on track for launching this holiday season. Oculus and Morpheus are both launching in early 2016.

Roll up! HTC is touring the US, with a truck that transforms into several Vive demo areas
Roll up! HTC is touring the US, with a truck that transforms into several Vive demo areas

It's too early to say if the Vive will launch with a strong software library, but many VR developers we've spoken to are making games for Oculus and SteamVR simultaneously, so it could very well benefit from that. If you're a VR developer, making a second Windows-based game is extra money for relatively little extra work.

No word yet on pricing for the Vive (and, again, we don't know how expensive a gaming rig you'll need to power it), but VR enthusiasts may want to start saving their pennies now. The Vive is the real deal.

Product page: HTC

6 comments
mhpr262
I can't wait to get me one of those and become a Neuromancer console jockey and leave shitty real life forever ...
exioce
"People are going to take drugs, strap on the Vive and go on one hell of a ride" Hit the nail right on the head. But VR in 2015 is the first mobile phone. Imagine where we'll be in a decade...
zevulon
wireless vr ISN"T happening. it's a lie, and it's not because of resolution or bandwidth or signal strength it's because of the same thing hindering phones, cars, electric bicycles, etc....POWER. occulus is leading, everyone knows it and the developers know that's where the money is. steam can beat occulus with VR headset by competing in the economic structuring space for selling content. the battle for the economics of content production and profit is the same in VR as in anywhere, but there is a new set of platforms and with them platform specific developers. cross over development and grandfathering software to port existing content to a 3d platform will result in 2nd rate garbage. so the quality content creators will just go where they are best compensated now and in the future. steam's economic competition has been very powerful solely because of that structural compensation. it can do the same in vr but it will have to work harder and better to attract the developers. htc's razer has demonstrated the hardware will be competitive enough. but it's still behind occulus.
DonGateley
When the Gear VR's 2560 x 1440 screen resolution is mentioned it should also be noted that the device only has VR rendering space of 1024 x 1024 for each eye which is interpolated up to something less than 1440 x 1280 without adding information. This actual limitation on performance is dictated by the computation needed to render and the available horsepower to do so at the edges of overheating. Considerable gains need be made both in compute power and in heat reduction before mobile VR can offer anything honestly close to the tethered devices. The advertised screen resolution is not really relevant.
ArielDekalo
I wish they would remake all those old pc adventure games like day of the tenticale in 3d And yeah lsd with that thing will be interesting... I wonder if the fractal effects will encompass the entire 3d world or will look 2d like when you look on a screen
Blogum
It seems a little irresponsible to tout Vive as the leading headset when the author clearly hasn't tried other company's' latest headsets. Just compare the picture in the above article to the rift with touch controllers. The Vive, with hefty, clunky controllers, lack of integrated audio, and extremely poor ID, is frankly what looks "last-gen". Also, how many people have a 15x15 square foot space to roam in?