Setting up the HTC Vive (Pre): Just how big of a commitment is room-scale VR?
It seems like just about everyone who tries the HTC Vive's room-scale VR walks away blown away by its sense of immersion, but one concern keeps popping up: "am I really going to devote an entire friggin' room in my home to this?" We did just that, and, while Vive setup certainly isn't as simple as plug-and-play, we did learn a couple of things about what this is going to be like moving forward.
The consumer version of the HTC Vive doesn't launch until April 5, but we have a Vive Pre dev kit in house, which is almost identical to the consumer Vive. Assuming you already own the requisite gaming PC and have some floor space you can devote to it, setup should be relatively quick and easy.
Connecting the headset to the PC is a piece of cake: just plug a link box into the headset's cables, then plug link box cables into your PC. Most of your setup time will be spent deciding which room in your home is best to use as your playing space, and then mounting the two Lighthouse base stations (that allow headset and controller tracking) on opposite corners of that space.
Since we'll be spending many hours over the coming months testing Vive and Oculus Rift content, we cleared an entire room to devote almost full-time to VR. One of the biggest misconceptions about the Vive, though, is that you need to do that. All you really need is some floor space (for the best experience with the Vive, we'd recommend at least 6 x 5 ft, or 1.8 x 1.5 m) that can be cleared out easily once it's time to play. It also helps if the space is behind a door that can be closed off, to keep pets or children from wandering in while you're blasting away with your virtual six-shooter and shotgun.
When you're done playing, just put away the headset and controllers and use the space for whatever you'd normally use it for. The small, laser-emitting trackers hanging out on your wall won't get in anyone's way.
Mounting the Lighthouse stations wasn't difficult at all, and only took us about five or ten minutes. The Vive includes two wall mounts – two screws each – which are easy to assemble, mount and angle just right (above head-level, facing downwards towards the center of the room).
If you live in an apartment and are worried about drilling holes in the wall, that could be a sticky point, but once it's time to move out, some spackling paste, a putty knife and sandpaper (and, if you have it, paint that matches the wall) should help cover it up. We can't promise your landlord won't use that as an excuse to keep part of your security deposit, though, so if you don't want to take that risk it couldn't hurt asking ahead of time.
Failing that, you could also mount them on a sturdy pair of tripods (they use standard tripod mounts). Or you could just buy an Oculus Rift instead, which doesn't require any mounting.
The base stations will also each need to be near a power outlet or an extension cord.
Once you get the base stations up, it's simply a matter of installing Steam and SteamVR on your PC and running the included setup app. That includes telling SteamVR how big your playing space is by standing in the center of it while aiming a controller at your monitor, and then walking around the edges of it holding down the controller's trigger. Easy-peasy.
Beyond that, you can also fine-tune the distance between lenses and your face, by popping out a couple of gray rings on the side of the headset, sliding everything forwards or backwards, then pressing the rings back in. You can also adjust your interpupillary distance (or IPD, that's the horizontal distance between the two lenses) by twisting a ring on the headset's lower right hand side.
... and don't forget to charge your controllers.
Room-scale VR won't be for everyone, but the key is you don't really need to devote an entire room to VR full-time. You just need some adequate floor space that can be devoted to VR once it's time to play.
We'll have much more on the Vive Pre (and, soon after, the consumer Vive) in the coming weeks. For a wrap-up of our most recent thoughts on the VR landscape, you can hit up our impressions of the big three headsets from GDC.