The HTC Vive was the first shot across the bow of VR pioneer Oculus after it released its Rift HMD. Backed by respected hardware manufacturer HTC (which is also known for phones) and Valve corporation (which is known for Steam), the Vive came out swinging with its technological superiority.
Thanks to the pioneering work that was done by Oculus, the makers of the Vive could look at what had been done and build on it. Sometimes it’s better to be second in line rather than first because then you can learn from your predecessor’s fate!
The styling of the Vive leaves me in mind of Cyberpunk aesthetics. Think of shows like Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, and other similar dark and gritty futuristic fiction. The front of the faceplate is covered in indentations that play a role in the tracking system. These make you look like some sort of spider robot, which I think is very cool indeed. Not that you’ll notice, since you can’t see yourself while wearing the system!
All Those Pretty Numbers
Compared to the Rift, its main competitor, in the Vive HTC has matched specifications on an almost point-by-point basis. Both have an OLED panel, both have a resolution of 2160 x 1200, and both have a field of view rated at 110 degrees. Both have built-in audio, HDMI, USB 3, and so on. So in terms of the base headsets themselves, there doesn’t seem to be much choice between these two products.
Track Me If You Can
The key feature of the Vive that sets it apart from the Oculus and most of the competition is the fact that it was designed for “room-scale” VR. What’s that? Simply put, with a system such as the Oculus Rift you are only meant to sit or stand in place. The tracking system is not designed to follow you around the room, but only track you within a small cube of space.
Thanks to the two “Lighthouse” base stations, you can be tracked within a 15 x 15 foot cube. It’s more than just a wide-range tracker. Valve and HYC have created a boundary system that warns you in the VR world when you’re reaching the edge of the tracked space. Hopefully this will prevent you from mashing into things as you walk around in the VR world.
Just remember that the Vive is still a tethered solution, so you still need to manage the cable. Vive (and just about everyone else) is working on a wireless display system, but it will be a while before the latency is low enough to make it practical.
Of course, Oculus has come to the party and you can get room-scale tracking by buying two more expensive tracking cameras. The Vive is, at the moment, the only product that does room-scale out of the box.
The Vive kit comes with two motion controllers that look rather reminiscent of Oculus Touch. That’s a bit backwards, though, since the Vive actually beat the Oculus to the punch when it comes to getting its touch controller to the market.
I actually think that on a design level the Oculus Touch looks nicer and more comfortable. The Vive motion controllers are larger than the Oculus units, largely because the sensor rings tracked by the base stations are so chunky. Overall, the Oculus units are a little more refined, but the fact that the Vive system always includes the controllers and is designed for them from the ground up makes the overall experience better.
HTC Vive Bonusses
After dropping so much cash on a new toy, it sucks to also spend more money to buy software for it. The good news is that there is some free content that you can try right away the moment you have you Vive up and running. Three titles are included: the excellent Tilt Brush art program, Everest VR, and Richie’s plank.
This being Valve’s own product, you can rest assured that support for the Vive is baked right into the Steam gaming software platform. There are hordes of VR games for the Vive, which all run through SteamVR. The Vive is really a very easy system to work with if you are already familiar with Steam.
Interestingly enough, the Vive does have its own digital storefront as well. It’s called “Viveport” and here you’ll find titles that are only meant for the Vive. Why Valve felt they needed to create a second digital platform when they already own the largest PC electronic gaming store in the world is beyond me. Still, it might make things easier for users that do not hail from the hardcore gaming crowd.
The Final Word
Thanks to the opportunity to watch the Oculus in the wild before going to market themselves, Valve and HTC were able to create a product that one-ups the Oculus in almost every way. Yes, it costs quite a bit more than the base Oculus, but if you consider what the standard equipment looks like and the price of getting an Oculus to have features parity, it’s actually pretty close. If you can afford it, the Vive is currently the best all-round PC VR system for gamers and general consumers.
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