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Robert Lashley: HTC Vive: Not in Kansas Anymore

Columns By Robert Lashley on September 24, 2015

HTC Vive: Not in Kansas Anymore

In between appointments with indie game developers at PAX Prime this year I was able to slip in and experience the HTC Vive. If this is the first you are hearing of the Vive it is HTC’s entry into the virtual reality space in collaboration with Valve (you know, those people behind Steam). I’ve used the first two versions of the Oculus Rift so I had a general idea of what to expect. However what I experienced was leaps and bounds ahead of what I have experienced in previous years.

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The HTC Vive isn’t your standard Lawnmower Man VR rig, it is far more than just a headset. Currently there are three types, or classes, really of virtual reality experiences being made. There are the less expensive adaptors that you can link up with a smartphone and wear like a mask. There are the headsets like the Rift (which is also working on addons to flesh out the experience), and Sony’s Project Morpheus, then there are those that are striving for an even more immersive experience like the Vive. The Vive during the demo I took part in consisted of a headset, headphones, two handheld devices, and two boxes that you place in opposite corners of the room.

When I arrived I got a brief walk through of what everything did and then I got suited up. I put the headset on first followed by the headphones (you can use whatever USB headset you desire). The goggles are designed to fit over glasses which was a nice touch. They are heavy though. You may not notice it at first but you will start to feel neck fatigue after a bit. If you ever played sports, especially football or hockey, you’ll know how a 5lbs/2kilo helmet that you aren’t used to wearing will leave you with a sore neck the next day. The goggles also have two (one for each eye, unless you’re Snake) 1080 x 1200 displays that run at a blistering 90fps. This ramped up frame rate will help tremendously for people that get motion sickness at the lower frame rates. The headset is also still connected to the computer by wires which can be cumbersome and a tripping hazard. They were easy to adjust to though and as long as you didn’t forget they were there you weren’t in any real danger. The team said they are still a few years off from being able to make the mask wireless. I can imagine that energy consumption is a rather large concern.

If you are wondering, weren’t you afraid of running into a wall? No, surprisingly I wasn’t. That’s where those two boxes I mentioned earlier come into play. Those boxes sync up with your mask and your two hand held devices. The boxes sit in the corner and collect telemetry data on you and if you get too close to a real wall in the real world it will show up as blue bars in your virtual world. Speaking of energy consumption the hand held devices burnt through two AA batteries each in under 45 minutes. Now imagine what the mask would take.

They had a couple of “games” that we could play with the Vive. First up was a tour of a sunken ship. While in the deck a humpback whale decided to buzz the tower. Hint, you are the tower. It looked fantastic and there was something unsettling about having a whale swim right up to you. The headset was responsive and the field of view felt right. There were a few other games as well designed to show off the Vive’s capabilities. One game had you create a small go cart and the other had you direct planes out of the air and guide them to their runways. You were basically an air traffic controller. None of them were really fun. They were just glorified tech demos.

The Vive was great. I can see a lot of practical application for VR as we progress into the future. The ability to attend events that we couldn’t be at in person. If you want to go for your morning jog and are tired of seeing the same boring streets you could run through the cosmos, the bottom of an ocean, or the surface of the sun. I also see the ability to use it for medical reasons, the applications are really only limited by our imagination. What I have a hard time seeing though is VR being disruptive in the gaming space even though a lot of companies are betting big dollars it will. I believe 3d TVs serve as a great case study here. It is a nice novelty but widespread adoption is a long way off. Having to wear equipment on your body is terribly inconvenient. In the case of the TV it was only glasses. For VR it’s an actual headset and handheld controllers. Also if you are playing a game like Counter Strike, or Battlefield do you literally want to run everywhere?

Of all the immersive VR experiences I have taken part in the Vive was the closest to being on a holodeck. But due to how inconvenient VR Rigs are we are still a long way off before everyone is ready to strap themselves into the OASIS. I’m not sure about but you but I’m just not ready player one. 

Robert Lashley / Rob is a Staff Writer and jack of all trades for MMORPG.com. When he isn’t blinding people with the glare from his head in front of a camera you can chase him down on Twitter, PSN, XBL, and Nintendo @rant_on_rob.