HTC Vive

HTC Vive

To get to the point: I think the HTC Vive is the best VR headset on the market, all things considered. Well, as of mid 2018 anyway.

I first fell in love with the Vive when my office got one. My boss was so impressed, he messaged the company announcing everyone company-wide must schedule a 10-15min appointment just to try it! My 15 minutes came and I fell in love. The tracking was superb, the visuals were miles ahead of my DK2 screen, and of course, having your hands in-game was, well, game-changing. At the time, the Oculus Rift CV1 still hadn’t released it’s touch controllers. Of course, it’s moot now since Oculus has your hands in the game, but at the time it was mind blowing.

Again, I’m late to the game on this VR review as I’ve been slacking. This post, like the others in my tech review series, is mostly to collect my thoughts and directly share when I need to. I shall do this in the sameish format as my previous Oculus Rift CV1 review.

The Good:

  • Great tracking solution. I ragged on the Rift for using 4 USB 3.0 ports to be comparable to the Vive, but the Vive only needs 1 USB 2.0 port – and that’s both for the headset and tracking “light houses.” The light houses wirelessly connect to the headset, and only need to be powered, meaning you don’t need to run cables to your system, only to an outlet.
  • Easy Driver Setup. The driver just requires Steam to work, so most people interested in VR probably already have Steam. Sure you have to install SteamVR inside Steam, but no annoying pop-ups like the Oculus driver. But most important: the room set up is easy.
  • Amazing Room-Scale Experiences. I really like standing up in VR – it makes many of the situations feel much more natural, like shooting a bow, or spray-painting graffiti on a wall. It’s true (with 4 USB-3.0 ports) the Rift can do room-scale VR as well, but the Vive was designed for it out of the box and has a much cheaper (USB-bandwidth wise) solution.
  • Symmetrical Controllers. This is a personal one for me, but I prefer being able to grab a larger, one-size-fits-all controller while blind in VR.

The Bad:

  • No built-in headphones. Luckily HTC released a “Pro-audio strap” which I think is essential, but out of the box you must supply your own headphones. Sure audiophiles can nerd out on custom headphones, but I can’t stand the cable management and putting multiple things on my head just to experience VR. VR is 90% visual for me anyway, so audio can definitely take a back seat.
  • Screen is slightly worse than the Rift CV1. I’ll give credit where credit is due: the Rift’s display looks nicer IMO. The Vive suffers from something known as “god-rays” which are kind of like solar-flares, except wherever there’s bright-on-dark contrast, such as white text. This is due to it’s hybrid Fresnel lens setup, but I personally don’t mind it much. Usually I’m so absorbed into the game that things like god-rays are easy to ignore. The gaps between the pixels are also more noticeable on the Vive, but again, both the Vive and Rift are high enough resolution that you can get absorbed into the game and forget about it 90% of the time.
  • Ideal with larger play-areas. While I listed room-scale as an advantage above, you do need a bit more space than the rift. My room is pretty small, so I barely have enough room, but I make do.

Other Thoughts:

The “lighthouse” tracking solution is pretty clever. You mount and power two boxes diagonally, and they will both wireless talk to each other as well as your headset. Sort of like radar or sonar, they have a small motor that sweeps an infrared laser across the play area. Incidentally, the motors they use are the same as server hard-drive motors, so they are heavy-duty for long-running up time. The headset and Vive controllers (“wands”) have infrared light receivers on them in various visible locations. Because the lasers sweep predictably, the infrared sensors will get lit-up in order as the laser sweeps by. Doing some simple math, the headset and controllers can triangulate their positions based on the order their sensors got lit up. Pretty, fucking, rad. Not only is this low bandwidth: just a few dozen sensors that are “ON” or “OFF” but also, the laser sweeps are from boxes that don’t need USB. Really. Cool. Solution!

HTC recently released the Vive-Pro, a prosumer targeted headset based on the Vive. I’ve yet to try one personally, but from other reviews I’ve seen, it’s a bit heavier and has a marginally better screen. Not a fan of making it heavier, but a better screen would be a welcome addition. That said, it’s more expensive, it’s colored a godawful tacky blue that looks like my 90’s Toyota, and is sold without the controllers and tracking light houses, so it would be an investment for sure. I can’t review that one, but if you have the cashola, I would say that it’s probably be the best VR solution on the market, with the original Vive being the second best.

Also to note, HTC released separate tracking markers that can be attached to accessories. I personally have not used them, but I have seen cool demos of them on things like guns. Without actually trying them, I cannot comment. That said – I don’t think the Oculus Rift CV1 has anything similar on offer.

Overall:

As of mid-2018, and basically since it was launched, the Vive is the best consumer VR experience money can buy. Sure, you will need a decent computer – most likely an Intel I5 at minimum with at least a GTX-1060. I personally went I7 and GTX-1080 as a future-proof investment, but currently the HTC Vive is as good as it gets. If you want VR, I cannot recommend the HTC Vive enough. I love mine!

July 19, 2018 at 5:28 am | Technology Reviews

 

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© Greg Miller, 2009-2018
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