As the VR war starts to heat up, we’re already seeing a few key players enter the market. In the “mobile” VR corner we have Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR. In the more “hardcore” VR arena the big players are the Sony Playstation VR, the Oculus Rift, and the HTC Vive. In this feature, we’ll highlight all the key things we know about the HTC Vive.
What is the HTC Vive?
The Vive is a VR headset developed by HTC and Valve and it was unveiled at Mobile World Congress in March 2015, going on to receive 22 awards during CES 2016 and even taking home the Best of CES title. The headset is designed around a standout feature called “room scale” that allows the headset to utilize technology to turn a room into a 3D space within the virtual reality environment. This allows a user to mimic the physical environment around them using motion tracked handheld controllers to interact and manipulate objects for a fully immersive environment.
On 23rd February 2015, Valve announced that it would demonstrate a SteamVR hardware system at the 2015 Game Developers Conference. The Vive was unveiled by HTC during its Mobile World Congress keynote on 1st March 2015 with Phil Chen, Chief Content Officer for HTC and Founder of the HTC Vive explaining that HTC met Valve which turned out to be “serendipity”. The two companies worked together in tandem with no clear dividing line between each others responsibilities and the result meant HTC and Valve had a collaborative VR effort.
What are the requirements to use it?
As with other VR platforms such as the Oculus Rift and Playstation VR, the HTC Vive is a tethered headset meaning it requires additional hardware to function. You’ll need a PC with at least the minimum following specification to use the HTC Vive:
- Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better
- CPU: Intel Core i5 4590 or AMD FX 8350 or greater
- RAM: 4GB or more
- Video port: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2, or better
- USB port: 1 USB 2.0 or faster port
- Windows 7 SP1 or newer
The HTC Vive is bundled with two controllers, the Lighthouse base stations, some ear buds and a few games, so the only additional hardware you’ll need is a sufficiently powerful PC. Curious what else comes with it? Check out this post.
Looking for a good desktop or laptop that’s ready for VR? Check out the following lists:
What are its standout features?
- 90Hz refresh rate
- 1080 x 1200 resolution per eye
- 70 sensors
- Lighthouse 15 feet by 15 feet tracking
- Front-facing Chaperone safety camera
- 110-degree field of view
- OLED display
- Vive Phone Services
The HTC Vive has the ability to deliver alerts and messages while you’re in VR from an iPhone or Android device, meaning you don’t have to end the VR experience to stay in touch with the outside world. However, the HTC Vive standout feature is Lighthouse and the ability to 3D map a user’s surrounding room and account for this in the VR environment. This 15 x 15 ft. tracking grid allows the HTC Vive to track a user around the room to increase the virtual reality experience.
The technology behind Lighthouse consists of two devices that can be placed around a room environment that communicates back to the headset to keep everything aligned. This communication between the Lighthouse sensors and the HTC Vive is done simply by light and is completely passive so only need power to function (think no long trailing cables around your living room).
The simple nature of the Lighthouse boxes means that their components are simple and cheap, they don’t need a high bandwidth connection to any of the VR systems’s components, and tracking resolution is not limited to the camera resolution like on other conventional solutions. To top off the experience, the Vive is combined with two motion sensing controllers that are laid out in a way that makes them easy to learn and relatively natural feeling when used in-game.
What are the best games and apps?
The HTC Vive has a growing number of great VR titles, with hundreds available already, and plenty more surfacing all the time. Some standout titles include The Labs, Job Simulator, and Fruit Ninja VR. Other titles to look out for include:
- Elite: Dangerous
- The Gallery: Call of the Starseed
- Fantastic Contraption
- Vanishing Realms
- Fallout 4 (coming 2017)
Epic Games has also announced support for Valve’s SteamVR technology that allows developers to create VR content with Unreal Engine 4 across Blueprint visual scripting, meaning projects can be built without being dependant on programmer support if needed.
To find the best apps and games check out the following lists:
What can I do beyond gaming?
Gaming is clearly a big deal for the HTC Vive and other VR headsets, but there’s plenty of other great things to do with the Vive. This includes watching 360-degree videos from a number of sources, including YouTube, which has a growing library of great VR content. Facebook also is seeing a rise in such video content.
Beyond that? There’s porn (enough said, right?), VR social apps, and even ways to use your entire PC’s desktop UI within VR. That’s just what already exists, and the potential continues to grow more and more each day.
How much is it?
The launch price of the HTC Vive has been set at $799, which puts the Vive as the most expensive VR headset currently on offer. However, HTC are marketing their headset to target the “high end” consumer market to offer a premium VR experience. It’s also important to note that if you combine the Oculus Rift with the upcoming Oculus Touch controllers, the Vive ends up priced very similarly.
“Starting with the premium experience, even if it has a slightly higher price point, is the right thing to do from a strategic point of view. The price can always come down as the market grows. We know there is some pent-up demand there, so there’s not so much price sensitivity early on.”
Remember that the cost doesn’t stop there, since you’ll need an adequately powered PC to support the HTC Vive.
Where do I buy it?
The HTC Vive is now available for immediate purchase from HTC with shipping times expected to be around 2-3 days after purchase. You can also find it in a growing number of online and brick-and-mortar retailers.