An all-encompassing experience
Nobody expected Valve’s VR gurus to team up with mobile phone maker HTC to deliver the Vive, but that they did. The result is the most comprehensive VR experience currently on the market, though it doesn’t come without a few downfalls.
Setting up the Vive is a bitch of a job. This is because of the room-tracking scaling. Twin lighthouse scanning boxes need to be mounted on opposite sides of the playing area, the minimum play size is 6 feet 6 inches by 5 feet, but it can go even bigger. You’ll need to mount each tracking box close to the ceiling – brackets are included for permanent installs, but they’ll also fit onto standard camera tripods. If there’s anything in the way of the two boxes, such as a light fixture, you’ll need to connect them via a synchronisation cable, and each tracking box requires its own power supply.
The HMD plugs into a special link box, which then plugs into your PC. The handy thing about this is that if you accidentally pull out the Vive cord, it just comes out of the link box, rather than yanking out a USB or HDMI port on your PC. Once everything is in place, you’ll probably need to do an obligatory firmware update, which we found failed a couple of times. Only then can you map out your play space, simply by walking around the playing area while holding a motion tracker. We’d highly suggest a buffer zone between the play space and your wall though, as many games will see you swinging wildly outside of the play zone – we managed to bruise more than a few knuckles. The HMD itself has identical specs to the Rift, though weighs a little more. That means twin 1080 x 1200 screens running at 90Hz, with a field of view of 110 degrees. Yet putting the Vive on reveals a slightly wider field of view, making it feel like you’re wearing less of a mask. This is a good thing, but on the other hand it makes the pixels and pixel structure a little more obvious – we’d go with the Rift if you’re looking for the finest of detail. The Vive also suffers from the same god rays as the Rift, but doesn’t tend to be quite as noticeable.
As far as comfort goes, the Vive loses hands down. The strap system sits too high on the back of the users’ head, while it’s quite front-heavy. It’s also slightly heavier, and the lack of any slot around the eyes means that sweat often causes the lenses to fog up. There’s also that huge tether that allows it to do room-scale tracking. You can and will trip over it many a time. Thankfully there’s a small camera built into the front of the HMD, so a quick tap of a button allows you to see the world around you. An easy solution to this problem is to install a rotating hinge in the ceiling to hold the tether out of the way, but it’s a big commitment for a gaming room.
So the headset might not be quite as good, but where the Vive blows away the Rift in terms of interactivity are the twin motion control wands that it includes. Looking similar to a Wii-mote with a donut glued to the end, they allow the player to reach out and grab objects in the virtual world. From sword fights with skeletons to shooting balloons with bow and arrows, the increased immersion compared to a crappy Xbox One controller is exponential. We did find they’d occasionally lose tracking, drifting off into space and requiring a reboot, but it was the exception not the rule. We also found our playing area would drift on a daily basis, requiring it to be recalibrated.
Then there’s the room scaling, which again opens up a whole other door to immersion. Sure, you’ll walk into stuff all the time, but because you’re actually walking around and your inner-ear can detect this, the chance of simulator sickness is greatly reduced. I managed to play for around six hours straight without feeling any nausea whatsoever.
In terms of hardware required to drive the Vive, it’s very, very similar to the Rift. An Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD 290 or greater is required, along with an Intel i5-4590 or equivalent. However, the Vive only needs 4GB of memory, along with one HDMI 1.3, 2 x USB 3,0 and a USB 2.0 port. What the specs don’t include are the number of power ports – one each for the tracking boxes, one for the link box, and two for the controller rechargers. Once this thing is installed, your room is going to look like a spaghetti-like mess, unless you’re a pro at hiding cables.
It might not have quite the same quality headset as the Rift, but as an overall VR experience the Vive blows the Rift away. It’s all about those twin controllers – rather than being a passive bystander inside these virtual worlds, you’re an active participant. It shows just how important the full VR kit is, and not just a great HMD. There’s also the added benefit that SteamVR is an open platform, which should allow for a much wider range of games than the Rift. BENNETT RING
SURE, YOU’LL WALK INTO STUFF ALL THE TIME, BUT BECAUSE YOU’RE ACTUALLY WALKING AROUND AND YOUR INNER EAR CAN DETECT THIS
Motion controllers Room-tracking Solid HMD quality
Less comfortable More pixilation Tether is annoying