Vir­tual world

Pe­riph­er­als and per­spi­ra­tion are the su­per­hot top­ics on Joe Martin’s mind this month


Buy­ing a VR head­set is much like buy­ing your first PC – you think the jour­ney ends when you get the re­ceipt, but it’s just the be­gin­ning. As soon as you fin­ish the ini­tial setup, there’s all man­ner of up­grades, add-ons, pe­riph­er­als and mod­i­fi­ca­tions wait­ing to drain the con­tents of your wal­let.

When I first bought an HTC Vive, I in­tended to draw a line un­der my gam­ing ex­penses for the rest of the year, be­cause my fi­nances needed to re­cover, I told my­self. But no sooner had I un­packed the sen­sors than I re­alised I needed sup­port rods on which to mount them, clamps to hold them and dec­o­rat­ing sup­plies to dis­guise them.

Next, after some long ses­sions of Ari­zona Sun­shine, I re­alised I needed a soft anti-fa­tigue mat and a pair of new slip­pers to cush­ion my pum­melled feet. It was my part­ner who pointed out that I also needed to buy a new lamp and some stronger wrist straps for the con­trollers.

It’s not that the HTC Vive isn’t com­fort­able – it is. Ini­tially. The foam face cush­ion ad­e­quately pro­tects your face, the elas­tic head strap ad­e­quately spreads the ex­tra weight of the head­set and the nose rest is spa­cious enough to ad­e­quately ac­com­mo­date any­one’s honker. How­ever, as any­one who has ever mod­ded their PC knows, ad­e­quate gear is rarely sat­is­fac­tory. I’ve even found my­self look­ing for­ward to newly dis­cov­ered faults or dam­age, just so I have an ex­cuse to up­grade my HTC Vive with new bits.

Su­per hot su­per­hot

I wasn’t the first per­son to no­tice I needed to in­vest in a new face cush­ion for my head­set, how­ever. In­stead, it was a friend who, after watch­ing me play a few quick games of Su­per­hot on a warm day, re­coiled in dis­gust as she tight­ened the straps and a bead of se­cond-hand sweat was squeezed from the foam. That’s why you should al­ways re­quest a dis­pos­able cover if you visit a VR ar­cade or con­ven­tion, by the way.

HTC pre­pares for this sit­u­a­tion by mak­ing most el­e­ments of the Vive re­mov­able. The nose rest and face cush­ion can both be switched out, and HTC in­cludes an ex­tra size of each one in ev­ery box, just in case you find them too big or small. While re­mov­ing the cush­ion is easy, clean­ing it is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. The ma­te­rial isn’t ma­chine wash­able, and it can’t be soaked due to the Vel­cro back­ing that fits it to the head­set. HTC ad­vises you to wipe it with a damp cloth, but that does lit­tle to shift stub­born brow mat­ter.

Plus, with­out want­ing to be too vivid, adding wa­ter to the sponge doesn’t do much for the smell. After six months of reg­u­lar use, my orig­i­nal face cush­ion was dis­coloured, crispy and whiffy. A damp cloth clearly wasn’t go­ing to solve the sit­u­a­tion.

Thank­fully, there’s a num­ber of so­lu­tions. The best idea is to buy a re­place­ment from Tai­wanese man­u­fac­turer VR Cover, which of­fers a va­ri­ety of de­signs, in­clud­ing elas­ti­cated cov­ers that fit over the ex­ist­ing cush­ion, and faux-leather re­place­ments that can be eas­ily wiped down.

Choos­ing the right cush­ion is more in­volved than it may seem. Fake leather may be easy to clean, for ex­am­ple, but the lack of ab­sorbency

means it slips on your face if you’re a pro­fuse brow sweater. Like­wise, fab­ric cov­ers avoid this prob­lem, but need to be cleaned more of­ten.

In ad­di­tion to of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als, the re­place­ment cush­ions come in dif­fer­ent thick­nesses – VR Cover of­fers 18mm and 6mm ver­sions in ad­di­tion to HTC’s

of­fi­cial 14mm cush­ion. Thicker cush­ions are more com­fort­able, but thin­ner op­tions get your eyes closer to the Vive’s Fres­nel lenses. The lat­ter re­sults in a wider field of view (FOV), and can make it eas­ier to cal­i­brate your in­ter­pupil­lary dis­tance so that your eyes are po­si­tioned di­rectly over the cen­tre of the lens.

Per­son­ally, I was scep­ti­cal that chang­ing the face cush­ion would re­ally re­sult in a bet­ter VR ex­pe­ri­ence, but a few hours spent play­ing with a 6mm pleather re­place­ment has con­vinced me oth­er­wise. It’s a bet­ter and more com­fort­able fit, with a no­tice­ably wider FOV. And it smells bet­ter too.

Su­per, hot

These up­grades merely scratch the sur­face of what’s avail­able in terms of mods and ac­ces­sories for vir­tual re­al­ity, how­ever. HTC has re­cently re­leased of­fi­cial add-ons such as a Deluxe Au­dio Strap, while third par­ties of­fer ev­ery­thing from de­cals to pre­scrip­tion lenses.

The value of such prod­ucts varies a lot, but I think the tim­ing will prove to be more in­ter­est­ing than the cost. VR is still an early adopter’s mar­ket, which nor­mally means we can ex­pect the hard­ware to make big im­prove­ments on a short timescale, so why are head­straps and foam cush­ions be­ing of­fered up as progress? Why is the only wire­less add-on for VR still shrouded in mys­tery? Don’t get me wrong, I love my new face cush­ion – I just think I’d love a Vive 2 more.

There’s a wide va­ri­ety of VR face cush­ions avail­able

Thicker cush­ions are com­fier, but re­strict FOV

HTC’s deluxe au­dio strap is an­other so­lu­tion for dis­com­fort

HTC’s new ac­ces­sories add even more ex­pense to the Vive

Pre­scrip­tion lenses are also avail­able

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