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.
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