I thought HTC made smartphones. What is the HTC Vive?
It's true! HTC is most commonly known for manufacturing smartphones, specifically those running Android. The design team at HTC has a long history of winning awards for incredible designs, and over the last year the company has applied those talents to more than just phones.
For the creation of a virtual reality headset, PC gaming juggernaut Valve turned to HTC to build the hardware that matched their vision, and the Vive was born. It's a display you wear on your head that completely replaces your field of vision with the displays in the headset. As you look left and right, or up and down, the images you see in HTC Vive move with you, making it so you feel like you're really moving around in a virtual world.
To take this experience one step further, HTC has a pair of controllers you hold in each hand. These controllers put your hands in the virtual world as well, making it so you can reach out in the real world and see your hands behave the same way in the virtual one. It's the first "room scale" virtual reality system build for homes, complete with games that encourage you to walk around and experience the virtual world just like you would the real world.
How does it work?
Included in the HTC Vive packaging is a pair of special boxes that HTC calls Lighthouses. These boxes are installed in the corners of your room, and together they fill the room with infrared light. The HTC Vive headset and controllers have sensors that receive this light, and use that information to determine where you are in the room. As long as your headset and controllers can "see" those lighthouses, the headset knows where you are in the room and will let you play games in that space.
Wait, I have to drill holes in my walls?
HTC does include mounting brackets with instructions to mount the lighthouses on your walls with screws, but it's not a requirement. If you have a high, flat surface to set the lighthouses down, that works as well. HTC has also included two different mounting screws into the body of the lighthouses, so you can use things like tripod mounts to put the lighthouses wherever you want.
Basically, setting up the HTC Vive can be as temporary or as permanent as you choose.
Do I need to dedicate an entire room to using HTC Vive?
You don't need an entire room to enjoy this setup, but you are going to need a little more open space than any other video game system you've ever played with before. HTC Vive works in one of two ways — Room Scale and Standing Room Only. When setting up Room Scale mode, you use the controllers to "draw" the area you want to be able to play in, and Valve has software in place to keep you from leaving that area when in the middle of a game. When setting up Standing Room Only, you're able to see a small square on the ground with a pair of feet in the middle. You stay in that square while playing the game, and everything is great.
But Standing Room Only isn't as fun, right?
It's still a ton of fun, but there are a couple of games that won't be available to you. Standing Room Only, as the name suggests, is designed to not allow you to walk around. This means games that require walking around aren't going to work in that game mode. As of right now there aren't many games that fit this particular category. Most of the action title, especially shooters and combat games, still work great without your ability to move around.
You can still move your arms, and that's the important part in most situations.
How do I keep from hitting something real with the controllers?
Valve has a system called Chaperone in place to keep you from wandering out of the area you create as the virtual environment, and it uses a couple of different technologies to work well. For starters, when you get close to the edge of your virtual environment you'll see a blue grid appear over the game. This lets you know you're near the edge of your play space, so you know to take a step back or turn around. This grid will appear in every game, so you always know the system is there to keep you from walking into walls or accidentally breaking something.
HTC also included a camera on the front of the Vive headset, and Chaperone uses this to show you when a person or object has entered the virtual space. It makes you less likely to accidentally something you shouldn't, and can even be set up to automatically show you what is going on through the camera when you hold up your controllers.
Do I need anything extra to make this work?
HTC Vive is not self-powered, so you're going to need a fairly capable computer to drive the experience. The minimum requirements for that PC include a video card equivalent to the Nvidia Geforce 970 and 4GB of RAM, which immediately renders most laptops and desktops under $1,000 unable to power this experience.
There are some computers that can be easily upgraded to support HTC Vive, but in many cases a new PC or laptop will less expensive than the time and money needed to upgrade.
Are there a lot of games for HTC Vive?
HTC Vive is powered by SteamVR, which is a section of the popular Steam platform for buying and managing games on computers. Currently, the list of games available for HTC Vive through SteamVR is increasing on an almost daily basis. Shooting games, adventure games, puzzle games, and several other genres fill the top list of things you can play on HTC Vive already. You aren't likely to find any big, familiar titles like you would on Xbox or PlayStation — since taking those ideas and letting you walk around in them is complicated and all of this is brand new — but the titles that are available are incredible.
SteamVR also makes it easy for new developers to test out ideas before selling a game, so there are a couple of unfinished projects available as well. These often lack polish and can occasionally break, but the end result is almost always a better game when it is finally released to the world.
Can kids use HTC Vive?
In the Health and Safety guidelines for the HTC Vive, there's a section dedicated to children that starts with "The product was not designed to be used by children" which is less clear than you might think. HTC never offers an age range in this section, instead using language like "If older children are permitted to use the product, then adults should monitor them closely for any negative effects during and after their use of the product". We've seen other VR headset manufacturers use age 13 as the cut off for what is considered unsafe, but no such age definition exists in HTC's documentation.
This sounds awesome! Where can I get one?
Currently you can order an HTC Vive from HTC directly, but there's a delay in shipping that will stop you from getting your hands on the hardware right away. HTC has plans to set up demo stations inside stores and eventually make the system available for purchase inside those retail locations, but for the moment ordering online is the way to go.