When I first heard about products like the HTC Vive becoming real things you could actually buy, some of my first thoughts were about using one to virtually visit the places and see the sights I'd otherwise be unable to. Mobility issues and white water rafting through the Grand Canyon don't mix very well, for example.
Fast forward a few years, and while I've been unable to find that virtual trip down the Colorado River, I have seen enough to say that good VR does bring the world to people who aren't able to enjoy all of it, and think everyone who has a bit of trouble getting around would love the HTC Vive as much as I do.
Vive can take you places
The Vive is a great entertainment device, but it's also much more than that. Between HTC's VR app market and Steam's VR section, you'll find more games and utilities than you'll ever have time to play. And this is just the beginning, as the gaming mega-studios are working on VR titles so Doom and Fallout in VR will soon become a thing.
As long as you can move your head and arms freely without any issues, you can use the HTC Vive.
And games only scratch the surface. Spend an hour exploring a VR recreation of the Apollo 11 mission or visit a Museum of Fine Art or Stonehenge without leaving your house. When it's done well, VR is amazing and there will be more and even better uses for it in the future. When you hear tech companies saying VR is the future, you'll get it once you try it on something a little more powerful than your phone.
And if you're like me and just not able to see the world the way you want to see it, the HTC Vive can be a pretty awesome substitute. It's very simple to use, with logical and easy controls that require a minimum of hand or arm strength and can be set up for a person who will be seated the entire time. There are a few things you need to know before you invest in one, and since I just went through it all I'm going to help you understand them.
You need a good computer
You might need to buy a new computer to use the HTC Vive. A fairly expensive one, too, though nothing outrageous like a top-of-the-line 4k gaming computer.
We've gone over the basics right here and that will get you started, but I have a few extra tips to add.
- Don't get talked into buying something with two video cards. The Vive doesn't support any two-card configuration (no PC-based VR rigs do) and one high-end card (I'm using a GTX980 Ti) will power the Vive through everything available in 2017. Save the money for the inevitable upgrade you'll be doing next year.
- Stability is more important than overclocking and other types of PC wizardry. If you buy a premade PC chances are this isn't an issue, but if you're looking to build your own you don't need expensive components that are built for PC overclocking.
- Make sure you have a power supply big enough to run everything at 120%. Your video card will want as much juice as it can handle. Make sure you have it to give, and then some. Pre-built PC's often come with a power supply that barely makes the cut for the hardware. Be sure to check, or ask the salesperson you're buying it from.
- You don't need an expensive monitor. The video output is sent to the Vive headset separate from the display itself. Find one that you can comfortably use while doing the other things you'll be doing with a new computer and it will work.
Don't overlook a pre-built PC marketed for VR. Other than the power requirements, the HTC Vive doesn't tax my computer as much as any of the recent AAA game titles I play on the machine. I expect this will change once those AAA titles come to the Vive, but a good VR-ready rig from HP or ASUS will be just fine.
You might need some help setting things up
If you have ambulatory issues, the initial setup of your space might be more than you can handle yourself.
You'll need to be able to place the sensors about 6.5 feet high and once in place, you may need to reach them to press a button on the back that selects the correct channel.
It's not difficult and the setup software walks you through it all quite nicely. But unless you can stand upright and move across the room one or more times, and reach above your head, you might need some help. I used photography light stands instead of mounting the sensors to the walls, and it took my wife about two minutes to assist and get them up and running.
Setting up the hardware requires you to move around a little. Get help if you need to!
You'll also need to be able to position yourself back a bit from any desk or stand your computer might be sitting on. Then get back into a position where you can reach the keyboard and mouse. You need to have enough clearance in front to move the Vive controllers freely, and when you're wearing a headset and cut off from the outside smacking the desk isn't a gentle thing. And it's bad for the controllers.
I set my space up so that I swivel my chair away from the computer when I'm using the Vive and can spin back around to the keyboard when I'm not.
There are a lot of wires
There are very long wires. My headset is attached with three sizable cables bundled into one assembly and they are five meters (16.5 feet) long. Newer models use a 3-in1 cable that's the same length. The connection box is attached to your computer with two shorter (one meter) wires and a power cord.
Again, things are easy to setup and color coding means you won't plug the wrong thing into the wrong hole, but you will have to contend with some serious cables. Cables on the floor while you're wearing a headset and can't see them.
The lighthouse sensors each have a power cord, too. If you're unable to get behind things and find outlets, you will probably need some help here. This is no different than anything else that needs to be plugged in, so you already know how to handle it.
You'll need to take off the visor and put things away before you do anything else if you use a walker or a cane or any other thing to help you move around. Don't even think about rolling your wheelchair around with the Vive on your lap or anywhere that doesn't have the cables up off the floor.
You'll need to move your head and arms
The Vive requires you have a decent range of motion in both arms and hands.
You don't have to do any squeezing or repetitive tapping on anything, but you will need to move your arms freely in front of your body and be able to rotate both wrists. They're not heavy (7.7 ounces, according to my cheap kitchen scale) and you have easy access to every control without putting your fingers in any un-natural positions. You just have to move them in real life to move them in VR.
Likewise with your head. To change the view through the visor, you need to be able to rotate your head from side to side and be able to look up and down. Think of how you turn your head to look at something without the headset on because it's exactly the same while using it.
The visor is … cumbersome
It's not terrible wearing the HTC Vive headset, but it's not comfortable or something that makes the experience more enjoyable. I assumed I would feel a bit claustrophobic while wearing it but because there is a giant world space once you're strapped in I never got that feeling. It can, however, get quite hot inside the visor, so plan appropriately.
The Vive is designed to use with glasses, but not bifocals.
It may interfere with any equipment you need for breathing. It doesn't cover your nose but applies just enough pressure that a cannula might be ineffective and you couldn't wear a full nose and mouth mask with it on. This, of course, will depend on your face and the way it fits into the headset.
If you wear glasses there are a few things to consider. The Vive is designed to wear over your spectacles, and there is plenty of room for even larger frames and styles. But if you use bifocals or progressive lenses, forget it. Leave them off for a better experience.
It's also going to be difficult for some to put the headset on while wearing glasses. If you have limited range of motion you may require assistance getting it in place without driving your glasses against your face or knocking them off. Otherwise, there are no issues and you adjust the fit once then slide it over your head when you want to use it.
Health and safety
HTC has guidelines about how long you should use the Vive and signs that you need a break, but you also need to prepare yourself for the experience.
It seems, well, real. If you have a fear of heights you should probably think about that before you try a game or other software and motion sickness is a real thing — not just the motion sickness some people get from VR, but the regular kind, too.
Take, for example, a roller coaster simulator. If you don't like the idea of riding a roller coaster, you won't like simulating it with the HTC Vive. On the other hand, if you do like the action, you'll enjoy how realistic it can be.
Most importantly, be sure to be there if you're supervising someone else while they use the Vive. Especially someone who needs a little extra attention.
Plenty has been written about the HTC Vive and the entertainment possibilities. After using it in the comfort of my own home I'll agree with most of it. The Vive is an incredible way to enjoy a game or watch a movie or even explore the inner workings of the human body. Virtually, of course.
VR may be virtual, but for some people it's the only way to get out and see the world. The Vive gives you that freedom.
But it's also a tool that can provide a sense of freedom for people who would otherwise be left out of a lot of life's normalities. I can't hike out to or climb the Devil's Tower National Monument or even visit the National Gallery at the Smithsonian on a whim. But I can do both with the HTC Vive, and while things aren't exactly the same they are certainly better than sitting at home just thinking about it.
If you or a loved one is looking for a way to live a richer life but are unable to go out and enjoy things as much as you would like, it's certainly a compelling product. Quite simply, this could very well be a life-changing product.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.