Virtual Reality: First impressions with the HTC Vive

I just got my hands on some virtual-reality (VR) goggles. Specifically, we have an “HTC Vive“. We are still in the early days of VR and given that these goggles cost about a $1000, not everyone will get to try them outside a demo room. I thought I’d share my impressions.

  • There are indications that the HTC Vive needs a powerful PC. Because I am disorganized, I ended up with the HTC Vive goggles, but no corresponding powerful gaming PC. So I used what I had: my son’s gaming PC. A 5-year-old box. It fails to meet the “minimum” requirements set by HTC, but at no point did we ever encounter any performance problem. To be fair, I did not try to run any demanding game… simply because I have none to test… Still, it seems to me that the belief that VR requires very powerful machines might be overstated.
  • The HTC hardware is fantastic. It looks good and it is sturdy. I am sure that it will all look ridiculous in a few years, but it is quite usable today. It feels good. The HTC Vive comes with two great controllers.
  • Setting up the HTC Vive is a bit harder than just putting on the goggles. You need to setup a room with sensors at each end. Still, it is no big deal. The only annoying hardware issue we got was pairing the controllers with the system. It was a source of confusion. The hardest part was finding out where to click to pair the controller.
  • … which brings me to the software. The software is a bit flaky like most software tends to be. It looks good and it generally works, but once the server stopped responding and we had to “kill it” and another time, the demo would insist that we press the “system” keys whereas doing so never worked. Even so, the software is quite good already.
  • So how is the experience? Great. It simply works. Every demo I tried was convincing. It is just like I imagined it. Better than I imagined it in fact because my previous encounters (years ago) with VR were unconvincing.

So where do I see this going in the next couple of years?

  • The hardware is basically good enough. I am sure I will sound like a fool in five years when the current VR hardware looks obsolete, but I do not expect it to get a whole lot better, qualitatively speaking. What I do expect is that we will get cheaper versions that work nearly as well. Already, the upcoming Sony PlayStation VR is going to cost half as much as an HTC Vive.
  • Content is a problem right now. That is, you can get the goggles working, but you are left feeling that there ought to be something more interesting to do with them… What I hope we will see is an explosion of new applications and games.

What is next for me? I am getting a Sony PlayStation VR for my home. I was still slightly on the fence, but playing with the HTC Vive convinced me that the hardware was mature enough.

In time, I want to setup the HTC Vive so that I can program my own prototypes. As a scientist and engineer, I want to find out what else I can do with these goggles.

Daniel Lemire, "Virtual Reality: First impressions with the HTC Vive," in Daniel Lemire's blog, July 6, 2016.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

4 thoughts on “Virtual Reality: First impressions with the HTC Vive”

  1. You are one of the lucky that don’t get sick from using these. I wanted to say “lucky few” but actually it might be much more than a few, maybe half of everybody don’t get sick. As for myself, I’m basically pale in the face and need to go lie down (or throw up) after five minutes of any fast-paced VR game with much rotation and/or acceleration.

    1. (…) any fast-paced VR game with much rotation and/or acceleration

      From my trials so far, I have not managed to get myself sick… but this took me somewhat by surprise as I was expecting problems.

    2. Sickness may also depend on how good (or badly) a VR game is designed. For example accelerations are a big no-no…
      As a matter of fact, there are many guidelines that have been and are being defined as the medium gets more and more explored.
      See for example:
      Developers have to get creative to find ways to avoid sickening their users. An example: some games use a “portal” metaphor / way of interaction to allow the user to move in the world, and precisely to avoid accelerations and sickening movements.

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