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The inevitable HTC Vive post
29

I bought an HTC Vive last November (a week before the Black Friday sales, doh!) and have spent the time since trying to get the most out of it. So here are some highlights, thoughts and other musings about the HTC Vive.

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The Setup

Last April I built the PC that I'm using with the HTC Vive. The important bits are an i7 6700k and an Nvidia GTX970. For all of 2016 it served greatly at playing anything I threw at it maxed out on a 2k monitor -- so I didn't need to upgrade anything to use the HTC Vive with the setup.

The Room

I've got my HTC Vive set up in my home office (or spare room as my wife calls it...) -- it's not the biggest space, but after a bit of furniture moving (and relocating my Arcade (another project I'm yet to write about) to the other end of the room) I've just about got a 2.5m by 2m space to do some room-scale VR.

Additional Bits

Besides the initial cost of the HTC Vive and the PC to use it with, I've invested in a couple of other bits:

A pair of huge tripods -- designed for photography lights and stand 2 metres tall. Perfect for the HTC Vive's Lighthouse sensors. The sensors use standard screw mounts (like you would find on cameras and hey! camera lights..) so mounting them to the tripods was very straight forward.

I Also had to buy some ball-joint adapters to that the sensors could be angled on the end of the tripods.

The HTC Vive is connected to the computer via a long 3-in-1 cable that carries power, USB and HDMI. This cable can be quite heavy for some people and easily tripped over as it trails across the room-scale space.

To solve this I bought a set of retractable cables and hooks that suspend the cable from the ceiling. This works really well, and was very easy to install as each of the hooks sticks to the ceiling with 3M adhesive.

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To store the HTC Vive headset when I'm not using it my wife bought me a replica ceramic Phrenology head; It looks quite nice as a piece of furniture, and it's the perfect size to hold the HTC Vive headset.

First impressions

My first time using the HTC Vive wasn't with the HTC Vive I had bought, and it wasn't at a conference or game demo somewhere. The first time I used one was at a theme park.

In the confines (and safety) of my own home my first impressions were a lot more subtle. The first time you see how accurately the HTC Vive tracks the position of the motion controllers in 3D-space is truly a magical experience. As somebody who has worn glasses for all their life, being able to see something so clearly up close is really an amazing sensation. -- and this was just the "out of box experience" of the HTC Vive!

The Software

I've got a huge library of games on Steam. Seriously huge. Like approaching 600 games huge. -- I can thank numerous Humble Bundles for that, and now with the HTC Vive I've purchased perhaps 30-40 Vive-compatible titles.

Right now the quality of the games and experiences is varied; There are some great big name games coming out, but they've got the price point to match. There are also a lot of small games with sub £5 prices, with obviously lesser quality.

I've found myself "Wishlisting" games and then buying them when they're on sale -- which I'm aware is probably not the best approach for such a young platform, but right now after having spent so much money on the hardware it's the only thing I can do to stop feeling stiffed by the cost of "AAA" games that amount to little more than a tech demo, or short episodic installment.

There are some great free games too, and I've found that itch.io can be a treasure trove. A particular highlight I've come across is Compound.

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One of the best multiplayer experiences out there right now is Rec Room which is free and cross-platform. Rec Room puts you up against random other parties in minigames such as paintball and dodgeball. You can also dress up your avatar.

Watching others play

One thing I've found to be quite enjoyable is watching other people experience VR for the first time.

For example my dad has always enjoyed videogames, and up until (and including) the Xbox 360 was quite an avid gamer. These days he mostly plays games on his tablet, so it has been a little while since he has had to play anything that uses more than just one finger and a touch screen.

His first experiences in Valve's The Lab were interesting -- mostly seeing how fast he adapted to using his whole body. From cautiously approaching the boundaries of the roomscale space in my office, through to effortlessly shooting waves of enemies with a longbow to defend a castle gate.

First experiences aren't always so smooth for others -- my 8-year-old neice for example took to VR very well at first, but became so engrossed in what she was doing that she jumped face -- (and HTC Vive headset!) -- first in to a cupboard outside of the roomscale space. Apart from a moment of initial shock and a sore nose, she was fine!

Thoughts on the platform

So I'm impressed with the HTC Vive. Compared to all of the Google Cardboard things I've spent the past 2 years working on and playing with, the HTC Vive is an incredible leap in quality and immersion.

Right now there is some fragmentation with Sony's PSVR being one silo, the Oculus Rift being another (with their platform exclusive titles) and the HTC Vive and all of "Steam VR" being a broadly more open platform.

So what's next?

Well now that I've had a couple of months to play with the HTC Vive, and I've got a great set-up and space going in my home office, it's probably time for me to make something rather than just being a consumer.

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So watch this space.