HTC Vive Guide: Space, Comfort, Image Quality & More

You’ve seen and read a bunch about the Valve & HTC Vive being demonstrated on a show floor or in some cavernous conference room; you might even have been able to try it for yourself in such a space. What’s been more of an unknown is how the much-anticipated ‘room-scale VR’ hardware holds up when used in a more average-sized house, and for long periods rather than just the length of a demo. I’ve had one in my small terraced home in Brighton for just short of a week, and I have a great many things to tell you about it. Specifically, things about space, comfort, image quality, performance and cables. What that all boils down is the essential question of whether this is a device I’m going to use a lot, or just a little. Or: is the VR revolution here yet?

All of the guidance and impressions in this article are based on use of an HTC Vive Pre sent to me by Valve for testing purposes. Other than having a different name stamped on it, it is apparently functionally identical to the consumer Vive due for release in a matter of weeks.

Which leads to this vitally important proviso: everything I have tried is essentially pre-release. To the best of my understanding there are no noteworthy hardware differences between a Vive Pre and a consumer release model, but all software – including firmware, drivers and configuration tools – is subject to change. Particularly, all of the games I have access to are either just demos or in some state of incompleteness. This article focuses more on the practicalities of using a Vive than on what the software experiences are like for precisely that reason. Come April, and a flood of releases, we’ll be saying a whole lot more about that side of things.

I’m going to break this into categories, purely for ease of navigation and comprehension. The links below will take you where you want to go, or there are page links at the bottom of the page if you want to read it all.

What comes in the box with an HTC Vive?
What’s the setup process like?

How much space do you need for the Vive?
How does SteamVR work?

How is the image quality?
Is it comfortable? Will it make me sick?

What are the best HTC Vive games?
Conclusions

We’ve written a lot about the Vive elsewhere on the site, too. If the above sounds like it won’t answer your question, try these:

Is your PC VR-ready?
Will my gaming laptop work with virtual reality headsets?

And if you want to try the HTC Vive for yourself, consider coming along to next month’s EGX Rezzed in London, where the headset will be playable with five games.

From this site

94 Comments

  1. Aerothorn says:

    So by ‘demolished’ you just mean the Lego AT-AT needs to be rebuilt, right? Not that it broke? Please tell me that is what you mean.

  2. seroto9 says:

    Could you tell me the length of the lighthouse power leads please?

    Great article BTW!

    • Alec Meer says:

      Approx 1.5m, I’d say.

      • Jeb says:

        I’m struggling to reconcile above head height placement with a 1.5m long power cable. Into where do you plug it in? It won’t even reach the floor!

        • flibbidy says:

          Been some discussion on that, whether they will provide longer cables for the actual release.. cos unless it’s directly above a plug socket it won’t work at all.

        • Rodman1_r2 says:

          Some people have tried putting them waist high or on the floor, and they work fine. I think it’s just an issue of more chances for their line of sight to the headset to be occluded by your arms, controllers or clothes, or pretty much anything, and losing tracking.

      • AlmtyBob says:

        The base station cables are definitely longer than 1.5m. I have my base station about 6.5 feet up, as recommended and my outlet is about a couple feet away and there’s plenty of slack.

  3. Jorum says:

    This is indeed not friendly to the UK based. My dining room with pc has 2x2m *if* I somehow remove the actual dining table. And that’s the biggest space in the house :(

    • amateurviking says:

      You could stand on the dining table?

    • cannedpeaches says:

      If it’s any consolation, as a resident of a major US city where $1100/month gets me a living room just about 3 meters wide by 2 meters deep (not including furniture), and a real house would cost twice that amount… it’s not necessarily friendly to the US-based, either.

      • bp_968 says:

        1100$ for a box? Ouch. I spend roughly that for a home loan on a 2500sq ft house, also just outside a “major US city” (Cincinnati Ohio). Living on the west coast or the north east coast seems to be a pretty dang expensive way to live.

    • rodan32 says:

      I wonder if you could set it up in the yard. Then again, if you’re city folk, maybe that’s not an option. Maybe a train station with lots of power outlets, or several extension cords? Accessory idea: traffic cones and police tape to box off your area.

    • Blackrook says:

      Well I’m off to buy shares in a company which makes those beds which hinge up flat vertically against the wall as I suspect its the only way most of us stand a chance of having enough space.

  4. Synesthesia says:

    Absolutely can’t wait to get one. I don’t know if I should hold for the next generation of video cards to do it, though.

    Will my feeble 770 be able to cope with this? The rest of my computer seems capable by their standards.

  5. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    Nice article.

    Seems a bit early days on the tech front for me. The res would kill it for ne. I’d like one, but £750 is steep.

  6. Runty McTall says:

    Am really excited for this – have one on pre-order :) Expect to spend most of my time on games like Elite, DCS and Project CARS / DIRT Rally where your body already expects you to be seated. That said, I’m also looking forward to AudioShield, zooming around the Solar System in Universe Sandbox and even the various tech demoes that, let’s be honest, most of the announced games represent.

    I’m happy to pay the current prices but am sanguine that VR won’t go really mainstream for 4-5 years when the next console gen comes out and you can get 4K per eye at 90+ Hz for ~£300. Then it will explode.

    • Runty McTall says:

      Oh and I’ve read basically everything I can on VR on a bunch of sites and this was by far the best article I’ve seen so thanks for taking a few in the shins for us Alec :)

      • cannedpeaches says:

        Seconded. I’ve seen a lot of tech reviews that passingly mention what the experience is like, and a lot of “magical” blather that passingly mentions the screendoor problem, but this is the best blend of them both. A very well-balanced piece, Alec.

      • Ooops says:

        Yes, great article that answered all my questions in a straightforward way.

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        particlese says:

        Yeah, same here! I love RPS, but I wouldn’t expect the articles here to be better and more useful than those on the specialist sites I read. Thanks Alec!

        Two pedantic remarks for your troubles:
        -the screen door effect comes from the unlit grid between pixels, rather than the pixel size itself (and subpixels are another topic altogether)
        -the lighthouse bases gleefully shoot up your room (and bed) with lasers without a care in the world besides being synchronized, while the headset, controllers, and future accessories do the job of detection. (And I’m guessing that’s not turned into orientation/position data until it runs through your computer.) Therefore auto-off isn’t possible in quite the way proposed, but I agree that it would be much appreciated by the sounds of it. Thanks for the heads-up on that noise — I hadn’t given it the slightest thought yet.

        But yeah, tiny details, so thanks again for your more useful ones. I never thought I’d get so excited about moving furniture — woooo! ヽ(^o^)丿

        • Premium User Badge

          particlese says:

          Pedantry begets pedantry: the screen door effect comes from the inter-pixel space, but it does depend somewhat on pixel size and format. I wouldn’t be surprised if the brain perceives some sort of griddy annoyance with 100% filled but large pixels, too.

          But yeah, even with the DK1 (1x 1280×800!), I stopped noticing the screen as soon as my mind was busy taking in the surroundings.

    • Rodman1_r2 says:

      John Carmack said a couple years ago that we already have the horsepower to do 4k resolution, if we could only figure out perfect eye tracking, because then you’d only render the spot you’re looking at at 4k and everything else much lower resolution (foveated rendering).

  7. stahlwerk says:

    A word of warning: Bluetooth headphones may introduce noticeable lag into the game’s audio. Smartphone OSes can compensate during video playback because their bluetooth drivers can determine the latency of the headphones and the video is delayed to align with the audio again. This is not possible with a motion tracked game.

  8. Hammer says:

    Could it be summed up as a “try before your buy” if you happen to be a glasses wearer?

    My prescription doesn’t work with contacts and means I can’t focus on things immediately in front of my face, so while I do have enough space for a Vive, I think I’m probably unlikely to be able to use one.

    I really hope we see some demo stations pop-up in Scotland soon.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Definitely try first. But I have to say, pretty much the whole experience is about focusing on what’s right in front of you so I fear the worst for you :(

      • Geebs says:

        Does the Vive headset do that same aggravating thing that on-ear headphones do? I always find that after about forty minutes, the ‘phones have pushed my ears into the arms of my glasses, giving me really sore spots that hurt like hell when I take the ‘phones off and then hurt even more when I put them back on again.

        I’m in the same boat as far as getting dry eyes with contact lenses so I can’t really use anything that’s not properly glasses-compatible.

        • Xzi says:

          The Vive comes with earbuds, as well as having 3.5mm and USB connections on the HMD, so you can use your own headset or headphones.

      • Hammer says:

        Cheers. When the first reviews of the V1 Rift came out, I accepted that it would probably be a while before VR would work for me, so I can wait a while longer for things to get to the point where they work well for my eyes.

        • Xzi says:

          I will note that the Vive is focused at infinity, it’s supposed to allow objects very close and very far away. Your brain should interpret it that way and not see everything as close to you. But yes, demo one to be sure.

          • Premium User Badge

            particlese says:

            Yup yup, these headsets are focused at infinity in terms of monocular focus, so if you can see well enough into the distance with your
            glasses, you should be fine, minus artifacts like those Alec mentioned in the article. Taking off your glasses will make everything as blurry as in real life, but you win the be able to focus on mid- to near-range stuff even if you can in real life because everything is infinitely far away. Binocular focus and moving your head around is where the depth info comes from with the current crop of headsets.

            There is hardware in the works for which monocular focus comes into play (look up “light field” for the theoretical side), but they are still in the R&D stage, as far as I know.

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            particlese says:

            “you win the be able to focus” should be “you won’t be able to focus”. I gotta stop posting from my phone…

    • Clavus says:

      If you’re far-sighted (since you mention you can’t see things up close), that’s actually GOOD. It means you don’t have to wear glasses! The lenses in all VR HMDs make it so everything is focussed far / to infinity. This is actually quite weird when you have a virtual object close to your POV: the parallax que tells you it’s close, but the focal point is still far away.

      • Hammer says:

        Yeah, that’s what I’m wondering about – is it good enough that it’ll fool my eyes into behaving themselves. Not worth several hundred quid to find out yet though.

        I do suspect that both the software and the hardware will improve over time and making glasses and VR easier and easier, but it will take time.

    • Rodman1_r2 says:

      Your eyes don’t focus at the screen inches from your face, that’s one of the functions of the lenses is to bend the light so it’s as if the light source (from the screens) is coming from some distance away. I think the Oculus DK1 lenses might’ve focused the light so it’s as if everything is at infinity, while I read the consumer Oculus Rift the focus distance is more like 5-8 feet. I don’t know what the focus distance is for the Vive, but it’s probably comparable. Point is, if you can see fine in the real world at 5+ feet, with or without glasses/contact lenses, don’t worry, you’ll see fine in a VR headset.

  9. alsoran says:

    Nice article. The price point is to high for me and the software support is still lacking to be able to determine whether I might like it.

    It feels like new entry technology and I would not be interested until it becomes cheaper to acquire (including the PC and peripherals like the Graphics card)

    “Never buy new”, my pappy told me “Let someone else spend the time and resources to iron out the kinks first.”

    Finally, todays exiting high price tech may easily become tomorrows scrap or antique. (Video Tapes, DVD, BluRay or vinyl, tape, CD, mp3)

    I’m watching developments with interest.

  10. kablui says:

    First off: best article I’ve read on this yet, love your detailed account of your experience.

    My reaction to what I’ve read: “Huh…”.

    I have yet to use any VR device, so I still can’t understand what “Think of it as a 720p device which nonetheless requires a 1440p-capable PC.” will in reality feel like..
    It sounds like a “describing colours to a blind person” kinda project. ;)

    I have an i5 2500K@4.4 and a GTX970. After reading this I am kinda still in the same boat as before, thinking “my rig can’t do 1440p@90 in modern games, not close, wth?”, and still being unsure if I should simply resign myself to waiting for 2nd gen Vive/Rift and just let things work themselves out until then.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I use a 970 too; did a small overclock (using MSI Afterburner – very easy) and it pretty much keeps up – there are occasional shudders but by and large it’s happy. As I mention somewhere in the horde of words above, the demos etc so far tend to steer clear of much anti-aliasing (and presumably other stuff like aniso and occlusion) in order to shove everything at raw speed.

      • Rodman1_r2 says:

        In his talk last year at GDC, Alex Vlachos of Valve said they have anisotropic filtering forced on at 8x for all color an normal maps (in the Portal demo), but turned off for everything else, he said, “when you turn it on for your color maps, I swear, the HMD looks like it’s a higher resolution panel.” – at 54:29 in vid link to youtu.be

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    Lars Westergren says:

    Huh. This is actually the first article that has made me even faintly interested in VR. To me it has felt like yet another iteration of graphical fidelity over the things that matter to me. The stories. The gameplay.

    That Tilt Brush thing….I want to try it now. Badly.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      I’m pretty sure I read about Tilt Brush in a Heinlein novel.

      In other words, I’m a bit excited about it.

  12. Jediben says:

    The bit I don’t understand is why the satellite scanning things squeal. What on earth are they doing making any noise at all?

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      The lighthouses use spinning emitters to sweep beams across the space.

      • Jediben says:

        Oh so it has moving parts? That sounds like a point of failure too far – a replacement isn’t going to be cheap!

        • Xzi says:

          They use much the same spinning technology as in HDDs. Expected life of decent hardware like that is ~10 years.

          • Xzi says:

            Also consumer lighthouses make no noise, unless you press your ear against them, perhaps.

          • Don Reba says:

            Back when I lived in a house with a TV, I’d often trod to another floor to turn off a muted TV no one was watching. The high-pitched noise it made just being on bothered me.

        • Rodman1_r2 says:

          Somewhere in some talk, Valve said they’re actually very cheap to make (way cheaper than the camera solution Oculus is using). That makes sense too, because it’s basically just infrared emitters mounted on an electric motor to spin, along with some circuitry so that the two stations can synchronize.

  13. schurem says:

    Hey Alec, could you give DCS world a shot in it? its a free app on steam (that has tons of very expensive DLC) which is the current state of the art in (combat jet) flight simulation. The free version should be quite enough for reporting on the readability of the cockpit instrumentation and feeling of flight.

  14. modalrealist says:

    I’m blind in one eye. Does anyone know if I’ll be able to use either the Vive or the Oculus?

    Specifically, I have a detached retina in my left eye, which means I don’t see anything out of it (it’s like trying to “see” out of your foot).

    I know that I won’t experience 3D, of course – I don’t see in 3D in real life, either – but does anyone know if the thing will be playable?

    P.S. Would really appreciate the opinion of someone who has used one of these things; what happens for you if you close one eye while using it?

    • k.t says:

      If you’ve only got one eye in reality then you’ve only got one eye in virtual reality. Simple as that. You can still get some depth perception from perspective and parallax. No accommodation yet, but there are lots of people working on that.

      As an added bonus, you’ll be able to get away with rendering only half as much as us two-eyed losers.

    • Rodman1_r2 says:

      John Carmack said in some talk, he’d give up stereo 3d images if he could get positional tracking, I believe in the context of the GearVR stuff Oculus is using. Basically, he thought being able to move around in a space fools your brain that it’s a real place better than stereo images do – and Vive has positional tracking, so there! :D

  15. webwielder says:

    I just want it to watch movies and TV shows. Like a little personal theater. I don’t mean VR movies or anything fancy, just an enclosed viewing experience. Can I do that?

    • wu wei says:

      It was covered in the article: yes.

    • ninjapirate says:

      Wouldn’t something like Samsung’s Gear VR be preferable for you? The cost is much lower, and I figure it should suffice for what you’re planning to do with it.

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    Elusiv3Pastry says:

    Did you try any over the ear headphones with this or just the earbuds?

  17. jeandenishaas says:

    Great article! Thanks for all the details! Regarding turning the lighthouses on and off, I’d recommend this:

    link to amazon.com

  18. Don Reba says:

    This would be a more accurate summation of the minimum required space: could you park a car in it and have a little room to spare on all sides

    Hm. I just checked, and a Toyota Camry is just a little under 5×2 meters. It’s 3 times the official required area for HTC Vive.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aitrus says:

      Right? I read that and I was like, “Well that’s not true…” Not even a Smart Car (2.7×1.6) will fit into those dimensions.

  19. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    Great stuff, thank you sir for this detailed review!

  20. bovine3dom says:

    Chappie wot invented the lighthouses said that they’ll go into an ultra-low power state when not in use after a future firmware update: link to reddit.com

    • bovine3dom says:

      Oh, and more immediately usefully to your sanity – you only need to turn off the ‘master’ lighthouse and the other one will stop spinning.

  21. kael13 says:

    Just a tiny little correction: the lighthouses don’t actually scan the room. They emit a laser map, which the headset itself uses to calculate its position. They are exactly that, beacons. They don’t do the imaging.

    Interestingly, the Oculus Rift’s system is the opposite way around.

  22. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    A great & very informative article. I’m in the “wait for the 2nd/3rd gen before I buy” camp, but great to hear how quickly usable this tech is already becoming.

  23. 9squirrels says:

    I have a question about headphones, I have a nice USB headset (Corsair Vengeance 1500), am I going to be able to use this with the Vive? I.E., does it have a USB port on the VR headset I can use or am I going to need to keep within headphone lead range of my PC?
    It would also be good to get an idea how it operates in seated situations (such as Elite: Dangerous, my biggest draw card at the moment).

    • Xzi says:

      Yes, USB and 3.5MM on the HMD (Head-Mounted Display).

    • neems says:

      It should also work the same as it always does anyway – just plug it into a usb socket on the pc.

      Seated games work fine as long as the lighthouses can see the headset.

    • Alec Meer says:

      There’s a USB port hidden under a little flap on the top of the headset, although you have to leave said flap open and with the Vive’s main HDMI and USB connections exposed if you do that – possibly risk of one getting yanked out by mistake. I would say a 3.5mm headset is the best option, but not a necessity.

  24. syllopsium says:

    Lovely review. Definitely increases my desire to get a VR helmet – but probably not a Vive. I do have enough room to do 2x1m, living in a 3 bed semi Oop North, but it’d necessitate moving furniture back and forth : frankly, I’d rather remain seated.

    My plan for this year is to shoehorn my study and all its computers into the smallest bedroom, so the medium bedroom can fit a bed settee for guests and be a supplementary project room. In the end this all trumps dedicating a room to VR, etc.

    Also, there’s a big difference between affording a Vive and high end PC setup (call it 2K, could probably squeeze it at 1.5K), and the next rung on the housing ladder (minimum 20K, not counting moving costs).

  25. Premium User Badge

    Philopoemen says:

    A question about the Lighthouses and height – are they meant to be set up at head height to help the system judge where your “head” should be, or because thats the best vantage point to scan?

    I ask because I’m 6’8″, and I’m pretty sure my designated playspace might require roofmounts if the former.

    • Xzi says:

      They’re meant to be mounted above head height in opposite corners, because that’s the best vantage point. You shall not get me to feel bad for you being 6’8″, though. xD

      • Premium User Badge

        Philopoemen says:

        Haha, yeah that’s a common sentiment.

        Hmm, sounds like I might need to wait a bit – or get higher ceilings

  26. DFX2KX says:

    this is one of those rare times where I’m glad I can only see out of one eye… I can get away with much much cheaper hardware and not notice all that much. That being said, it looks nice, though!

  27. Don Reba says:

    > it actually compromises two 1080×1200 screens
    comprises

    > blowing the imagine up
    image

  28. UncleLou says:

    I’ll echo the others here, this is far and away the best and most useful article I’ve read about any VR hardware yet.

    Will you write about the Oculus as well, Alec? Would be great if we had a direct comparison from the same author.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Absolutely, although right now it’s unfortunately looking like I won’t have this kind of access to one until as much as two months after the first units ship. But we shall see.

  29. hollowroom says:

    Great article! I have a question – how many of the games and apps require both controllers? Can you get away with one? I can only hold one and this is making me nervous.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I’d say about 2/3 of what I’ve tried need both, but even then not always at the same time. For isntance, in Tilt Brush you draw with one hand and select colours and brush types with the other, but you only need to do that infrequently, and might well be able to do it by placing the second controller on the floor and brushing the touchpad thing with a spare finger from the hand holding the first controller.

      Meanwhile Aperture and Job Sim only require one controller (you can have both in there but they do the same thing).

      Again, hard to say anything until a more substantial roster of final software is here, though.

      • hollowroom says:

        Well thanks for the reply, good to know. I’ve pre ordered (because, well, a lightly disabled fool and their money) but this has been a source of low level worry about the whole thing.

  30. Simon_Scott says:

    Forgive me if this is answered anywhere above, but will you be able to use Steam In-home streaming with the Vive. My lizard brain, wanter of toys, says yes, but my higher cognitive functions insist that the necessary telemetry will introduce too much lag into the system, which would be a shame because keeping a laptop in the library (don’t judge me) and streaming to it would solve the space issue with aplomb.

  31. Mr Ogs says:

    Love the article. I am excited to see where the tech goes, but as I am currently moving house I am not going to be able to afford the outlay yet.
    I laughed when you wrote about your cat attacking the cables, reminded me I went through 5 iPhone chargers with my last cat chewing through them. :D

  32. ramirezfm says:

    Requirement list for the new VR revolution:
    * a new room
    * a new computer
    * with a new gfx card
    * and a new vr set
    Anyone wanna buy a spleen?

  33. guynolan says:

    Hi, very informative practical article. I have a question… Will the vive have work in any way without the base stations? I’m planning on running long hdmi/usb cables from an attic to the dining room, but I’d like to be able to take the headset up at night. Can you use it seated without the light houses? Do you think there will be any hack to let you use a web cam for basic positional tracking independent of the light houses? Thanks

    • Alec Meer says:

      There’s no way to use without lighthouses that I can find at the moment, but you can use it to a limited degree with just one lighthouse.

  34. perilisk says:

    I wonder if, as opposed to teleporting, it would make sense to have a system where you can grab the border of the play area with the controllers when you get close, causing the view to collapse to a sort of 2d screenshot floating in chaperone mode. You could then reorient the screenshot with the controllers (presumably facing the direction with the most play area) and release it to restore the 3d gameworld.

    It might end up being distracting and disorienting, or it might become as invisible as repositioning a mouse when it reaches the edge of a mouse pad. But if it worked, it would let you move in a more continuous fashion (albeit with numerous stops and reorientations) rather than warping around everywhere. I imagine it would work better at transforming a moderately large area into an unlimited game area than in transforming a tiny area into a medium one.

  35. mingster says:

    Great article, very informative, answered a lot of my questions. I’m just going to wait till i see an Oculus comparison and see what software lineups look like. Will all VR games work with either Oculus or VIVE or will some games be device specific?

  36. Kefren says:

    Hi Alec, for the items that recharge, are the built-in rechargeable batteries replaceable? Can you easily slide out the cover and replace them when performance eventually degrades, or does it look like you’d have to replace the whole unit? Thanks for the useful article, it covers both the expected joys and the pains!