The high-end consumer VR marketplace isn’t particularly crowded at the moment. There are only a few companies that are producing top quality products that are capable of the highest level of immersion. However, as the headsets that these companies produce gain wider adoption and become more accessible, more are sure to follow. Arguably the best VR headset on the market today is the HTC Vive. The Vive’s price tag alone sets it apart from competitors, as do the required technical specs in order to run it. However, in terms of immersive content, experience, and quality, there are few that rival it.
In this, your guide to the HTC Vive, we’ll detail everything you need to know to get started with the headset. We’ll cover what the hardware consists of, how it works, and what you need in order to use it. We’ll also look at costing, competitors, and the uses it has. Finally, we’ll round off with some of the best games currently available for the HTC Vive.
What is the HTC Vive?
After the Oculus Rift was successfully crowdfunded in 2012, the rest of the world started to take notice. VR, it seemed, was finally a viable commercial product. However, during the same time gaming pioneers Valve were trailing their own VR concept. Smartphone firm HTC were also making their first forays into the world of virtual reality technology. After Oculus and Valve began to disagree about what VR should be, a partnership was formed between Valve and HTC instead. As such, the HTC Vive headset was born.
The focus of the HTC headset was on immersive motion tracking and environmental interaction. They wanted users to be enveloped in a totally different world in a way never seen before. Laser tracking sensors, bespoke controllers, and high-end graphics were all part of what the companies wanted the Vive to be. All of this pushed the price and processing demand up considerably, but the result is perhaps the finest example of VR technology to date. Since the release of the Vive, HTC and Valve have continued to push the limits of the tech, releasing the HTC Vive Pro in April 2018. Hopefully, both brands remain focused on driving virtual reality forward and make it a more accessible medium.
How the HTC Vive Works
The most unique feature of the Vive is the room-scale tracking it offers. Although the Oculus Rift and PSVR also give 6-degrees of freedom (6DoF) tracking system, it’s not quite on the same level of quality as the Vive. The system hinges on two ‘Lighthouse’ sensors that are placed in the room. Rather than using a camera to determine where the headset wearer is, these sensors use infrared light that picks up the multiple LED sensors on the Vive’s headset and controllers. This happens up to 60 times per second and covers a 4m x 3m space.
This Lighthouse system is sophisticated enough to adapt to the area you’re in. So, if your room isn’t perfectly square, the sensors will take that into account. The infrared beam also tracks any other objects in the play space, preventing occlusion in the space and making the experience smooth. Finally, there is a front-facing camera in the headset that detects any obstacles in the player’s way. If there is something in your path, the headset will warn you. All of this, combined with the specially designed controllers, means you can freely move and explore your virtual play space. The whole system must first connect to your PC however.
HTC Vive Requirements
The technological requirements are where the HTC Vive puts itself out of reach for many. Due to how advanced the hardware is it requires a lot of processing and graphical power to run it. As we’ll see, this certainly isn’t cheap. Listed below are the technical specs you’ll need from your PC in order to power the headset:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480. Either equivalent to these or better is recommended.
At least an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350.
At least 4 GB of RAM.
An HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2 or more recent.
1 x USB 2.0 or better.
Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1 or later, Windows 10.
As you can see, these are not low-cost components by any means. The GPU alone could set you back hundreds of pounds/dollars. Then again, the performance is unlike anything else available.
How Much Does the HTC Vive Cost?
One of the running themes of most VR technology is that the cost depends a great deal on what hardware you already have. The HTC Vive is no exception. In fact, it’s already the most expensive VR headset currently available, costing £500/$500. This cost is considerably more than the nearest competitors, the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. However, it gives you everything you need to have the best VR experience (aside from a PC), including the headset, two controllers, and two sensors.
The hardware costs of a laptop depend somewhat on the specs you go for and whether you buy each component separately or pre-made. As a rough guide though, you’re looking at a minimum of £700/$750. Combine this price with the cost of the headset and the cost is well over the £1000/$1000 mark.
HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift
As we mentioned in the introduction, the Oculus Rift was the first serious piece of VR tech aimed at a commercial market. The Rift and the Vive have been close competitors ever since, with sales fluctuating since launch. Initially, the Vive was the clear leader, given its superior performance. However, Oculus reduced the price of the Rift and bundled it with controllers, making it a more affordable option. In many respects the two headsets are comparable. Each has a high-resolution screen, the same 90Hz refresh rate, and 110-degree field of vision. Furthermore, both devices come bundled with excellent controllers.
The Vive is heavier than the Rift, which means it’s slightly more noticeable when strapped to your head. Oculus’s headset isn’t quite as demanding as HTC’s, meaning your PC doesn’t have to be quite as expensive. Overall, the Vive probably just about distinguishes itself in terms of quality, but the Rift isn’t far behind and costs quite a bit less.
HTC Vive vs PSVR
Sony released their virtual reality hardware only a few months after the Vive launched. Their focus with the PlayStation VR system was to appeal to gamers who already owned the PlayStation 4 console. With a very reasonable price point, even with the cost of the console considered, it’s one of the most appealing options for VR right now. The range of games is excellent, and the headset does perform very well. It’s just not as good as the Vive. The main difference is the lack of full-scale room tracking. While the PSVR does track your head and arm movements, you can’t get entirely immersed in your virtual environment like you can with the Vive or Rift.
Sony has retrofitted their PlayStation Camera and Move controller to work with the PSVR. These both lack the quality and refinement that the purpose-built Vive tracking and controllers have. Overall, it’s a good option for those who own a PS4 and don’t want to spend a lot on upgrading their PC.
HTC Vive vs Oculus Go
The recently released Oculus Go and the Lenovo Mirage Solo are both standalone VR headsets. These releases make VR more accessible for the masses. Both are relatively affordable and don’t need any extra tech or expense to work. Although this is an exciting prospect, neither quite reaches the level of the HTC Vive. The main problem is again with the tracking; with only 3DoF, only your head movements track. Furthermore, the standalone devices are powered by mobile processors and therefore lack the raw power that a high-end PC does.
The experience of the Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage Solo is great for those who haven’t experienced the 6DoF offered by the Vive and the Rift. However, those who are seeking the very best VR technology will want to opt for the more expensive headsets.
HTC Vive for Training
Although most people associated the developments in virtual reality as a step forward for the entertainment and gaming industries, there are plenty of other areas that the technology can benefit. With the most advanced VR headsets, the immersion is far greater. This means that it’s ideal for use in business and training. The benefit comes from being able to experience another environment first-hand without having to be there physically. Meetings, conferences, and tech demos can all be carried out virtually when paired with this technology.
Regarding training, dangerous roles or procedures can be practiced in a safe and sterile environment. For example, one company has developed forklift training software to demonstrate correct procedures and aspects of health and safety. The possibilities for the Vive are nearly endless.
HTC Vive for Education
Another area that is exploring the potential of the Vive is education. HTC has organised a number of education programs that demonstrate the usefulness of the Vive headset in distance learning. Students in one session were connected across the globe, yet together experienced a virtual trip to the moon. This level of engagement and immersion is like nothing that has been seen before. It presents a fun and unique way for students to interact with learning materials. There are various startup companies that are exploring the potential of the Vive and other VR technologies for educational purposes.
HTC Vive for Gaming
Although there are other uses, the founders of the HTC VR headset had gamers clearly in mind. Valve, the company behind the immensely popular Steam platform, has integrated many of their gaming experiences with the hardware. The ability to put on some headgear and be instantly transported to another place has been the dream of gamers for years. With the HTC Vive, that dream is finally a reality. Everything about the experience is engaging; the headset engages nearly all of your senses when you’re using it. The controllers do an excellent job of giving you a means of interacting with the world around you, while the head and location tracking mean you’re free to explore your virtual space.
The graphics aren’t as amazing as you’ll see on a standard PC game; the technology isn’t quite there yet. But it’s good enough, smooth enough, and responsive enough to be ridiculously fun.
HTC Vive Top Games
Being based on the Steam platform, gamers are a little spoiled for choice when it comes to the best VR games. There are very few exclusives that aren’t available on the Vive. However, we’ve picked out a few titles that are particularly good:
A. Noire The VR Case Files
L.A. Noire is a game that’s been around for a while. However, the developers reimagined it for VR in 2017. As a detective in 1947, you’re tasked with exploring a range of different crime scenes. You can search for clues, interrogate witnesses, drive around the city, and shoot your revolver. It’s a truly amazing experience.
One of the most innovative VR games around is Superhot VR. Although it looks graphically simple, it’s a nuanced game. It takes the traditional ‘bullet time’ mechanic and puts a fresh spin on it. Enemies won’t move until you do, meaning you have to plan out your attacks and be precise.
Killing Floor Incursion
If you like killing zombies in an atmospheric and intense environment, Killing Floor Incursion is definitely a game you’ll want to check out. It’ll get your heart pumping and no mistake.
HTC Vive Review
That concludes our look at the HTC Vive. From what we’ve explored, it’s clear that this VR headset is a step above everything else on the market today. The Oculus Rift comes close, but in terms of sheer entertainment and immersion, the Vive takes the crown. It is incredibly expensive though. If you don’t already have a top-of-the-range PC, you’re going to have to spend at least a few hundred pounds/dollars to upgrade your graphics card. Although the cost of the headset is justified in its quality, it’s a price range that is beyond the general consumer or casual gamer.
What the HTC brings is more than just entertainment, however. The headset’s ability to transport the wearer to an entirely different world presents some unique opportunities in both the business and education sector. As more companies start to embrace the technology, the cost will come down and the quality will progress. HTC has already released a Pro version of the Vive, which is even more expensive. However, it shows that VR tech is here to stay and will only improve over time.
Recent price drops compete directly with Oculus Rift
Still more expensive than its rivals
Headset cord can get in the way
Straps are difficult to adjust while wearing the headset
More than two years after its initial release, Oculus Rift can’t quite match it, PSVR never really competes and the likes of Samsung VR aren’t anywhere near the kind of VR experience you can enjoy with the Vive.