HTC Vive, analysis: this really is interactive virtual reality
Imagine putting on glasses and being able to travel to another world, a remote place where the same laws of gravity apply, a place where you will move exactly as you do here and you could interact with virtually everything around you.
It might sound like science fiction, a version of what we saw in feature films such as Matrix, Gamer or Avatar but no, technology already gives us experiences like this and HTC Vive is the first Virtual Reality device that allows a certain degree of physical displacement and real hand tracking.
The HTC Vive have seemed to us a before and after in their field of virtual reality as at the time it happened with the first iPhone in the smartphone market.
The HTC company puts the hardware section of the HTC Vive product and is, without a doubt, the most interesting bet of all the virtual reality solutions on the market. With HTC Vive we went from having a virtual experience as a movie viewer (as happens with Oculus Rift or Gear VR), located in our armchair and being able to look in any direction; to an experience in which the movement of our hands becomes another ingredient of the experience, greatly improving the feeling of immersion.
The experience we have had for a week with HTC Vive has seemed enlightening to us in the face of what we will see in the future. We have tested all the possibilities that it offers today together with Valve's SteamVR. We have also been able to see in what kind of situations such a device makes sense. In our analysis we try to answer all the doubts and curiosities that surround virtual reality with HTC Vive, let's take a closer look.
HTC Vive, what is it
Within the current alternatives that exist in the virtual reality market we have two types of well-differentiated solutions. The first of them offers an immersive experience from an immobile physical point, here we have solutions such as Samsung's GearVR and Oculus Rift. With these models we can look in any direction but there will be no recognition of physical movement, or tracking our hands.
HTC Vive, however, belongs to the second type of virtual reality solutions. In this group, in addition to the above, the hands are part of the game and the user sees their movement reflected in real time: the position, the turn and a different type of actions thanks to the dedicated buttons on the HTC Vive controls.The first time you take the controls with your glasses on you can only be surprised at how fast and faithful it is to the movement you make with your hands
In fact, HTC Vive goes a step further by offering the possibility of monitoring within a gaming area that we define when we configure the system. In other words, you will be able to physically move by taking steps within that play area and that movement will be reflected in virtual reality. Both facts, hand tracking and physical movement make the experience capable of plunging you fully into that virtual world.
Now what is HTC Vive? HTC Vive is a system of peripherals that connect to the computer via USB and HDMI or Displayport. The box in which HTC Vive arrives is large, it is not for less, and we are going to show you a list of the contents of it to later comment on how the system is configured to work.
HTC Vive glasses (power cable, HDMI and USB long length, approximately 5 meters)
Link box, junction box that connects the glasses to a computer (power plug and its light adapter, HDMI / Display and USB for PC in addition to the three connections for the glasses)
Position sensors / base station (two units) that require connection to a socket and direct vision between them. Optionally, direct cable connection to each other
Wireless controls (charging via microUSB, with cable and USB adapter to plug each)
Short cable minijack in-ear headphones with a pack of different sized silicones
For a correct operation of HTC Vive, a powerful computer is recommended, you will have heard it numerous times and you will continue to listen and read it. Now, how powerful? HTC recommends a PC with at least the following specifications:
- Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or higher
- CPU: Intel Core i5 4590 / AMD FX 8350 or higher
- RAM: 4 GB or more
- Video output: HDMI 1.4 / DisplayPort 1.2, or newer version
- USB ports: 1 USB 2.0 or higher
- Operating system: Windows 7 SP1 or newer
If you are not sure if your computer meets the requirements, Valve has prepared a program that tests your PC and informs you if you can play without problems or what part you should expand in order for HTC Vive to work properly. We have used the ASUS ROG GX7000 liquid-cooled laptop and had no problems.
Any PC gamepad
Intel i5-4590 or higher
HDMI 1.3 video output
Windows 7 SP1 or later
Intel Core i5-4590 or higher Displayport 1.2 or HDMI 1.4 video output
Setting up HTC Vive, less than 30 minutes the first time
For HTC Vive to work, we will need to connect everything correctly to each other and a minimum of three plugs if we have the controls charged, if not, we will have to use two more plugs.
The sensors have to be located at a certain height, HTC recommends above your head so they don't lose sight of each other, and at two opposite corners of "the play area" inside the room.
HTC Vive comes with an A2 size sheet as a "quick guide" to installation. They have also made available to all users a wizard from the computer that guides you step by step throughout the process and is downloaded from http://www.htcvive.com/setup.
After downloading and executing it, the installation does not take half an hour following the instructions, it took us about 15 minutes. HTC offers us two configuration modes, one in which we will not have a "play area" through which to move and a mode in which we will have that play area. In our opinion, it is one of the differential elements of HTC Vive and the mode we have chosen.
After several steps in which we are shown instructions and graphics to connect each cable and device in the pack, click Next once in a while and download SteamVR, we find the entire system configured and ready to work.The download and installation process is quite simple, and just by following these instructions you will be able to get a functional HTC Vive system in a matter of 15/20 minutes
That process includes a check of whether we have connected everything as it should, also a system calibration to see the height of the ground and delimited a play area moving with the controls.
We have configured a play area where we can move safely without colliding with objects. As a curiosity, we told you that our play area is 2.5 meters x 2 meters and HTC informs us that it is a small area.
The minimum size of the playing area is 2 x 1.5m while the maximum will have a diagonal of up to 5 meters
HTC Vive will be the application that HTC offers us as a gaming hub. Although at the moment it is just a small launcher of all the games that we have installed available from Steam for VR, HTC is expected to add content, virtual experiences and more in the near future.
SteamVR is Valve's software that serves as an addition to the Steam content and gaming platform. You can install various experiences and games as a demo for free in addition to the occasional complete game. In our case, HTC has given us access to various games via SteamVR with a promotional code that gives us access to various games. If it had not been so, once configured we only have access to a couple of Valve / HTC technology demos and from Steam we would look for games for SteamVR through the box or not (if they are demos, free or Free to play) to enjoy them. At the time of writing the review, HTC is offering anyone who buys HTC a pack of three games: Tilt Brush, Fantastic Contraption and Job Simulator 2050 as a promotional launch offer.
This is how the SteamVR menu looks from the glasses themselves. You aim with a virtual laser from the right command and the trigger is for clicking
We have not commented on how everything finally turns out to be used, but, in summary, we will have the sensors plugged into the light, a small junction box that serves as a bridge between the cables of the glasses and the PC.The wiring system is the Achilles heel of this solution and the only thing that reminds you that you are physically somewhere else
That cable is one of the problems that this solution runs into, well, better said, that we will literally run into when using it. From the glasses there is also a small minijack connector to which we connect the headphones, either those that the pack brings (in-ear and short cable format), or those that we want.
In our hands we will have the controls that, although they do not physically show the amount of energy available with physical LEDs, they will allow us to see it virtually in the configuration menus if we look at them through the glasses.
How is HTC Vive used? Suitable for all audiences
We have to admit that the controls are very intuitive. After putting your glasses on the first time, you have an assistant that guides you step by step seeing how the controls are, the location of the buttons, triggers and touch surface of the same and how you can access Steam or see the desktop of your PC without need to take off your glasses to, for example, launch another game.
It must be recognized that the work of "training" for the user to do the controls the first time is very complete, illustrative and intuitive. It could be slightly improved if they shortened the wait between steps, but it is easily bearable by being lost in that virtual world that opens before your eyes.
To make a summary of how HTC Vive works without going into too much detail, we can comment that the base stations are responsible for placing the glasses (32 sensors) and the controls (24 sensors each) in the virtual three-dimensional space.
To all this, we have to say that the precision of this last point is impressive, the user will have a full feeling about the position of the hands in games. In some game you hold a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other and you can rotate them without any problem. In fact, the possibility of being able to look at your virtual hands and check the movement is a sensation that leaves anyone speechless.
The physical movements of the controls are reflected in the games and the physical movement you do within the game area, the steps you take, are also transferred to the virtual environment. Examples of these are some games in which you can dodge shots, moving, or for example it is possible to approach the edge of a beacon to see the closest part of the castle that you defend.The hand-tracking and scrolling accuracy is the best we've seen to date, by far
In our tests many people from the office have passed testing it and in my personal experience I have to say that after 30 seconds you have already lost the spatial notion and orientation that you had in real physical space and you see yourself completely immersed in the virtual world SteamVR or the game you have chosen. Such is the point of immersion, of "reality" of movement of your hands that some user has tried to interact with an object even kicking it.
Now, we have said to take steps, but how do you avoid hitting the wall or objects if you are wearing your glasses? HTC has had a brilliant solution in this regard by integrating a small camera that allows you to place virtual walls that are shown when you get very close to the edges of the gaming area that we initially configured.
It can even be configured that not only those grid-shaped walls are seen on the border of the area, but a silhouetted image of what you have around you is superimposed in virtual reality, as we will show in the video analysis. This has seemed curious to us and something that could play into the future to have experiences closer to augmented reality, but in current games and developments it is something that takes you away from that immersion that we have talked about so much, we do not recommend it.
The sensor and location system must either be located in an elevated position pointing downwards, to avoid that we cut off the direct vision of the same when we are located in the center of our play area, or connect them to each other via the supplied cable.
Undoubtedly, the location of both sensors largely determines the proper functioning of the entire system and it is worth spending 5 more minutes to leave them in place as HTC recommends. Tripods can be used to rotate and orient them in the optimal position. HTC integrates in the pack a system of wall mounts that you can install in your game room, after using the drill.
If we continue talking about the operation we have to make special mention of the ergonomics of the controls, quite light, with a symmetrical design, rechargeable via microUSB and with a good series of buttons: a trigger, two side buttons, a touch control surface with the option of click and menu and setup buttons. These controls radically change function from game to game and it is something that the user has to be receptive to.The controls take different functions according to each game although they are very intuitive controls in most situations
In one game you hold a bow in one hand and arrows in the other (The Lab - bow test), in another (The Brookhaven experiment) you are besieged by zombies and fight them with a gun and flashlight or as a last example (Job Simulator ) where your hands become virtual hands that serve to grasp and pick up objects naturally.
Using HTC Vive, does the connection reach the Matrix?
Without a doubt, HTC Vive is capable of transporting us to parallel realities like those we saw in the Matrix movie when, for example, they loaded the jump program. In our case, although we do not remain completely static nor do we notice the wind or heat conditions of that virtual environment, the possibility of "feeling" those virtual hands due to that precision in control, the freedom to look 360º and that small range of Real movement makes you get completely into the action. If we add to that the two headphones and the stereo positional sound, the trick to the brain is very effective.
The glasses are comfortable, the weight is not present in short periods of play. If I have glasses, can I use it? No problem, the glasses mount a system that allows you to move the parts of the screens away to make room for your glasses and also adjust the proximity of both lenses to each other to match the natural distance of your eyes.
Why have we said deceit to the brain? Well, because you get to feel vertigo if the situation you live has situations with a certain height and you are apprehensive about it. Another example is quite clear, once you are involved in the game, the concentration is such that if someone physically interacts with you, you get scared.
HTC Vive is a solution with quite varied games, although at the moment we are dealing with numerous titles as minigames or technological demos of what can be done, throughout this year more careful games will arrive both graphically and narratively.
The entire experience is centralized via SteamVR, a Steam extension from Valve that allows you to have your entire video game library organized including new VR games. You can use the HTC Vive application interchangeably to launch the games or Steam.SteamVR is the nerve center of the HTC Vive and who is in charge of controlling the hardware and software (games)
It is also possible to enjoy experiences outside that field of Valve. On Steam we missed the possibility of playing 360 videos with head movement tracking or approaching holographic videos in which the action happens in real time and we can walk around the scene, among others.
We have been able to cover these kinds of experiences with external applications to SteamVR and we have been able to watch 360 videos or traditional movies as if we were sitting in a cinema seat. Another case we have tested is an adaptation of Minecraft to this control system, but it is clear that this field is not yet well covered by HTC.
This is how Minecraft looks, with a profile compiled to work with the controls of HTC Vive
The company offers us an application, HTC Vive, to centralize the VR experience. It really takes VR game data from our Steam account and displays it in a friendlier way. If you want something beyond SteamVR you will have to investigate on your own. This time we miss some features seen on other platforms such as Oculus or Gear VR. We are talking about, for example, the reproduction of 360º videos natively.
One of the points that we found most interesting is that we can enter the Steam VR menu with our glasses on just by pressing a button on the remote. That way you can use that same command as a laser pointer to choose another game or even buy another one, all without removing your glasses. In addition we can also see the PC, literally, the PC desktop appears before us and we can interact in the same way as with the SteamVR menu, using the command as a laser pointer. Even going one step further, you could configure your mobile and receive notifications from it in that virtual reality world that you see with HTC Vive.
Experience with HTC Vive in gaming, mini-games everywhere
During our tests we have been able to install several games that HTC has given us for the HTC Vive review, that is, we not only have the free demos available.
We've tried quite a few games ranging from mini-games like the ones we have at The Lab, Valve's gamble as a technology demo for Vive, and work experiences like Job Simulator. In The Lab you have different experiments to carry out, you can play an archer who defends the castle from a horde of savages that besieges it, go on to play from inside an arcade machine, as if you were a ship that defends itself against aliens. Looking at a mountain from different points of view is another activity of The Lab and there is one more related to the human body or the solar system.
Job Simulator is a bet that shows what HTC Vive can offer, not in terms of visual quality but rather as functionalities to consider. You enter an environment where you choose a cartridge to "play" cook, mechanic, shopkeeper or office worker. The controls become hands with which to carry out different tasks depending on the chosen profession. The whole environment is interactive, if you are an office worker you can do the tasks that come in but you can also prepare a coffee or photocopy any object. With this game you realize how, without anyone telling you, you are taking steps, approaching virtual objects, taking them as you would in reality. It is quite an addictive game. The feeling of free will is very present in The Job Simulator and it is one of the games that most clearly leaves the use of HTC Vive as something more than a game, it could serve as a training system.
Final Approach, a three-dimensional version of the popular Flight Control years ago it's really fun. You will have to act as an air traffic controller, but this time fully immersed in the airport environment. You can take a plane and trace in space the route that must follow to land, with the addition of the third dimension (height).In this game you are standing in front of what appears to be a model of an island with two runways. If you bend down you can see each part of the island up close and in the sky there are planes that you must land. It is curious to mention that at certain moments of the game we are "lowered" at the foot of the runway, either to put out a fire or to clear the landing strip of pigeons.
Skeet is a very addictive game of clay pigeon shooting or target shooting with a shotgun. The gesture of reloading the shotgun is very natural and the freedom of movement of the head as well as the trigger type button on the controller helps you get into the game.
Space Pirate Trainer puts you in the center of a track where several aliens come flying to attack you. You have to shoot at them, you can dodge their shots to a certain extent and you can even use a shield as a "mirror" on which their shots bounce and kill your enemies with their own weapons. It's fun, the difficulty grows wave by wave, a very curious fps.
The Brookhaven Experiment is, without a doubt, one of the most immersive, it has a mode of operation similar to the previous one, but we changed aliens flying for zombies that come after you in the middle of a forest at night. At the moment it is a free demo and that the final game will not arrive until this summer.
We have tried more experiences like The Blu in which you work as a diver, underwater and you have the feeling of swimming among the fish. The graphic adventure format also has a place and among our tests, we highlight The Gallery - Episode 1, which although it has a rather slow start (tutorial to learn how to stay in the game) then it begins to take shape and you can explore an island freely.
SelfieTennis is a small minigame in which you can play tennis against yourself, kick some of the spectator dolls and even take selfies as the name suggests. Fun for a while, but not more.
Hover Junkers is a fun game in which you fly a hovercraft in a desert environment. The performance is largely reminiscent of MadMax having to assault other hovercraft at gunpoint. It is a game in which you can duck, move and even physically jump during the fights and apart you can drive the hovercraft between fights.
If you are passionate about medicine, with Surgeon Simulator VR you play a crazy doctor who must do a heart transplant to a patient. You can take all kinds of tools, from saws, knives, pincers to an ax, among others. The tone of this game is comical and the graphics do not go beyond simple 3D cartoons. Another game to have a good time.
The same goes for an available miniature golf game, you can move around the track with a teleport control system, point where you want to go and appear there, perfect for hitting the ball again. Another game that is good for a while and little else.
They are not the only SteamVR games that we have tested but they do serve to give you an idea of what we have in our hands and its possibilities. At the time of writing this review, there are few alternatives that take us out of the tailor's box of minigames among the nearly 100 games available on SteamVR and it is something that worries us for a product with these characteristics.We have a feeling of abundance of mini-games and lack of star or franchise games that bet on VR
As a final note within the games we have realized that some titles need a traditional controller to play or a keyboard and mouse instead of being fully compatible with HTC Vive, so not the entire list of games available on SteamVR is 100 % Compatible with HTC wireless and motion tracking control system.
The future of HTC Vive
Having tested what HTC offers us today with its HTC Vive we can glimpse the different options for the future of this solution. It is clear that if we have to choose between one of the two existing VR solutions on the PC market - Oculus Rift and HTC Vive -, we remember that we have Gear VR with Oculus technology for Samsung smartphones and Playstation VR for PS4 that will arrive in October, the winner it's HTC Vive.
We will have to wait to see if the game developers end up making the leap to this field and offer franchise games, although exclusive or not for VR, of course they are compatible. We have to be aware that HTC Vive has a cost close to 900 euros and that for it to work correctly you must have a state-of-the-art PC with a powerful GPU. This pair of requirements does not leave us a precisely cheap set.
A user who tries it for a while is left with a great taste in his mouth, with that immersive experience, with the fluidity and precision of the movement of the controllers, but when you have been with it for a few hours you realize that the existing games do not pass from being games with Wii aesthetics, a 3D cartoon-style graphic solution is the clear example of The Lab - Valve or Job Simulator, or even Final Approach where you have to guide planes to land by drawing the route to follow in space.
There are few solutions that take advantage of the level of graphics that a GPU can offer today. However, you can already see games that offer a remarkable graphic experience, Brookhaven Experience, which takes us into a forest where we hear and see how zombies are approaching those we have to shoot.
If we have to find out about the future of this platform, I think we should ask ourselves if we see HTC Vive as a mass adoption device. And, much to my regret, I have to admit that I do not believe that such a device can reach every home in the short term.
There are several points that would stop that adoption and some, like the price, we have already discussed. Another one is the discomfort of the wiring system. From the back of the glasses there is a set of three cables (power, HDMI and USB-audio) that go to the Link Box, which in turn connects to the PC.
That cable is wide, it has weight and however long it is (5 meters) it is more than likely that in any game in which you turn on yourself you unintentionally self-create a trap that will help you trip. It is clear that technologically it is a brilliant and surprising solution but the cable theme for a use that goes beyond the sporadic ends up becoming a nuisance.
In our tests I have to mention that several colleagues have commented on this problem and it is not a subjective perception that only I have had.
Another point to keep in mind is that in order to enjoy everything that Vive has to offer we need a fairly large open play area, it will be rare in the case that a standard one-story room can be used to enjoy the experience in the that we can freely move around a play area. In those cases we are left with a solution that loses one of the clear advantages over Oculus Rift, although it continues to maintain others, such as its control system.
And finally we have to talk about the number of titles available for HTC Vive and the type of them. In Steam VR we can see a list of games and it must be admitted that there is beginning to be a considerable number of them, and even some that promises some outstanding graphics. However, without a Call of Duty or a LoL or a franchise game, for most gamers HTC Vive is lame.
In our case we also see a lot of sense Minecraft with this control system, but it is something that you can only access after having to compile by yourself a profile that is compatible with HTC Vive. It is not a direct experience and this takes you away from a low-medium user profile who wants to play directly without messing around.HTC Vive could be the perfect platform for a training system within any company
A clear use that I see of this technology, and more after having tried Job Simulator, is as an employee training system. A learning system that is fun and, for example, would allow workers in a specific workshop or any food franchise to learn the ingredients and how to cook them without having anyone in charge during that initial process. They would arrive at the workplace practically trained and would only have to apply the knowledge obtained with this virtual system in the real world.
Obviously at technology fairs, stands where virtual reality demonstrations are held or even places like IKEA also takes place, since we could physically configure and see how our new room would look. This is perfect for those for whom spatial vision is not one of their strong points, in this way they can check how the room would look using the glasses and even walk around there.
Another of the uses that we will see in HTC Vive is to live 360º experiences. HTC is preparing its portal for it, ViewPorts, but currently there is no official release date. We are also curious about the expansion possibilities that HTC Vive will have, in the glasses themselves we have access to a USB port that will serve precisely that, to connect accessories, but, again, there is no information about it and this It continues to give an image that perhaps the launch has come earlier than desired.
HTC Vive, mixed feelings: great emotion and some uncertainty
I am not going to fool anyone if I say that surely we are before the launch of one of the devices that will most surprise the user. It is a field that is exploiting now, it is the product that best solves the immersion in the experience and, without a doubt, it has that call wow effect for any user who tries it. With any we mean from children, to grandparents, to techies users or not.
HTC Vive makes it clear that virtual reality is more than 360 videos, something more than experiences in which the movement of our heads takes over the typical movement of the mouse in games, something more than a solution that we have to experience tied to a traditional physical controller. The HTC company has put on the table an exciting technological solution, which allows you to immerse yourself in different worlds, to live unique experiences such as simulating being a gourmet chef who has to open the fridge to get the ingredients, a pot to cook them or else take a step to the side and look behind him to find that dressing that is needed.
The most interesting thing about this solution is that you do not have to spend hours learning how to handle it, with a little understanding of how the controls go in each game, you can start to enjoy yourself.
The graphic quality of this solution is good, although not perfect. The screen for each eye has a resolution of 1,080 x 1,200 pixels and due to the distance of the eye at which they are attached to the lenses, they make them visible, that is, you will notice the existence of pixels if you look closely. It is also true that the feeling of immersion in that alternative reality makes you forget this detail in a minute.
Now, we also have some uncertainty about the future of HTC Vive and the Steam VR platform. Will we have franchise games? Experiences and games worth the money outlay? Here we are in the hands of developers and large studios to give that boost to VR.
HTC Vive is a unique technological solution with its control system. In a way it seems augmented reality to be able to have that form of control so natural in virtual reality. However, as we have commented, it has some drawback, the cable that starts from the glasses and can become a great trip, either the high PC requirements (additional outlay to enjoy it) or the need for a large space ( minimum 2 x 1.5 meters) to enjoy the full experience it can offer.
However we can affirm that HTC Vive is, if not the most, one of the most innovative products that we have seen hit the market this year and it will surely have a lot to say at the next Xataka Awards. HTC Vive is a product that excites, surprises and opens doors to new experiences with which you can interact in a very natural way. If someone doubted whether or not virtual reality would arrive at some point, we have to confirm that that day is already here.HTC Vive has been loaned for testing by HTC. The computer used for testing, ASUS ROG GX7000 has been loaned by ASUS. Can inquire our policy of relationships with enterprises.