How does the HTC Vive work?


The first time HTC Vive was viewed  on was at Mobile World Congress 2015, where HTC first made the announcement of its partnership with Valve, and it has been retooled and vastly improved since that original showing.

The consumer version works wonderfully, is vastly easier to setup and feels ready to be shipped to the public which, considering that units are supposed to go out any day now, is a very good thing.

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Like other virtual reality headsets, the Vive has the arduous task of completely immersing you in a video game by producing two images simultaneously. However, unlike PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift that use a single camera to track your head and extremities, HTC Vive has two base stations, which sit on the wall attached to the included wall mounts or a high shelf and help map track your movements as you walk around in the 3D world.

What the stations track are small divots on the top of the two controllers and on the headset itself. There are 72 of these dots speckling the controllers and helmet that help accurately track the Vive.

Inside every box is a Vive headset unit, two controllers, two base stations, a cloth to wipe down the lenses, a small hub that sits between the headset and your PC, charging cords for the controllers and power cables for base stations. Also packaged with every unit are three games: Job Simulator, Fantastic Contraption and The Lab. It's everything you're going to need for a great virtual reality experience minus the computer that powers the whole thing.

New to the consumer version is a spectacularly simple setup program that should, for the vast majority of tech enthusiasts, allow you to breeze through the setup process.

Once you're plugged in and the room has been mapped out, you're free to roam around every inch of the digital space. This means digital worlds can be more expansive and more immersive on the Vive than the other two systems and, thankfully, less nausea-inducing, too.

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The only limitations you'll encounter once inside your digital world are faint blue walls made up of lines that keep you inside the playzone. These blue lines are superimposed into your game by SteamVR, the software put out by Valve that's running underneath every virtual experience.

It's called "chaperone mode," and its practical application is to prevent you from moving too far outside the area that you've set up for the Vive and potentially stumbling into furniture/plants/animals/etc around your home and hurting yourself.

As for the games themselves, what's there is simply amazing.

In the course of two weeks, I've played 20 or so titles, some of which are much, much better than others. I'll cover them in detail in a moment but, in short, they were mostly fantastic showcases for VR, full of personality and just as varied as you might expect. One minute I was on top of a castle fending off stickman invaders with a bow and arrow, the next I was inside of an arcade cabinet fighting spaceships in three dimensions. I played mini-golf on an impossibly constructed multi-level course and trained to become both a ninja and space pirate.

Some of what I just described is part of Valve's The Lab, a collection of games that the iconic developer put together to introduce players to virtual reality. While I haven't seen every third-party title on the Vive (it's almost impossible considering that about 5-10 new games have been added every day in the past two weeks), the difference between first-party and third-party titles are night and day.


This is something I see changing in the coming weeks, months and years, however, and not something I hold against the system on day one.
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