The HTC Vive VR headset is the most complete package for experiencing VR that you can buy today. Although being the most expensive option, HTC’s full kit for $800 gives you everything you need to control and move around in real (and virtual) space.
If you’re interested, the Vive is available for pre-order and starts shipping in April of this year (though if you order one now, you’ll have to wait until May). Oculus’s Rift is also available for pre-order but shipping dates for current have slipped into the second half of the year.
Need to know
Resolution: 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Tracking: 360 degrees, full space
FOV: 110 degrees
Controller: wands with touchpad, buttons, haptic feedback, 3D tracking
Sensors: Dual room-scale trackers
Compared to the Rift, the Vive headset isn’t as comfortable, and doesn’t look quite like a finished consumer product, but it works really well. There’s a front-facing camera, and built in ear buds that you can use for piping in game audio. The Vive’s claim to fame is that it allows you to move around in a real 3D space. Think Star Trek: TNG’s Holodeck, but, well, not nearly as cool.
There are two ‘Lighthouse’ base stations the size of large oranges that you need to mount at diagonal ends of your room, which use lasers to track the headset’s movements. Actual movement space is up to 15 feet (five meters) between two base stations, though Valve says you can add more stations for a larger space. The drawback is you need to have wires running to each base station, and you need space to maneuver. It’s not exactly a clean and intuitive setup, but it’s unlikely we’ll see anything truly easy to set up for a while.
The system ships with two wand-like controllers for interacting in VR space, developed in-house by Valve. While large, the controllers allow for precise movements and the controllers are comfortable to use. Compared to the Touch controllers from Oculus, the Vive controllers don’t feel as natural in your hand, but they get the job done. Valve has also improved tracking and functionality of the controllers significantly since their prototype stages and has demonstrated their flexibility with games and a 3D painting simulator.
The HTC Vive is the most complete VR setup you can have today. Content, though, is something else. Right now, nearly everything we’ve played on the Vive is a tech demo. Only a few promising games, like Fantastic Contraption and Job Simulator, will definitely be full experiences at launch. Valve and HTC promise that content is coming, and given Valve’s history as a game developer, we don’t doubt that more games will be available. Steam already indicates which games support VR, and although Valve itself hasn’t released anything, now would be a good time to introduce Half-Life 3. Hint hint.