Three zombies stagger towards me. I hear two more behind me, but they sound far enough away that I don’t have to worry about it. The burning building in the background gives me just enough light to make out the silhouettes, so there’s no need to burn up precious flashlight energy on those three. Headshot, headshot, shouldershot, headshot. This wasted round will cost me. I slow my breath as I turn 180 degrees, only to see that the two I had previously ignored were closer than I thought. I back away from the first and whip him with the gun, giving me enough time to get right between the eyes of the second. Step back, one more trigger pull, and the wave is over.
They get bigger and faster in the next round, so I’d rather switch to explosive ammo rather than reloading the flashlight. I’m much less confident about my chances of surviving the next round, but one thing I do know for sure is that the HTC Vive is the only way to get that kind of experience right now.
A few editors here and there spent a few minutes on early versions of the HTC Vive. We were underwater with the whales, desperately trying to survive in the Portal universe, and even in the kitchen trying to make a fried egg sandwich. We’re familiar with the basics and have been able to watch this hardware evolve over the last year, but now that the retail version is here in the office, it’s time to see what it takes to create this experience. After 24 hours on the headset, it couldn’t be clearer that this is a set for beginners who have money in the account.
Unboxing the giant box that the Vive steps into is the start of a roughly 30-minute setup process, assuming you already know where things will go in your virtual space. There are two boxes that need to be installed and placed exactly like this, a bunch of cables that need to be managed. Once you’ve connected all five power cables to their respective devices, installed the software on your PC, and connected the Vive, it’s time to start the installation process. This includes syncing the two beacons, pairing the controllers, and adjusting the lenses in the headset to suit your needs.
As it has been since the beginning, the Vive controllers complete this experience.
After all that, you still need to define the space you are playing in. This process involved going around the perimeter of the playground with controllers and creating boundaries, then placing the controllers on the ground to identify the floor. This is a fairly quick process if it works for the first time. Our setup took three attempts to calibrate before the Vive figured out where on the actually was the floor. Few things are more confusing than being immersed in a virtual environment two feet above your head for no apparent reason.
All the weight and structure for the HTC Vive headset is in the front of the plastic. The straps that hug your head are comfortable enough but lack any structure. This means that you must be careful when mounting it so that it does not fall on the camera. It also means there’s nothing to get in the way of attaching the top strap and cables, and since the adjustable strap for the Vive’s top is under those three thick cables, the process can be a little frustrating. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t often set up your headset for other people, but if you do plan to share your Vive, be prepared for some setup difficulties on occasion. Prescription glasses fit seamlessly into this headset, as was always the case with early Vive sets.
The HTC audio jack on the top of the headset works exactly as you’d expect. You can use the included headphones if you don’t have anything else, but using your own headphones can make a big difference. A set of in-ear headphones makes a big difference in this experience, so if you don’t already own a pair, you should consider investing to enhance your Vive experience.
As has been the case since the beginning, the controllers you get with the Vive complete this process. The final design is comfortable and the button layout all looks natural. Game developers are doing a fantastic job of relying on incredibly accurate tracking thanks to all the sensors on the controllers, and everything becomes more real when you can look down and see what your hands are doing. Moving around in the game space is incredible, but it’s these controllers that make the Vive truly special.
Going from a sealed box to actually being in a virtual environment can be a little tricky, but you’re rewarded with an impressive list of games and video apps on the Steam store. The gray store app you already know and use on your desktop flies in front of you with big friendly buttons to select a game and when you reach out with one of Valve’s controllers you’ll see a bright laser pointing to whatever you want . click on.
This view also has a desktop view mode that allows you to take a look at your PC’s desktop in case you need to accept a .Net installation or want to view your messages. There’s also a cellular app that relays things like calendar appointments and text messages to you in VR. You will never be particularly far from a familiar environment in this experience, which is great.