HTC Vive VR Kit Review: Experiences And Performance

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Living In The HTC Vive

Over the last few weeks, we spent a ton of time inside the HTC Vive, and have mostly positive things to say. HTC, Valve, and the developers that were ready with applications on launch day have clearly done a good job optimizing the experience to leverage the controllers and headset quite well, and to balance the visuals for the Vive’s recommended hardware specifications.

We’re not going to be reviewing every application available for the Vive, but there were some standouts that were surprisingly fun, graphically rich, or both. Water Bears VR is a fun puzzle game with cartoonish, brightly colored graphics. Vanishing Realm is a fantasy adventure game in which you’ll traverse caves and do battle. Heck, even the blocky Job Simulator can be pretty fun when you blast some music and cook up some eats. There is certainly a lot of variety in the current library.

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Tilt Brush

Tilt Brush by Google is a sleek painter application that lets you use a number of different brushes, effects, and environments to create artwork in a 3D virtual world. Once you get the hang of the interface, which requires you to swipe through a menu with one of the Vive’s controllers, while you point to and select tools / colors with the other, you can draw to your heart’s content. This application is a testament to how precise and smooth the motion tracking is with the Vive’s wireless controllers.

the blu
The Blu - Luminous Abyss

The Blu is an application that lets you explore three different undersea environments, each with different creatures and fish. There’s a “Reef Encounter”, “Whale Encounter”, and something called the “Luminous Abyss”. All three of the environments have some excellent visuals, and in the Luminous Abyss – which is as dark and dank as you’d expect an abyss to be – the Vive’s controllers simulate the effect of flashlights as you peer into holes and crevices to find various creatures.

audioshield
AudioShield

AudioShied is another relatively simple, but fun application. In AudioShield, colored blobby projectiles race towards you in time to the beat of music. You select a song from your music library, and as the song progresses, more and more blobs are flung your way. Each controller represents a different color – red and blue – and wielding them together turns the shield purple. Block the matching colored-blobs with the shields and that’s it. Sounds simple but it’s kind of fun and addicting.

You can see all three of the above apps in action in our video embedded on the first page.

Am I Going To Puke?

Now that we’ve spent much more time with Vive, we have a better idea as to what and when, if anything, is likely to make you feel sick. We should preface what we say here with the standard disclaimer that everyone will react to VR differently, however, so your mileage may vary. But we think our statements should ring true for most people.

First off, the retail Vive, when used with recommend hardware and the latest drivers, offers a far better experience than any of the pre-retail dev kits. If you’ve made up your mind about VR after having tried the beta kits over the last few years, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Almost everything about the Vive has been tuned and optimized for the retail release and it’s possible to stay inside a VR environment for quite a long time without any ill effects. The screens inside the Vive offer a 90Hz refresh rate, NVIDIA and AMD have tuned their drivers quite well, and the app developers have balanced visuals so as not to over-tax the host PC’s hardware, even if you only hit the minimum spec.

Overall, our personal experience with the Vive was excellent and no one that tried it got queasy during short sessions, or even during some hour long sessions. I (Marco) did, however, after spending almost an entire work-day in the Vive (on and off), get motion sickness that caused some uneasiness for a few hours afterward. I never actually got sick per say, but after taking the headset off, it took some time for my depth perception to come back properly in the real-world and I felt like I had sea-legs for a few hours – it felt like I was moving while still sitting down.

In addition to spending a long time in the Vive that day (the longest single stretch was probably about 2 hours), what I think contributed to the issue was not properly tightening the headset’s head straps. If the headset moves off-center on your face, your eyes have to re-focus on whatever you’re looking at inside the headset. And the visual shifts from blurry to sharp, while your eyes are focusing on lenses only a couple of inches from your cornea, is very pronounced. The moral of the story? If you plan to spend a long time inside the Vive, make sure it’s strapped on well and doesn’t move much to minimize the strain on your eyes. And be sure to use hardware on the recommended list, with the latest VR-ready drivers.

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