Hands On: Room Scale VR with the HTC Vive

I wanted to give myself plenty of hands-on time with my HTC Vive before posting about it. I’ve now had two weeks worth of room-scale VR experience, and “immersive” is the best word I can conjure to describe the experience.

Why is it immersive, and why does everyone keep using that term?

First, the 1.200x1.080 pixel screen in front of each eye has refresh rates of 90 fps and displays photo-realistic imagery, which fills your field of vision in all directions. This makes the experience visually immersive, in that your eyes tell your brain that you are actually in the virtual environment.

The audio is provided by a jack located on the side of the Vive, which I have connected to a pair of Bose QC3s. The value of sound is immense. The human auditory system has a higher reaction time and temporal resolution than our visual system. It also give us the ability to spacialy recognize sounds in a 360/spherical field. Audio effects in the virtual world (e.g. hearing whale sounds underwater) are incredibly effective at creating a sense of motion and distance from objects (i.e. the Doppler Effect), and at drawing attention to things outside my periphery. These audio effects contribute significantly to the sense of being immersed in the virtual world.

The audio/visual effects described above are especially impressive when combined with the Vive’s built-in gyro sensor, accelerometer, and laser position sensor. The hardware precisely tracks the rotation of your head on both axes to an accuracy of 1/10th of a degree, allowing you to look around the virtual environment (especially important when you have a 160 ton blue whale approaching from your 6:00 when you’re diving on a VR shipwreck).

The real game-changer with regards to the Vive is the lighthouse tracking; it’s smooth, very smooth. It’s also incredibly accurate even as you walk, turn, duck, jump and flail your arms about. Any movement you make in the real world is mirrored in the virtual world. The ability to simply walk around an environment, limited though it may be, is incredible. One of my favorite examples of this was when I recently showed someone new to VR the Vive and an application called theBlu; her first question was “How do I move?”. Once I told her she could just walk around she was blown away. It did not occur to her that she didn’t need to use a touch pad or joystick to move in this experience. This is the power of room-scale VR; you move around in the virtual world exactly as you move around in the real world!

Overall, I’ve had a great experience with the Vive to date. If I were to recommend two pieces of content to new Vive users, they would be WEVR’s theBlue, and Google’s Tilt Brush. Both are incredibly entertaining, and give you a sense of what the VR hype is all about, as well as the promise of what’s yet to come. I’m very excited to see the amount of Vive compatible content increase over the coming months, and to continue experimenting with this amazing piece of hardware. It’s been said that you can divide the world into people who think VR is part of the future and people who haven’t had the demo yet. If you’re going to demo one piece of VR hardware, I highly recommend the Vive!