Setting up my VR machine.

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared
on my private email list.

Since many of you on Twitter have been asking me about my recent VR setup I wanted to write a quick and short blog post about my experience so far.

But before we get into it, please note that I barely just began getting familiar with VR, so you can take this article as Part 1 of a series that will grow in the future.

Let’s start with the basics:

Why VR?

The first time I put on a VR headset I felt something very similar to the first time I used a computer, or the first time I connected to the Internet. It’s magical and it feels like the future. Only once in a while a new technology comes along that feels more than just a toy, and VR is one of them.

I want to get into VR not just to experience it, but mainly because I want to design & develop for it.

Exploring VR from a digital product design perspective is something so completely different than any other platform I’ve worked on so far. I’m excited to get my hands on it.

For me it feels like a natural progression. I started with graphic design in print (physical design), worked my way into the web (keyboard and mouse as input) and ended up focusing on mobile design. (touch & gestures)

Getting into VR now combines all of them, and even more.

Picking my platform & VR headset

Right now the market is still fairly small and when it comes to proper VR headsets, there are essentially only two to chose from. The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.

They’re both somewhere around the same price point, but for me the decision to use the HTC Vive was pretty easy for many reasons, some of them below:

  1. The Vive already ships with two controllers out of the box.
  2. The Vive allows for room scale VR (you can walk around your room)
  3. The Vive has a front-facing camera that allows for Augmented Reality Experiences in VR. (and you can see your partner at least in RL)
  4. The Vive runs perfectly together with SteamVR, and since I’m a big fan of Valve & Steam it was a no brainer to chose a VR headset that isn’t trying to rely on exclusives.

But generally, I’d recommend you to just try either the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift and decide for yourself. Listening closely to the VR community right now, most people I know favor the Vive. However, later this year Playstation will most likely launch their own Playstation VR headset for a much lower price point which could be an option for you. But I wouldn’t expect anything more advanced than the HTC Vive from that launch.

Building my PC Hardware

Unfortunately, if you’re a Designer and most likely using a Mac, I have to disappoint you, your machine won’t be strong enough for VR. Which means, if you’re not owning a Windows PC yet, you have to get one.

Generally I’m not a big fan of stock computers, so I planned on ordering each component and putting together a custom PC for myself. Luckily, my friend Pieter Levels just recently finished his PC and recommended me a list of components that worked really well for him. Big high five for that Pieter!

The PC I built is also based on ITX components, which means it’s a very small case and small PC that allows you to take it into your hand luggage on a plane. (if needed)

Below you can find a list of each component I ordered for my PC. But please, remember that some components are very gaming specific, so you can go cheaper for sure. I build mine in mind to also be an all around good gaming machine:

Core Computer Setup (without monitor)

Motherboard → $143.51 (required)
Gigabyte LGA1151 Intel Z170 Mini-ITX DDR4 Motherboard GA-Z170N-WIFI

Processor/CPU → $304.99 (required)
Intel Boxed Core I7–6700 FC-LGA14C 3.40 GHz 8 M Processor Cache 4 LGA 1151

Hard Drive (SSD) → $315.62 (required)
Samsung 950 PRO Series — 512GB PCIe NVMe — M.2 Internal SSD

RAM (Memory 32GB) → $169.86 (required)
Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4 DRAM 2666MH

Graphic Card (GPU) → $625.98 (required)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX GV-N1080G1 GAMING-8GD

Power Supply Unit (PSU) → $118.99 (required)
SilverStone Technology 600W SFX Form Factor 80 PLUS GOLD

CPU Cooler → $57.90 (required)
Noctua Premium Quality Quiet CPU Cooler for Intel

Computer Case (ITX) → $69.99 (required)
Phanteks Enthoo Evolv iTX Case, Window PH-ES215P_BK Black

Windows 10 USB Stick → $189.98
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro | USB Flash Drive
You can probably get it cheaper somewhere and download it yourself, but I was lazy and just ordered everything together.

Accessories (Optional)

Gaming Mouse → $59.99
Zowie Gear Ambidextrous Gaming Optical Mouse (FK2)
Pretty much the best mouse I ever used for gaming. Nothing fancy, but solid.

Gaming Mouse Pad → $25.38
SteelSeries QcK Heavy Gaming Mouse Pad (Black)
Always invest in a good mouse pad, you will thank me later.

Gaming KeyBoard → $75.84
CM Storm QuickFire TK — Compact Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
When it comes to PC gaming, I love mechanical LED keyboards. They just feel great for Keyboard & Mouse gaming. Otherwise, you can go with pretty much any cheap keyboard you like if you use the computer just for VR.

Display → $202.28
BenQ 24-Inch Gaming Monitor — LED 1080p HD Monitor — 1ms Response Time
Probably the best display I’ve ever used for gaming. If your PC is only for VR, you can definitely get something cheaper, but this BenQ is generally pretty good for gaming in particular.

Game Controller → $136.88
Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller
You can also get the cheaper version for $50 or pretty much any game controller. This one is probably more a high end game controller that you will own for a while.

Controller Charge Kit $24.00
Xbox One Play and Charge Kit
Not needed, but if you don’t want to always put batteries in your controller, this one is basically a integrated battery so you can charger your Xbox controller

Controller Wireless Adapter $23.99
Microsoft Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows
Not needed if you’re cool with having a cable attached to your PC when using the controller. This Adapter just makes your controller wireless so you can freely move around. Definitely recommended since many VR games rely on controller input & ask you to move around.

(left side is my VR setup, right side my regular design setup)

First time VR setup

After I’ve built my PC, I went on to set up my HTC Vive headset. I was actually pretty surprised how easy it is. You can find the full guide right here. I personally just connected everything without any instructions and found out that it all worked without even reading through all the instructions.

So in short:

  1. Make sure your HTC Vive Headset is adjusted (Lense distance etc.)
  2. Make sure everything is properly connected according to the guide
  3. Make sure Steam and SteamVR are installed
  4. Make sure the firmware on all controllers & Vive is updated
  5. Run the Room & SteamVR Tutorial
  6. DONE!

My first games & experiences

Honestly, there are way too many to even talk about. I recommend to just browse through the Steam library and get your hands on everything possible. But the first games & experiences you should try are:

  1. Download “Don’t let go” on steam. Best game to show to friends.
  2. Download NoLimits 2 Roller Coaster Simulation Demo
  3. Download Steam Destinations and get lost in it.
  4. Download THE LAB on Steam. Great introduction to VR.
  5. Download Irrational Exuberance: Prologue — Just beautiful.
  6. Download Tilt Brush from Google — It’s addicting.

More specific game recommendations can be found here. I will probably write a separate article just on games & apps for the HTC Vive in the next few weeks.

Setting up Unity3D for VR Development

While I enjoy playing and enjoying experiences on the HTC Vive, I’m even more excited to develop and design for it. So what I did next was setting up the development environment to get ready for creating my own VR experiences.

Generally, it wasn’t really that hard to get started. Here are the steps required:

  1. Download & Install Unity3D and create account (if you haven’t already)
  2. Download Steam VR Plugin for Unity3D & Install
  3. Follow this little Video Tutorial

And you’re pretty much set up to use your HTC Vive together with Unity 3D and start creating. I just started as well and can’t wait to share my first experiences with you in a couple weeks. So far I have a strangely familiar feeling with Unity3D, even though I’ve never worked with it.

Looking forward to write the next VR article soon!

If you have any questions in the meantime, hit me up on Twitter @vanschneider

Talk soon again,

PS: I usually send out these articles via my personal email list right here. You can sign up anytime, I won’t spam, promise.

Thanks for hitting the 💙 if you enjoyed this article. This will tell me to write more of it!

Tobias is a Designer & Maker + Co-Founder of Semplice, a portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Art Director & Design Lead at Spotify & Board of Directors AIGA New York.