During my visit to Hong Kong and China this week to attend the IFA Global Conference and the first edition of the Consumer Electronics (CE) China trade show, I had the rare chance of meeting HTC’s Associate Vice President of Virtual Reality, Raymond Pao, on the sidelines of the second phase of the Power Briefing sessions at the 2016 IFA Global Conference in Shenzhen, China. Mr Pao, who spoke at the IFA Global Conference’s Power Briefings, had interesting insights about VR. According to him, we have not even scratched the surface when it comes to the endless possibilities brought about by virtual reality and the expected natural shift to augmented reality, a view held by many in the industry.
As a result, I got to play with one of the most wanted hot pieces of tech at the moment: the HTC Vive.
The HTC Vive, is, at the moment, the best virtual reality gear I have tested so far. To be fair, maybe my opinion of the Vive may change if and when I get to play with the Oculus Rift. I have previously tried out the Oculus Rift when it was still under testing as the Development Kit (1 and 2) and the experience then, while unique and exciting, still left room for improvement. That should have changed now that the Oculus Rift final build model is out.
Like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive requires a powerful computer in order to function. Very expensive tech is at play here. You will definitely need to part with over $1,000 by way of a new purchase or upgrading your current custom PC setup in order to get the Vive working. At the very least, one needs a machine with NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 970 video card and a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor (4590) or something similar among other requirements.
Also, like its rival from Facebook-owned Oculus, the HTC Vive does not come cheap. At $800 for every unit, the Vive is way too expensive, something that is likely to deter anyone but avid tech enthusiasts to spend all that money on a first generation product.
The HTC Vive is heavy, a bit too heavy than you would expect if you have gotten used to mobile virtual reality headsets like the Samsung Gear VR, made in conjunction with Oculus no less. However, all that, and the dangling wires from the PC, seem to disappear when you have the bulky head-mounted display all over your face and the two motion controllers that HTC is bundling with every purchase of the Vive in your hands.
While the sensors in the head gear track your head movements resulting in interactions with the simulated virtual world, the hand-held controllers provide further interaction. The motion controllers provide users with the ability to almost literally “touch” objects in the virtual world which enhances the kind of immersion in another world that virtual reality is meant to provide. For instance, in a shooting game that I played, the two controllers acted as the ammunition for killing World War Z-like zombies. In another instance, the controllers acted as pen and paint brush as I put to use my poor artistry skills.
Other than the motion controllers, HTC also bundles a pair of earbuds with the Vive. There’s no much to say about them other than that anyone in a position to buy the Vive will definitely know better and get a more decent pair of headsets for use with the Vive. They are like the headphones they give you on the plane for in-flight entertainment: they do their job but you’d rather bring along your own trusted pair for better sound and all. Luckily, I got to use a more decent pair of headsets that ensured that my experience was not degraded.
Below are photos of the HTC Vive from my first ever interaction with the device. Hopefully, I will get to fully review it one day – when I finally upgrade to a better computer, for now, it’s impossible.
The Vive is available for pre-order in a handful of markets and your best chance at getting a unit is likely waiting till it is all over popular e-commerce sites where you can order one from since it is likely to never be available in your country soon, at least on an official basis.