The HTC Vive is an amazing piece of hardware. Through the use of screens and lenses mounted into a headset it creates amazing 3D environments that simply have to be experienced to be believed. The unit has been available since the first quarter of 2016 at an online purchase price of ~$1400 AUD. Not cheap. Especially when you consider it needs a reasonably powerful computer to connect to as well.
On November 21st of 2016 the HTC Vive became available to purchase locally here in Australia through either JB Hi-Fi or Harvey Norman. While the price is still unfortunately ~$1400 AUD, having a local retailer stock the product carries a few benefits. The first being that if you have a problem with your Vive the ability to return it to the place of purchase is far more convenient. The second and perhaps the more immediately beneficial is the ability to finance it and pay it off over a period of time.
The ability to finance a headset, I believe, is going to greatly increase the install base locally here in Australia. And it’s exactly what I did last week. We all have a friend or family member who works for JB Hi-Fi or Harvey Norman right? So I went down to visit my friend Dan at JB Hi-Fi and secured my very own HTC Vive.
Now there have been a bunch of articles on the Vive and I’m not going to bore you by repeating what’s already been said a million times before. But what I would like to share with you is the tricks, traps and tips I learnt in setting up and using the Vive with the hope that it might just help someone picking up their Vive in the near future. Some of these might be obvious and you’ll think ‘Well Duh’, others might save you some time scouring forums like I did.
The HTC Vive comes with two ‘Base Stations’ which track the movement of the helmet and hand controllers. These can either be mounted on the wall with the provided mounting kits or you can use your own tripods or other solutions provided the stations can remain relatively vibration free. I chose to use the mounting kits and quickly made a hole in the wall with the screws spinning freely.
Pro Tip: Secure the mounting kits horizontally, not vertically. This way the weight is distributed evenly to both screws and isn’t as likely to rip out of the wall. I’d also strongly urge you to have at least one of the screws secured in a strut.
So I was following the online instructions to set up my Vive and no matter what I did only one controller is registering. One controller got the green light (registered) and the other got a blue light for a short moment and then went dark. I was really worried I had a defective controller.
Pro Tip: Perhaps I missed the instruction on the screen but if you look at the Steam VR pop up box on your screen that shows the headset, two controllers and two base stations you’ll see one controller lit up green and the other dark. Right-click the dark controller, select ‘Pair’ and follow the on screen instructions. Fixed.
I’m not talking about the fancy $15 USD application but rather the built in ‘view your desktop’ option inside of Steam VR. I click the button and all I get is a big green screen with a mouse cursor. This doesn’t look good! How am I supposed to check that Facebook message while in VR?
Pro Tip: At the current stage Steam VR doesn’t like multiple screen setups, hopefully something fixed in an upcoming patch. If you really want to be able to access your desktop while inside of VR, disable your second (and third?) screen(s) first.
Forward Facing Camera
The HTC Vive comes with a camera built into the front of it. This allows you to see the (real) world around you in a limited capacity. Once I was inside my virtual reality I clicked the button but the camera didn’t work. It popped up with a message telling me to check the setting on my desktop monitor.
Pro Tip: You need to set up the camera prior to putting the helmet on. Checking the box brings up a warning about screen lag, ignoring that then takes you to some options. Change when and how you want the camera to work and the colours used. It’s not the greatest clarity but it works when you need to see if someone is in the room or find a real world object such as a towel to wipe away sweat.
Interpupillary Distance or IPD is really, REALLY important. There is a card supplied in the box, I suggest following the instructions to make sure you setup the IPD correctly for you when wearing the Vive. Failure to do so can result in eye strain and discomfort, not to mention a blurry, sub-par image.
Pro Tip: Check your IPD in the mirror using the card, but also have someone else check it for you. Make sure that they squat or sit so that you can focus on an object 15-20 feet away in the distance. Stare straight ahead as best you can while they measure your IPD. There are also some fan made VR applications that will help you tune in your IPD inside the helmet. I found running a combination of all three allowed to work out an average and fine tune my IPD.
Motion sickness is a big problem in the world of virtual reality. I myself suffer from pretty serious motion sickness, and a long and windy ride in a car can set me off. The tracking (both headset and controllers) for the Vive is exceptional. For the most part I experience no motion sickness at all. Whether literally moving in the room, or teleporting about I’m fine and can do this for hours. As soon as you move me though without me actually moving I get all funny in the tummy.
Pro Tip: Check the controls for each game on Steam. Ideally you want standing or room scale, make sure the game supports the HTC Vive controller as well. Avoid games that use an Xbox 360 controller or any other device for movement, I’d also recommend watching a few videos either on Steam or Youtube before committing to a purchase. Most Vive games use the teleport feature and/or room scale movement, some however don’t and that is where you will have problems. I have heard of some people acquiring their ‘sea legs’ after some time but I can’t attest to that myself. In short, I avoid anything that doesn’t use the teleport movement system.
This doesn’t affect everyone (in fact incidents seem fairly few and far between), and it affects everyone differently. It doesn’t appear to be something widely spoken of but I have found a number of reddit posts and forum posts about the topic. I’ve been using my HTC Vive for several days now and am still experiencing what I refer to as ‘VR Syndrome’ in my daily life. At various points of the day I’ll find myself painfully aware of my depth perception (or lack there of) and worry that I’m too close to objects around me. Or I’m almost expecting objects around me to be intangible and am surprised when I touch them and find them solid. Often too my vision is swimming and I feel a little ‘bleh’ as if I’m suffering motion sickness, even when not moving. To be clear I’m only using my Vive for (typically) a single burst of 30-60 minutes a day, with my longest stint probably being two hours.
Pro Tip: If you suffer from this you aren’t alone. From everything I’m reading it will pass in time as your mind and body adjusts. I would suggest though if problems persist after a few weeks to perhaps talk to a GP or Optometrist.
If I managed to help just one person with this article I’ll be pleased. If you have any tips of your own or more information relevant to any of the topics I raised, please share with us in the comments below. I’d love to hear from more experienced VR users.
Stay tuned to Pixel Pop Network as I’ll be doing some reviews of VR PC games in the future, there were so many Australian Indie VR games at PAX that I just can’t wait to try again!