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Native support for Steam VR
Six degrees of freedom
Excellent, accurate tracking
Display suffers from screen door effect
While the HTC Vive is expertly built, it lacks the ergonomics and pricing to make it the best choice for a consumer VR headset.
Those looking into VR will hear a lot about the HTC Vive, one of the first commercially available headsets this generation. There are several considerations to VR: sound quality, display quality, and available game library. The Vive has them all, and potential buyers will be pleased with the Vive, even if it has been surpassed by other headsets in quality and value.
HTC packed over three dozen sensors for motion and spatial tracking into the Vive. They interface with the base stations, which are cube-shaped IR laser emitters. To secure the headset, the Vive uses elastic velcro straps that wrap around the head. They are very flexible, so they will fit a wide range of head shapes, but this mechanism choice has left the Vive with a front-loaded weight distribution that causes the headset to sag over time. Additionally, while the Vive uses a lot of cables, the link box does a good job of keeping them organized. You won’t need to worry that the Vive’s cable is too short, at 15 feet, it’s ample for most play areas.
The controllers for the Vive, formally called the Vive Controllers and informally called the Vive wands, are a product of their time. Since their release, many more ergonomic offerings have flooded the VR market, but none of them have been compatible with the Vive headset.
The 8-inch wands are long, bulky, and awkward to hold. Each wand has several buttons: a swipe pad at the top, similar to the Steam Controller’s pad; an Application Menu button; a System Menu button; a rear trigger; and two grips that are supposed to lay flush to your thumb and pinky.
The controllers are a miss, being heavy and uncomfortable to hold.
In testing, we had trouble reaching the grip buttons when holding the wand controller with our index finger on the trigger while our thumb was on the trackpad. We had to slide our hands down to press the grips. The controllers are very heavy, weighing over 7.1 ounces (almost a half pound). For comparison, an Xbox One controller weighs about 9.2 ounces, distributed between both hands.
There are many first and third-party accessories for the HTC Vive that are worth your attention. The Vive’s most popular add-ons are the Wireless Adapter (MSRP $299) and the Deluxe Audio Strap (MSRP $99), both manufactured by HTC. The Wireless Adapter allows you to untether the Vive from your computer and promises about 2.5 hours of charge. The Deluxe Audio Strap is considered a must-have accessory by many Vive owners because of the comfort it adds to the Vive. Owners report it balances the weight of the Vive, which otherwise depends on elastic velcro to stay in place.
Setting up the HTC Vive is no small task. The base stations can easily be mounted to tripods or walls with the included mounting kit. The headset, on the other hand, can take between five minutes and five hours to set up, depending on how many issues you run into. Unfortunately, we erred toward five hours.
First, connect the included USB, HDMI, and A/C adapter cables into the link box, headset, and PC as per the HTC manual diagrams. Then head to the HTC Vive website and download the drivers. This is where things can start to go awry. When we began installing the files, the installation stalled three quarters through. If this happens to you, try exiting the installer and seeing if the headset is detected in Steam VR (see below to setup Steam VR). If not, then retry the installation.
After installing the drivers, it will automatically launch Steam VR so you can set up play space boundaries and calibrate the headset and controllers. Steam VR does not always do a great job of mirroring the boundaries you set, so you may end up crossing over the boundaries in play and bump controllers against walls or objects. If you do not use the included cables with the HTC Vive, there is a chance the PC may not detect the headset.
Additionally, if you own a different model of headset (say, a Vive Pro), you must reinstall the drivers and Steam VR for each headset every time you want to switch between using them in Steam VR. Then, when you think everything is set up, the headset may lose its position while in use for a very subtle reason: IR interference. HTC does not mention this anywhere on their FAQs, despite how common this issue is.
For your reference, here are things that may cause IR interference: mirrors (remove/cover all mirrors in the room), reflective windows, certain remotes. Finally, restart the PC to finish installing. Hopefully, you will have a functioning Vive.
There are two major comfort issues. Firstly, the velcro straps were not a good choice to secure the headset. The Vive tends to sag as time progresses because of its weight. Some say the Deluxe Audio Strap dramatically reduces this phenomenon, since it acts as a counterweight to the HMD.
Another glaring issue is that the Vive does not have integrated audio. As described earlier, the controllers are a miss, being heavy and uncomfortable to hold. After several hours of play, our hands hurt. In comparison, the Oculus Touch controllers can be used for long periods of time with no issue.
The Vive has Pentile OLED displays with a 2160 x 1200p resolution and 110-degree field of view. This is identical to the Oculus Rift headset, but the HTC Vive has a slightly stronger screen door effect that makes reading text difficult.
However, the Vive has an easily adjustable interpupillary distance that supports IPDs between 60.8 and 74.6mm. This actually skews toward a wider average IPD than the US national average of 64mm, leaving some narrower faces without a comfortable lens configuration. Still, most people should be covered by this range. Ghosting and light bleed are almost nonexistent on the Vive. Overall, we experienced little to no eye strain after using the headset for several hours of play time, despite its screen door effect.
As we walked around our VR environment, we ran into very few tracking issues. The headset’s many sensors and the wands’ ring sensors do a phenomenal job of keeping track of where they are in space. The controllers worked flawlessly, and the headset rarely lost its positioning. The only headset we’ve tested with better performance is the Vive Pro, which worked flawlessly.
Unless you’re in love with the Vive wands or need the highest tracking accuracy possible, we recommend the Rift over the Vive.
As we tested the Vive, we did feel it gave us more motion sickness than the Oculus Rift. We got the impression of a wider field of view, even though officially, both the Rift and Vive have a 110-degree field of view. Regardless, we really enjoyed using the Vive, due to its near-zero latency and a 90Hz refresh rate that kept us immersed in VR.
Keep in mind that the HTC Vive does not have integrated audio. We tested the Vive using the MEE M6 Pro in-ear monitors. The games we tested did not fill a 360-degree soundscape with the M6 Pros, which may be because of the IEMs. This was disappointing since the M6 Pros are solid for games like Overwatch that use a full soundscape. By contrast, the Oculus Rift’s built-in headphones feel more spatial.
The HTC Vive runs on Steam VR. While Steam VR is a little chaotic to navigate, it’s also a very feature-rich platform. Steam has a lot of excellent VR titles, such as Skyrim and Fallout 4 VR, Beat Saber, Moss, Tiltbrush, Elite: Dangerous, VRChat, Rec Room, and The Wizards.
You will not get bored from a lack of games, with hundreds of games being released monthly for Steam VR. There isn’t quite yet a console-selling title, but this is a question of when, not if it will be released. Beautiful upcoming titles include Nostos, No Man’s Sky Beyond VR, and Half Life 2.
If you feel like you’re missing out on Oculus Exclusives like Dead and Buried or Robo Recall, you don’t need to buy an Oculus Rift. Instead, you can install ReVive, an open-source software hack available on GitHub. When installed, Oculus games will show up in your Steam VR library. It’s super easy to install and use.
Currently, the HTC Vive has a suggested retail price of about $499. This is too much money for what HTC delivers, considering that the Oculus Rift retails for $350 and has much better controllers, integrated headphones, fantastic exclusives and access to almost all the games available for the HTC Vive. If HTC wants the Vive to stay competitive, retail prices need to go down.
Oculus Rift/Rift S: Because the Oculus Rift is being replaced with the Rift S, we will attempt to cover both. The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have near identical screen specifications; their only significant difference is in the lens shape, which leads to different screen door effects. We think the Rift looks less pronounced, but they’re so similar that we would say it isn’t worth picking between the Rift and the Vive based on the screens.
As mentioned above, the Rift is significantly cheaper than the Vive and includes integrated audio and much more ergonomic controllers. Unless you’re in love with the Vive wands or need the highest tracking accuracy possible, we recommend the Rift over the Vive.
Comparing the Rift S to the Vive is a little more complicated. The Rift S, coming out April 2019, has the same screen as the Oculus Go—a fast switch LCD with a 2560 x 1440p resolution. That’s an improvement over the Rift and the Vive. However, the Rift S reduces the framerate to 80Hz, ten frames per second lower than the HTC Vive’s 90Hz. Additionally, the Oculus Rift S’s tracking accuracy is strictly inferior to the Rift, which outweighs the fact that the Rift S does not need external sensors.
HTC VIve Pro: In 2018, HTC released the Vive Pro. The Vive Pro has a much more enterprise design than the Vive, with an easy-adjust halo strap and integrated audio that sounds incredible. Everything is made with either hard, durable plastic or leather, with the exception of the quick-drying foam face pad and rear pad.
The Vive Pro also offers twice the resolution of the Vive: 2880 x 1600p, and the Vive Pro’s tracking was flawless when we tested it. However, its installation can be harder, since it is not aimed at consumers but rather experienced professionals. Additionally, the Vive Pro headset alone sells for $800 MSRP. Add the wand and base station 2.0 kit and you’ll end up spending about $1,400.
A great headset, but not worth full price.
The HTC Vive is a fine headset, with excellent tracking and durable build. However, its screen is beginning to feel dated since it’s three years now, and so are its controllers. For $500, you can buy an equally good Oculus Rift or a Rift S and use the leftover money on new VR games.
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