It’s weird to think of it this way, but 2016 is the year that the sci-fi dreams of many have become a reality – I mean lets face it, writers, film-makers, and video gamers have been imagining the awesome possibilities of virtual reality for literally decades. Think of all the fiction which centres around some kind of virtual reality experience; Lawnmower Man, Tron, The Matrix, to name but a few, and not to mention all the Holodeck action in Star Trek and similar in Red Dwarf. It’s something a lot of people have been looking forward to, and it’s been a long time in the making, but here we are, 2016, THE year of virtual reality. It started with a bit of a trickle of new headset hardware in 2014-2015 but much of this was experimental prototype stuff such as Google Cardboard, but now we’re getting the real deal, more matured, commerically viable products and pretty much EVERY major manufacturer worth their salt is getting in on the action; Google, Samsung, LG…and HTC.
With good reason too, plenty of analysts see VR as being the next big thing, a take-over in many key tech and entertainment sectors on the consumer, enterprise and industrial level. Everything from films, to video games, to the internet, shopping, museums, theatre, concerts, sports events and MORE is possible for the consumer. Then on top of that you have bigger, societally important applications such as engineering and medicine.
But today we want to talk to you a bit about what HTC is bringing to the table.
HTC’s offering is the HTC VIVE, which shipped in April. HTC might seem like an odd contender to enter the VR market. The company is nowhere as near as big as Facebook, Sony, or Microsoft and until now it has mainly been known for making smartphones. However, you shouldn’t count the firm out. After all, Apple never made a music player before it came out with the iPod—and that device transformed the company.
“Ever since the first day HTC Vive was announced, we knew that it would be widely applied beyond the gaming and entertainment industries. HTC Vive now applies across a wide spectrum of sectors, such as healthcare, education, retail and automotive with this disruptive innovation, demonstrating the potential of a world without limits”, said Jack Tong, North Asia President at HTC. “It is a pleasure to leverage the VR ecosystem to enhance the cultural and creative industries with Jimmy SPA. Together, we bring a new concept on stage to spark of creativity and innovation, and to open up a new era of vision and intelligence.”
Taking Vive one step further, with refreshed branding and an updated headstrap, the Vive consumer edition builds upon the innovative features that were introduced into the Vive Pre. These include updated wireless controllers with haptic feedback and dual stage triggers, a front facing camera that blends physical elements into the virtual world, a redesigned headstrap that offers greater stability and balance and an improved visual system with brighter displays to give a deeper sense of immersion.
But just what is the HTC VIVE? We’ve assembled this handy primer to tell you everything you need to know.
HTC VIVE: What is it?
It’s a virtual reality system developed by HTC and Valve Corporation. Many people mistake the VIVE for being a headset placeholder where you slip your HTC smartphone into and thus turn that into a VR headset (ala Samsung Gear VR). But not so. The Vive is a full-fledged virtual reality device with a built-in screen.
The two-up display in the headset itself has a 2160 x 1200 combined resolution and 90 Hz refresh rate, which HTC says delivers “eye-popping graphics and smooth action.” The headset also allows for 110° field of view for captivating immersion and features 32 headset sensors for 360° motion tracking.
But that’s just for the headset part…
HTC VIVE: More Than Just A Headset. Way More…
I said the HTC VIVE was a virtual reality system for a reason. The headset is just one part. The Vive also comes with two wireless controllers and two base stations. The controllers are self-explanatory: they’re what you primarily use to interact with the games you’ll play on the VIVE. Though they do have some cool features, such as haptic feedback.
As for the last component—the base stations—these allow for the headset to know where in space (or, your room) you are, thus enabling 360° room-scale motion-tracking. Of course, it’s not just the headset, controllers, and base stations you’ll need…
HTC VIVE: How Do You Use It?
Money and power. But we’ll get to the money bit later. Like most VR headsets, the HTC VIVE doesn’t work in isolation. It needs to be connected to a PC, which handles most of the raw processing power for all those mind-blowing virtual reality apps. And don’t think your five year old PC is gonna cut mustard here. You’ll need a fairly new machine—something you’d get it you wanted a PC as a gaming rig anyway.
The minimum specs the HTC VIVE requires from a PC are the following:
- GPU: – NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 970 / AMD Radeon™ R9 290 equivalent or greater
- CPU: – Intel® i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 equivalent or greater
- RAM: – 4GB+
- Video Output: – HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
- USB Port: – 1x USB 2.0 or greater port
- Operating System: – Windows 7 SP1 or newer
- Keep in mind those are the MINIMUM specs. The bare minimum. Want to Vive VR experience to fly? Double the minimum specs you see above.
HTC VIVE: Valve’s Involved Too. And That’s Awesome
Up top you’ll notice I said the Vive is made by HTC and Valve. Valve, of course, is the steaming video game provider. Valve will be both creating original games for the Vive as well as acting as the third-party storefront offering other VR games on the Vive. Valve is also offering its OpenVR SDK to developers so they can get to work on making more VR games (to be made available on the Valve store, natch).
HTC VIVE: Apps & Games?
The Vive actually comes with three free apps and games: Tilt Brush by Google, Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives by Owlchemy Labs, and Fantastic Contraption by Northway Games and Radial Games. And the Valve VR store currently lists 143 compatible titles (you can check them out here), but expect that list to grow rapidly once developers really dig into that OpenVR SDK.
HTC VIVE: Release Date & Price
There’s no easy way to say this…but the HTC VIVE ain’t cheap. It’s £689 (PC not included), which is almost £200 more than the Oculus Rift. However, before you think HTC is being greedy, know that the Vive comes with more than the Oculus Rift. For starters you get two controllers, not one, and you also get the two base stations, which allows for true room-scale VR. The Oculus only has a single head-tracking camera that doesn’t allow it to know exactly where you are in relation to the room you’re in.
Here’s a breakdown of all The Best VR Headsets You Can Buy In 2016.