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CES 2016: HTC Vive Hands-On

by: John -
More On: CES 2016 Vive

Wow. Just wow. That’s my expression after getting out of the HTC Vive demonstration. This was the first time I really experienced the HTC Vive with controllers as I did use the HMD the day before at the Virtuix Omni booth. But the demos that HTC had on display at their booth just blew me away.

I own an Oculus DK2. I tried the Oculus CV1 at E3 last year. I have to say, the HTC Vive really made a strong case to me as the best HMD out there.

Putting on the headset, I was surprised at how easy it was to get into place and how light it was. The cushions were soft and didn’t dig into my face like say the first version of the GearVR. The look of the Vive is a lot more streamlined and, of course, there’s the nice camera in the front, which I will get into in a little bit.

I put on the Vive and was handed the two controllers, which also look a lot more polished than when it was first introduced. One of the first things that was shown to me was the system used to overlay people and objects in the real world called Chaperone mode. You setup the border of what’s safe for you to move around in by using the controllers to draw around the room. This only has to be done once. After that, the system will display a blue grid and outline any object or person in blue when you get near the perimeter you designated utilizing the camera that’s in front of the Vive. It’s a great way to let you know if you are getting too close to where there could be issues when walking around.

You can also manually turn this feature on or off by double clicking one of the buttons on the controller. It’s also good to use say if someone comes into the room and wants to talk to you. You can manually engage Chaperone and speak with the person, disable it when done and go back to whatever you were playing.

So after getting used to the Chaperone system, I was thrown into an underwater sunken ship where I could walk around on the deck and watch all the sea life swim around me. I felt I was truly in this world because of how impressive the visuals were, how clear and bright the displays looked, and how accurate it was tracking my movement. Walking around on the deck was just an incredible experience and in one part of a demo, a huge whale swims up close to you and slowly swims by. The whale looked so massive and I stood there in awe as I scanned it from the tip of the nose to the end of its tale. There were a few time a small fish swam into my view that threw me off a bit. It was a sight to behold and an incredibly impressive first demo.

The next one was Job Simulator, the humorous take on working in an office environment. While the undersea demo didn’t utilize the controllers, here the controllers shined as I was throwing office equipment around, making coffee, turning my computer on, making copies, and shooting staples from the stapler gun. I even used the controllers to juggle a cup back and forth with incredible precision. A few objectives were given to me such as making coffee and drinking it and firing employees by stamping their file with a machine. The controllers did such a great job at tracking where I was grabbing or pointing that it felt like a natural extension of my hands. Who knew working in an office setting could be so much fun in VR.

It’s not just about games but art can be pretty immersive as well. The paint program demonstration had me using the controller and drawing in 3D space. I was able to change color and had access to brushes such as sprays, smoke, and even fire. Drawing it in the air reminded me of taking sparklers during July 4th and painting light drawings, but only this time they didn’t quickly disappear. What really blew me away was I was able to walk around, under, and through my brush strokes to see my creation from all different angles. It’s truly a brand new and unique experience when it comes to drawing.

The final demo was the great Portal Vive demo that had you following instructions, but being made to feel like a complete idiot in that funny Portal way. You’re given a few tasks like opening a set of drawers, which of course you get berated for because you always open the wrong one. One of the Portal 2 robots is present to you and you go to open its internals into an exploded view and manipulate the parts by rotating certain sections. GLaDOS makes an appearance at the end and gets right into your face, which is an impressive sight to behold. Then the room you are in gets demolished as you see it change around you until you meet your demise. As a fan of Portal, I couldn’t help but smile as I experienced the world in a virtual reality environment, doing tasks that often result in hilarious outcomes, and hearing that sarcastic dialogue that Portal is known for.

By the end of the demo, I was ready for more. It was the best VR experience I have ever had and the HTC Vive is just an incredible piece of tech. I really had to concentrate hard to see the screendoor effect, but it all went away once I was moving around in the demos and never once did it affect my experience as the effect was so minimal, that I eventually couldn’t see it at all.

I was told pre-orders will start in February with an April delivery date. With the recent announcement of the Oculus Rift being $600, I’m expecting the cost of the Vive to be even more than that since it comes with two of the wireless controllers and the two Lighthouse stations. The funny thing is, I was ready to pay whatever the cost was right then and there while I was turned off from purchasing a Rift. That’s how good the HTC Vive was and I think I know which one I will be purchasing once the two are available. Sorry Oculus.

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