The HTC Vive Review

System Requirements & Setup Procedures

The HTC Vive demands similar system performance as the competing Rift, which makes sense given that they share similar display specifications. Both HMDs should be driven by a Core i5-4590 equivalent (or better) processor. Oculus doesn't specify a model from AMD, but HTC and Valve say you'll want an FX-8350 or better.

Like the Rift, HTC's VR system recommends at least a GeForce GTX 970. But for some reason it's a little friendlier to AMD's cards. Purportedly, you can get away with a Radeon R9 280, which isn't far off of a GeForce GTX 960. We aren't sure how those two cards achieve parity, but we aim to find out.

As we noted in our Oculus Rift review, it really comes down to simple math. A lower-end GPU can't keep up with the number of shaded pixels needed for 2160x1200 at 90Hz, especially when you consider the 1.4x scalar used to correct spatial distortion. Then you’re really talking about 1512x1680 per eye at 90Hz, which would be more than 400 million shaded pixels.

In 2015, Alex Vlachos, Valve Software senior graphics programmer, gave a talk called “Advanced VR Rendering” wherein he described how the scalar can be dialed back for more performance, but even then, today’s top-tier GPUs still struggle to keep up. We’ve been told that Valve is working on making VR titles scale quality dynamically to maintain steady rendering performance. You can already see examples of this graphics scaling technique in the SteamVR Performance Test. This free utility runs a benchmark on your system and spits out a grade of Ready, Capable or Not Ready based on your overall performance. Capable systems typically land somewhere just below the minimum specifications, but the test scales graphics quality back as needed in order to maintain a steady frame rate above 90 FPS. In our testing, an R9 380 is rated Capable, so it seems unlikely that an R9 280 would suffice.

You Probably Do Have Enough Space

The three main VR systems have much in common, but the Vive has one thing that sets it apart from the others: the ability to offer room-scale VR right out of the box. The Rift is technically capable of this, but it really wasn’t designed with that in mind, and until Oculus Touch comes out, it's a moot point anyway. The Vive includes everything you need right now.

The two base stations sit in opposite corners of your room. The maximum space between them shouldn’t exceed 16.4 feet diagonally, which allows for a trackable space as large as 15x15 feet. That sounds scary, but it shouldn't be. You can easily scale the space down to fit a more realistically-sized bedroom or office and still derive just as much enjoyment from it.

HTC has had a hard time explaining this aspect of the Vive because so much attention is devoted to the maximum size. Fifteen square feet is a lot of open space, and you aren’t going to find many homes with large, empty rooms. No matter; you can set the Vive up for room-scale in a space as small as 6.5x5 feet. Most living rooms can accommodate that by moving a coffee table temporarily, and many offices can be reconfigured accordingly, too. It’s also important to note that those dimensions are for walking space. If you use a space smaller than 15x15 feet, you can still reach your arms beyond obstacles like couches, so long as the controllers remain in view of the base stations.

If you still can’t possibly clear that much open area, don’t write the Vive off just yet. The system is fully compatible with sitting and standing experiences too. Many games also have a tabletop mode for seated gaming.

Setting Up The Vive

To configure the Vive for room-scale VR, first make sure you clear obstacles out of the way. You need the entire floor of play space free from anything that'd put you on your face. Then, once you've figured out the dimensions of your VR-friendly zone, download and run the HTC Vive software setup package. It'll walk you through the step-by-step process of setting up the HMD as it pulls down the rest of the driver utility. The utility claims you'll be done in as little as 28 minutes, but if you need to wall-mount the base stations, that's unlikely.

The Vive software package weighs in at 524MB, but once you’ve downloaded the first 18%, you’re prompted to create or log in to an HTC account. The download will not continue until you do this. The install checks to see if you have Steam installed. If not, it'll also grab that for you.

Once the download reaches 50%, it lets you move on to the hardware setup. The first thing you're prompted to do is set up the base stations. HTC recommends that you mount them securely to your wall at least 6.5 feet from the ground, but the higher the better. The package includes a pair of wall mounts so you won’t have to buy anything extra to get started.

Base Stations

Wall mounting is recommended because vibration does affect tracking. But if you can’t drill holes into your wall because you rent or game in a concrete basement, you can still elevate them a few different ways. Each station includes two threaded points accommodating tripods. HTC also says you can use clamps to attach the stations to a bookshelf. The key is securing them well.

Wherever you mount the base stations, make sure you have a power outlet nearby. They don't require a connection to your computer, but they do require a power source. Given their recommended 6.5-foot elevation, the bundled 10-foot power cords are a little short. It'd be nice to get an extension cable for the AC adapters with an inline power switch. As they come, though, you have to unplug the stations to shut them down between uses. A silver lining is that the base stations support power management when you enable Bluetooth in the Vive settings panel. With power management enabled, the stations go to sleep when the headset does.

Once you have the base stations mounted, plug in their power. You should see a light indicating station status; a set of red lasers behind the screen; and a light indicating whether the base station is on channel A, B or C. If you positioned the stations where they can see each other, the status light should be green.

If you see a purple-ish blue light, the base stations don’t see each other and require a position readjustment. Or, you may need to use the included sync cable. The sync cable is fifty feet long, so you should be able to run it around the perimeter of almost any room without trouble. If you have a drop ceiling, it would be easy to run the cable above the tiles. If your setup requires the sync cable, you need to change the channel of one station manually using a button on the back of the unit.

Headset And Controllers

Once the base stations are communicating with each other, you’re prompted to locate the headset and link box. The link box should be plugged into the computer before it is plugged into the Vive. First plug in the power source, followed by the USB 3.0 cable and then HDMI. It’s the same process for the headset: power, USB, HDMI. If it happens that you do not have an HDMI port on your computer, you can use a mini-DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort cable, although you'll have to buy that separately.

HTC goes the extra mile to make setup as easy as possible. For example, it labels each cable, clearly indicating what it is or where it goes. What’s more, the link box and its cables are also color-coded.

Next up is the controllers. To turn them on, press the system button (located directly below the trackpad). The status indicator should light up blue, and when the controllers sync and start tracking, the light turns green. HTC ships the controllers with more than enough charge to complete the setup and play a few games, so you don’t have to worry about charging them first.

At this point, if the Vive software download is complete, SteamVR opens up and you’re asked to choose between the room-scale or standing-only setup procedures.

Room-Scale Calibration

If you choose the room-scale option, SteamVR again asks you to clear your space and make sure you have at least the minimum-sized play area. The software detects the headset and the controllers. If there’s a problem with tracking, you cannot proceed.

The next step is to calibrate your monitor’s position. SteamVR asks you to stand in the middle of the room, point a Vive controller at your computer monitor, and then press and hold the trigger. The monitor position is used to help orient the view of the room-tracing preview screen found in the next step.

The Vive has a helpful feature called Chaperone that helps to keep you from killing yourself as you navigate the room with a headset over your eyes. How thoughtful. But the barriers have to be set up manually; the system doesn’t automatically detect the space you can play in. To set your Chaperone boundaries, take one controller, pull the trigger, and trace around the edges of your open area. Avoid getting too close to the wall or other objects when tracing the boundaries. If you have the space, I’d suggest staying a foot or more away from the edges. 

When tracing your play space, make sure that you take into account all of the open area that you want to access, not just a square. You can map around objects like couches and bookshelves to create oddly-shaped tracking areas. As long as the base stations can see the headset and controllers, you can walk outside the minimum space. You just need at least a 6.5x5-foot area to work in. Objects you trace around must be outside the green zone.

SteamVR automatically determines the largest square or rectangular space possible and what it thinks is the best orientation for it within your given area. If you aren’t keen on what SteamVR suggests, edit the orientation and even shrink the size of your play space to provide more buffer around obstacles.

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65 comments
    Your comment
  • comedichistorian
    Well it looks like as of 7:30 AM on April 5th you can't order one from the official site if you're from the US or Australia. It doesn't say this anywhere on the site, they just won't let you continue on after the order summary. However, if I select "Ireland" as my location I am able to go to the next step and presumably complete the order. Anyone have any ideas as to what this might mean? Anyone else able to actually complete an order after having selected US?
  • DrakeFS
    They have got to do something about that cable. I fully expect a base station and belt receiver accessories to be sold soon, probably not by HTC\Oculus though. The latency that a wireless solution would add to an application sensitive to latency may be the reason both HMDs are cabled. Then again, it could just be cost, after all $800 sounds a lot better than $1000.

    Guess if it annoys me enough, I could always do a ceiling mount.
  • comedichistorian
    Ooooh yeah I like that idea. An easy/cheap yet surprisingly reliable option would be one of those Command Strip units. Get a few loops that'll hold 5lbs and mount them wherever needed in your room and you're done. Those things really hold up, I've mounted heavy pictures with them and they've been holding up fine even with all the temp changes and a small quake we got here.
  • turkey3_scratch
    This makes me now want to dish out the extra $200 for this over the Oculus. Except, I actually don't have the open room, I don't even have 5x5 feet so I don't think it's a possibility.
  • kcarbotte
    Quote:
    They have got to do something about that cable. I fully expect a base station and belt receiver accessories to be sold soon, probably not by HTC\Oculus though. The latency that a wireless solution would add to an application sensitive to latency may be the reason both HMDs are cabled. Then again, it could just be cost, after all $800 sounds a lot better than $1000. Guess if it annoys me enough, I could always do a ceiling mount.

    Quote:
    Ooooh yeah I like that idea. An easy/cheap yet surprisingly reliable option would be one of those Command Strip units. Get a few loops that'll hold 5lbs and mount them wherever needed in your room and you're done. Those things really hold up, I've mounted heavy pictures with them and they've been holding up fine even with all the temp changes and a small quake we got here.



    The problem with a ceiling mount is the length of the cable isn't enoug for that.
    you'd have to run the cable up the wall, which would require at least 7 feet, likely more, than across the ceiling to your play space - which would be around 5 feet from the wall or more.
    You might have enough range to reach your head, but you definitly won't be walking around in a room-scale space like that.

    The cable is somethign we're just going to have to live with for now. It's not going away for the first generation, so get used to it. We're looking at probably two years or more with the current hardware before any major iterations hit the market. I may be wrong about that, it could end up being like the cell phone market, but for now, this is what we have to work with.

    It's really not as big of a concern as people think. Yes, you are aware of it always. No, it doesn't detract from the experience enough to brush it off due to a tether.
  • Borisblade7
    Quote:
    They have got to do something about that cable. I fully expect a base station and belt receiver accessories to be sold soon, probably not by HTC\Oculus though. The latency that a wireless solution would add to an application sensitive to latency may be the reason both HMDs are cabled. Then again, it could just be cost, after all $800 sounds a lot better than $1000.


    Yeah its teh latency added by the wifi. Until someone finds some work around, its going to be cabled. It doesnt matter so much with the Rift since you can only sit on your ass and play it, but with this being superior with its ability to actually move around, being tethered can cause issues. Having said that, most every vid i've seen of people using this, it really wasnt much of an issue.
  • kcarbotte
    Quote:
    This makes me now want to dish out the extra $200 for this over the Oculus. Except, I actually don't have the open room, I don't even have 5x5 feet so I don't think it's a possibility.


    You can filter the SteamVR store to show you what is available for Standing experiences. These games still use the hand controlls, but they don't required that you walk around.
    A quick search on steam showed there are 54 titles that support standing configurations and don't need room scale.
    Over 30 of those titles launched today and are true VR games designed from the ground up on Vive.

    http://store.steampowered.com/search/#sort_by=Released_DESC&sort_order=DESC&category1=998&tags=-1&vrsupport=101%2C302&page=1
  • turkey3_scratch
    Ahh okay, that's good to know.
  • kcarbotte
    Quote:
    Quote:
    They have got to do something about that cable. I fully expect a base station and belt receiver accessories to be sold soon, probably not by HTC\Oculus though. The latency that a wireless solution would add to an application sensitive to latency may be the reason both HMDs are cabled. Then again, it could just be cost, after all $800 sounds a lot better than $1000.
    Yeah its teh latency added by the wifi. Until someone finds some work around, its going to be cabled. It doesnt matter so much with the Rift since you can only sit on your ass and play it, but with this being superior with its ability to actually move around, being tethered can cause issues. Having said that, most every vid i've seen of people using this, it really wasnt much of an issue.



    For smooth graphics in VR, the target is 11.11ms of latency. GPUs are just barely able to deliver that reliably over HDMI, adding a wireless signal in there will make it far higher, making it infeasible for the majority of people.
    I'm sure there's a wireless version in some research lab somewhere, but we're likely going to have to wait a while for that to hit consumer markets.
  • hoofhearted
    Intel NUC, GTX980 MXM, a lith battery and a backpack will solve the cable issue. Maybe something that converts methane gas to electricity combined with an anal probe will solve the power issue. Throw in a free can of beans.
  • Clerk Max
    Great review, thanks as always Kcarbotte. Hats off to Valve and HTC for solving the motion sickness by using 1:1 room scale feature. The trade off is to give up locomotion as used traditionnally in FPS and use the "blink" teleportation... but the experiences in room-scale seem so engaging that it was worth it. Motion sickness was the major show stopper and it has been cracked to a large extent.
  • groundrat
    "You also get a front-facing camera. We'll see how developers end up using it." Pyro-vision, anyone?
  • clonazepam
    I want to see these in schools for their robotics programs. This would essentially give them unlimited parts that never break or need recharging, and more freedom to experiment.
  • turkey3_scratch
    I want to see virtual reality connect to some sort of software controlled fan system that surrounds your body, and you get to ride a coaster simulation with the wind blowing on you as if you're actually riding a coaster.
  • acegamer123
    Thanks for the great review. Was glad to see the tests with multiple GPUs. Really showed that I'm going to have to go ahead and upgrade my 780 for some games. I was holding out for a Pascal announcement today but since that didn't come I guess I might as well go ahead and get a 980ti
  • kcarbotte
    Quote:
    Great review, thanks as always Kcarbotte. Hats off to Valve and HTC for solving the motion sickness by using 1:1 room scale feature. The trade off is to give up locomotion as used traditionnally in FPS and use the "blink" teleportation... but the experiences in room-scale seem so engaging that it was worth it. Motion sickness was the major show stopper and it has been cracked to a large extent.


    Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.
    I wanted to try and cover everything people would want to know. There's likely some more stuff to cover, so we'll have more on the Vive soon.


    Quote:
    I want to see these in schools for their robotics programs. This would essentially give them unlimited parts that never break or need recharging, and more freedom to experiment.


    I know of at least one high school teacher that recieved a Vive and is using it in the classroom.
    I expect this will become much more commonplace in the comming years.

    Quote:
    Thanks for the great review. Was glad to see the tests with multiple GPUs. Really showed that I'm going to have to go ahead and upgrade my 780 for some games. I was holding out for a Pascal announcement today but since that didn't come I guess I might as well go ahead and get a 980ti


    980Ti is definitely handling VR exceptionally.
    If you haven't ordered a Vive yet, or just ordered one, you'll be waiting a while. Might be worth holding out until you have the kit. You never know what will be announced in the next couple months.
  • picture_perfect
    1943658 said:
    Yeah its teh latency added by the wifi. Until someone finds some work around, its going to be cabled

    Are the controllers wifi? Why do those work so good.


    1943658 said:
    For smooth graphics in VR, the target is 11.11ms of latency.

    How is online gaming ever going to work with VR. I usually ping 20-200ms.


    2218418 said:
    Hats off to Valve and HTC for solving the motion sickness.

    They have definitely NOT solved motion sickness. For a long-term honest review, check out TribalInstincts. Summary: VR is wonderful but getting sick is truly one of the worst feelings in the world.
  • hoofhearted
    Intel's skull canyon NUC would be the PC. And since it works with Razer's Core Thunderbolt 3, then someone needs to make a smaller version of Razor's core that takes 980 MXM in SLI cards. Then some rig like this for holding this rig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WetWkdeCBDs
  • cats_Paw
    Ill give it time.
    Let the dust settle, get it slightly cheaper and when a mid range GPU can handle it... perhaps even a Laptop GPU, so I can make it into a portable gaming device.
  • Vorador2
    The problem is....i don't have the space to play it on room scale. I barely have a square meter available where my pc is. I could play seated or standing at most.

    I might look into those pseudo "omnidirectional treadmills" like the Omni. But i also need to renew my computer since is not VR-ready. Expenses start piling up fast.
  • gdmaclew
    I don't like the fact that all the content for the HTC Vive will have to be downloaded from Steam. I'm in a rural area with wireless LTE with a 10 GB per month limit. I already have problems playing games that are supplied on CD/DVD because there are always DLC updates after installation which cutns into my monthly limit. If all game content has to be downloaded, then this is a deal breaker for me and, I suspect, most rural users. They should make content available on hard copy as well.
  • nukemaster
    I agree with the user above about maybe ceiling mounting the wires could help.

    Also I see Doctor Who :p
  • kyle382
    Quote:
    Quote:
    They have got to do something about that cable. I fully expect a base station and belt receiver accessories to be sold soon, probably not by HTC\Oculus though. The latency that a wireless solution would add to an application sensitive to latency may be the reason both HMDs are cabled. Then again, it could just be cost, after all $800 sounds a lot better than $1000. Guess if it annoys me enough, I could always do a ceiling mount.
    Quote:
    Ooooh yeah I like that idea. An easy/cheap yet surprisingly reliable option would be one of those Command Strip units. Get a few loops that'll hold 5lbs and mount them wherever needed in your room and you're done. Those things really hold up, I've mounted heavy pictures with them and they've been holding up fine even with all the temp changes and a small quake we got here.
    The problem with a ceiling mount is the length of the cable isn't enoug for that. you'd have to run the cable up the wall, which would require at least 7 feet, likely more, than across the ceiling to your play space - which would be around 5 feet from the wall or more. You might have enough range to reach your head, but you definitly won't be walking around in a room-scale space like that. The cable is somethign we're just going to have to live with for now. It's not going away for the first generation, so get used to it. We're looking at probably two years or more with the current hardware before any major iterations hit the market. I may be wrong about that, it could end up being like the cell phone market, but for now, this is what we have to work with. It's really not as big of a concern as people think. Yes, you are aware of it always. No, it doesn't detract from the experience enough to brush it off due to a tether.


    Oowee that's a scary thought. Annual iterations from occulus and HTC with no product recycling D: I want modular design like OSVR....although better quality hardware options would be nice.
  • dagnamit2
    Quote:
    Oowee that's a scary thought. Annual iterations from occulus and HTC with no product recycling D: I want modular design like OSVR....although better quality hardware options would be nice.


    No way, the second hand market is going to be incredibly important to the establishment of VR. I would guess that both Oculus and HTC will offer trade-in discounts to first adopters so that a refurbishing program can start to sell used units at much less cost. The iPhone refresh model could work here. Flagship, $600, Year old New, $400, Refurbished year-old, $300. It's a good way for them to make some money and reduce the price of entry for the plebs.