By Marko Djurdjevic
What would it be like to walk alongside the dinosaurs, fly in a spaceship, or battle demons from the eighth dimension? While it is unlikely that people will actually do any of these things in the near future, the opportunity to simulate these events is already here.
In the recent years there has been an explosion of interest in virtual reality technology. This technology allows for a user to dive into a simulated environment, similar to reality. Systems range from only a headset to full body suits that use cameras with positional tracking technology to render the user’s body in a virtual world. Virtual reality is an emerging technology that has practically unlimited potential, from simulating surgery for training to therapeutic sessions for treating those with mental disorders and illnesses. However, it is virtual reality’s application in video game entertainment that is taking the lead role in providing the average consumer the opportunity to try this seemingly futuristic technology.
Among the several virtual reality systems are available for consumer purchase, such as the Playstation VR Headset or the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive is probably the most advanced. The HTC Vive kit features a virtual reality headset and 2 handheld controllers which are used to simulate the user’s head and hands in a virtual environment. The headset features two high resolution screens, one for each eye, to allow the user to see the virtual world, while the controllers have several buttons to simulate several different hand functions, such as gripping objects.
Many of those given the opportunity to try the HTC Vive comment on their sense of wonder and disbelief at the immersive feeling the system provides. Given these raving reviews, I simply had to try out the HTC Vive for myself.
I was first offered to test the HTC Vive at a local technology store, where they were allowing customers 10 minutes each to try it out. When it was finally my turn, I entered the play area unsure of what to expect. The supervisor gave me the headset, I put it on, and I was taken away. I was now in a room with floating screens, each of which displayed different demos I could try. I was given the controllers and instructed to simply press a virtual button to start my demo.
The first VR experience I had was in the role of a deep-sea diver in a shipwreck. While unable to swim, I could walk around the deck of the ship as various species of fish swam around me. My first instinct was to reach out and try to touch them, but as I did, the touch did not register. I realized that I had just tried to touch something that didn’t really exist; it was just a virtual fish. The climax of this demo occurred when a giant whale swam by, which made me realize the the Vive was very good at giving me a sense of just how big this majestic creature was.
However, despite my wish to stay in this beautiful underwater environment, I was quickly transported to another world in which I took on the role of a space pirate fending off waves of futuristic drones. This was the first time I was given a virtual item to hold, which was an automatic laser handgun. Putting the gun close to my face gave me the opportunity to marvel at the detail on the gun’s model. The sense of presence that gun gave was astonishing; I felt as if I was actually holding a gun. The controllers even had built in mechanisms to add a little recoil effect when the gun was fired. After fending off some space drones, it was onto the next experience.
This time, I took on the role of a medieval archer defending a castle against a viking raid. This simulation allowed me to wield a bow. Putting a hand behind my head allowed me to pick up an arrow, as if I had a quiver of arrows on my back. I could notch the arrow onto the bow, aim at my target, let loose, and watch as the arrow arced through the air and hit a viking straight in the heart. My castle was safe for the time being.
It was at this point that my 10 minute demo was over. Coming out of the Vive was a little jarring and disappointing as I realized I would have to return to the real world. It was at that point that I decided to purchase the Vive so I could play with it more.
I spent the next week experimenting with various games and demos, taking on the roles of a medieval adventurer, a chef, a car mechanic, a robotic ninja, a soldier, and so many more.
It is very clear that the HTC Vive is the best VR experience a consumer can have. The immersive nature of the system is simply breathtaking and the variety of experiences one can have are fascinating.
However much I can praise the HTC Vive, there is no denying the multitude of drawbacks. The most damning is probably the price. For the entire HTC Vive package, a buyer is looking at at least $800, not including taxes and shipping. On top of that, a powerful PC is needed to use the HTC Vive, which is likely to run up to $1000 dollars or even more. I personally returned my Vive for a full refund due to how expensive it was. Although the experience was more than amazing, there is no denying that not many people have the money to dedicate to a VR experience.
On top of the high price point, the customer support for the Vive is lacking. Parts for the Vive are unique and must be ordered from the manufacturer, which means in the event of a part failure, one will have to wait a long time to get more parts. The support team at HTC is not always the most helpful either.
The ultimate question on everyone’s minds is likely whether the Vive is worth a purchase. The answer to that is not readily available. For those with more than enough money or those who are VR fanatics, the Vive is a fantastic purchase. For others who may be tighter on money or unsure of their enthusiasm for the Vive, a demo session with the Vive is necessary to decide if the purchase is worth it.
Regardless of whether one can purchase the Vive or not, it is clear that the Vive is a huge step in VR and technology in general. The potential for the Vive and other VR systems to expand into technology that can be used in gaming and throughout society is an exciting future indeed.
Marko Djurdjevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.