After much anticipation, the HTC Vive headset finally arrived. This writer had waited impatiently for it just as many pre-order customers that endured the somewhat flawed delivery of the new tech. Of course being new tech has its own problems but scaling up for a launch would have seemed appropriate for the purpose of public relations if nothing else. Finally, though... it was here and like many others that waited I eagerly unboxed, setup the headset then dropped off the real world. The experience was far more than I planned to have no prior experience with the modern consumer version of the Vive. It was immersive, to say the least but this article is about the device itself so let's get going.
Red shows as marked by Controllers. Blue or yellow shows possible usable areas.
Clearing out a safe play area is paramount for safety in room scale VR. You are tethered but you are walking, crawling, bending, dodging and all kinds of unpleasant things can happen... like hitting or falling into a wall. It is very easy to forget that the counter, desk or window sill in front of you is not real. Falls are not uncommon, especially when getting used to VR for the first time. When possible try to stay away from walls but most of us aren't afforded that luxury so you can map right up to the wall and other objects. When you run the room setup later in SteamVR the software will determine a square or rectangular playing area from the area mapped off with the controller. This is not always the entire area you map off and I can say the largest area you can get is great. The drawback to smaller areas is the chaperone wall can pop up continuously if you are in a small enough space. That can be turned off or you can set SteamVR to standing/sitting only.
I'm not much for unboxing other than getting to whatever it is I'm unboxing so I'll spare you the details of lust in the eye and the drool containment procedures as I popped open a nicely designed box that was cool in itself, which was packed full of goodies. I'm not kidding... there is a lot of stuff in there but when you start setting it up it doesn't seem like so much anymore. Well packaged and in great shape. So far so good.
This was the part I dreaded after having read so many times how long it took and how complicated it was. Once again it was much to do about nothing. The only thing that takes time is mounting the 2 room scale Lighthouse bases if you choose to do so. I have photography light tripods so I confiscated them, turned the wing nut upside down to use as a squeeze nut and screwed the lighthouses onto the top of each pole. While it setup easily enough I quickly discover two things:
Don't set the lighthouses too high. I had 9-foot stands but lowered them to around 6.5 feet.
Put at least one lighthouse on a tiltable swivel attached to the light pole. The same type of swivel used in photography. This allows you tilt the lighthouse down. Two would probably be better but one was all I had that had a screw-in instead of a slide-in.
Lighthouse base stations with and without swivel on photography lighting tripods.
After you clear out an area the Lighthouses are placed no further than 16 feet apart diagonally and as of this writing I have never had a problem with them syncing up as long as they can see each other. The headset and controls did lose connection here and there but after adding the swivel and lowering the lighthouses as mentioned earlier that problem ceased.
This is an extremely simple process of plugging in the supplied hub to your computer. HTC also supplies the needed HDMI, USB and power cables to the hub. There is a DisplayPort option available if you do not have HDMI. I used two rubber coated gaffer clips to secure the cable inside (without being clipped) to protect against that inadvertent pull that is eventually coming. This keeps things in place and hopefully protects the cables and hub from destruction. These aren't your grandmother's games you know. That's it for the headset. We are ready to move on to the next step of installing the software from SteamVR and Vive.
Gaffer clips (rubber coated not included) attached to table with cables running freely inside and the hub.
Run the Vive installation program downloaded from the Vive website following screen prompts. Then install Steam (if you don't already have it) along with the prerequisite SteamVR software. SteamVR is where you will be spending most of your VR time as a general interface and area to load games... look at Steam and so forth. You can even get to your desktop through SteamVR when needed. Once again both are very easy and straightforward. Install the Vive setup software then Steam then SteamVR and you should be up and running very soon.
At this point set the headset and the controllers (which are off) in an area that can be seen from the base stations and start SteamVR. You can now turn on the controllers by pressing the proper button on each one. If SteamVR cannot see the controllers or headset, then make sure they are within sight of the base stations or you can hold them up in between the base stations and it may recognize them then. There are a few times I had to kill and restart SteamVR to get the headset and controllers working but it seems that was more due to my inexperience with the tech because now it takes more time to put the headset on than to get it running.
All in all, setting up the Vive was a very painless experience. I've fought and grieved over video game installations for much longer than this. There was no weeping or gnashing of teeth. Just follow the directions and you are in VR land. In our next installment, we'll take a look at using the Vive for the first time. What to expect, how navigation works and things of that matter.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. M.D. is currently working on VR projects and characters. You can learn more about MD at his website.