Today I tried out the HTC Vive, and took my first steps in Virtual Reality.
Overclockers, a UK computer component and builders store has it’s main warehouse in the area, this week they announced a special VR Demo room available at their premises. I lept in and booked a slot on their timetable website, so good to have a timetable system to avoid delays and disappointment, my time slot was 10:20 I arrived just in time.
The overclockers demo room is a private room with the HTC vive set up and the PC in the corner of the room, currently 4 demos are available to try out, more may follow as files are distributed to the companies participating.
The HTC Vive is very immersive, easy and responsive, things felt right and natural.
I had slight vision issues to start with but just needed to adjust headset position on my face and then the image was clearer and in focus.
For a minute or so I could see the gaps between some of the pixels, commonly referred to as the screen door effect, as it’s like looking through a mesh screen/fly net, however I got used to the situation and forgot about it within 3 minutes.
Field of view wise it is like looking through a big porthole, or a diving / ski mask, I had pondered what it would be like and if it would disconcert me as I have a wide peripheral vision but I didn’t feel claustrophobic or boxed in at all, and it was a fairly shallow ‘edge’ as I say like a diving or ski mask so it didn’t feel like I was staring at the image through a tube, when I tried the samsung gear VR at the Manchester Animation Festival the image did feel a little further away from me, and the screen door effect was much more prominent on that device, it was also noticeably slower at tracking my head movement, the HTC Vive definitely beats using that device.
I had a rough taxi journey over and was actually feeling a little motion sick already, so was expecting to start feeling worse in VR. I did not at all, in fact I just carried on ‘recovering’ throughout my experience so hopefully I will not personally have any sickness issues with VR in future.
The room scale VR Holodeck walls was great and intuitive enough to warn you before you reach the walls by gently fading in, it gives you about 8 inches of space before you hit the wall, so you could realistically lunge out an in game weapon or take one extra step beyond the blue frame barrier before you clunk into the walls.
The Controller sticks mapped really well and super easy to use as guns, shields, paintbrushes, tools etc, they were visible at all times as objects in the demo (be it controllers to find where to pick them up, or the weapons, paddle hands or tools)
I experienced the blue whale undersea exploration, which was lovely, the sunken pirate ship looked great and I played with the shoals of fish swimming around, a manta ray was making it’s way past me over the edge of the ship and then a blue whale swims over to see you and float near as you go in for a closer look, great demo, although I found some lag or stutter occurred when the whole whale was in shot, the only way this demo could be improved would be higher resolution (screens and textures)
Job simulator which was brilliant, you’re plonked into a funny fake office and offered donuts, which you can raise to your face and then they get eaten, you can make coffee, throw paper airplanes, put thing into the photo copier to make clones of them (including all the props, your hands and head) remove, rotate and throw objects from your cubicle, you also have to get your computer working, which involves plugging it in, crouching under your desk and turning it on, you can play a game of flappy bird if you find the cd disc and put it into the computer after entering the password and reading your email etc, at the end of the ‘work day’ the office starts throwing paper planes everywhere and party streamers as we completed another work day, it was very funny and well done
Space pirate training was a first person shooter game where you shoot at flying robots firing lasers at you (think the laser drone from star wars)
aiming took a little getting used to (squinting one eye doesn’t help), but it was great ducking and dodging the lasers coming at me, and defending with the shield, I ended up bouncing the lasers off my shield but accidentally shot myself and ended the experience, I was happy to move on and try move demos but would definitely play this again.
Finally was tilt brush, it’s a painting/drawing application, similar to those adverts/apps that let you draw with light it’s weird to walk through your paintings, and play with fire etc, I found myself lying on my back and staring up through what I’d drawn. I can imagine some really amazing artwork happening and being shared around.
Overall it was a brilliant experience and very helpful in making decisions to buy or not to buy, VR is definitely good and not gimmicky at all and cna only get better with better screens and powerful systems, having played these demo’s I’d be definitely interested in playing more once more are available, eg the aperture science demo and the newly announced The Lab.
I’d also like to try out the omni treadmill too which allows you to walk and run in games whilst in a harness.
I may hold off a year for now though so the software can get developed further and new models get developed with clearer screens and tweaks to any issues that crop up after public user adoption.
Keep your eyes and ears out for news and demos near you and if you can take the time to experience it yourself it’s amazing technology that will be taking over, it’s already immersive fun and entertaining, in future it will enable deeper personal experiences for education and entertainment, there are already documentaries being released in 360 video format and interactive VR formats, in future people an children will be able to be amongst the stars during the big bang, or take a walk around the grand canyon or a black hole, be amongst dinosaurs and stroll through the streets of foreign countries it’s all coming and I cannot wait!