blog fish tales i watercooled my vive

Fish Tales: I watercooled my Vive

Scott was right. Beat Saber is awesome. My story starts last year at the TR BBQ. It was the Friday night before the BBQ and the early gerbils had gathered for the traditional pre-BBQ pizza dinner. Scott was frenziedly detailing mechanical keyboard switch lubrication philosophies, but at some point during his gesticulated raving he passed along a recommendation: “You should really try Beat Saber, it’s awesome.” The timing wasn’t ideal; I had just moved my PC into our basement, postponing the use of VR in our household until it emptied out a bit.

Fast forward almost exactly one year. Our youngest had doubled in age and something resembling normality appeared to be within our reach. Time exists again. We decided to have some friends, who would definitely appreciate the Vive being up and running, over. So, with the space already cleared, I took about 20 minutes and set it back up the night before the visit. I was impressed, a ton of new VR content has come out since I’d last fired up the system. But, remembering Scott’s words, the only new game I bought was Beat Saber.

Dude’s got moves.

I’ll summarize Beat Saber as Fruit Ninja meets Dance Dance Revolution in VR. You can leave the rest to your imagination or you can watch the demonstration above for a better idea. I snuck in one song the night I got the Vive back online and just a few seconds after the music started, I was grinning ear to ear. After that first session, our guests dominated VR time over the weekend, and I didn’t get a chance to play again until Monday night. I played for about half an hour and boy did I get warm. That’s when inspiration struck.

We’re going to move quickly from here, because the idea is so simple that exposition is superfluous. You’ve probably already figured it out just from the YouTube thumbnail above. My goal was to replace the foam face pad in my Vive with a cooling loop. Here’s the recipe: submersible pump, bucket of ice water, 1/4″ vinyl tubing, and a bit of terrible sewing. See where this is going?

I traced the existing face pad onto a board and tapped nails in around the line to make a form for the tubing. Then I used zip ties to roughly keep it in shape. After that, a trip into some boiling water made the frustratingly spunky tubing quite complaisant. A trip into cold water locked it in place and allowed me to make sure the tubing wasn’t kinked in the pair of tight turns where my nose needed to go.

For attaching the monstrosity to my headset, I needed to combine it with a substrate that could interface with the hook (don’t say Velcro) inside the Vive. I happened to have some polyester reinforced vinyl with napped tricot laminated to one side laying around, but a buck of felt from a craft store would have worked fine too.

In the most time-consuming part of the entire project, I took needle and thread to my creation and worked my way around to secure the tubing to the fabric. It’s not pretty, but it got me there. If you’re curious, this is the kind of sewing machine made for this kind of work. Old-school was good enough for me, though.

Placed inside the headset, the blue woven side of the fabric stuck to the hook well enough to proceed. I zip-tied the tubing along the cabling that already ran from my PC to the headset and it became quite manageable. There was only one step left, now.

I plugged one end of the tubing into my pump and tossed it into the ice bucket. After plugging the pump in, it took a minute or so for water to flow out the other end of the tube. I was not treating my pump well. It’s rated for 160 GPH but the diameter and length of the tubing had restricted it down to 3.5 GPH. According to some rough math, that’s still about ten times as much liquid moving though the tube as my body could sweat out in the same amount of time—this might just work.

It did work! Far better than such a hack-job had any right to in my opinion. I tested it out first and was immediately impressed by how well such a small amount of flow kept my forehead and upper-cheeks cool. Comfy stuff. Maybe the ice was cheating, but I was going for maximum effect with the first test. I played through a few songs and when I took the headset off, my face was cold to the touch. Not bad for a couple hours of time and few bucks of materials.

Alex, official TR BBQ bubble guy, tried it out next and played for something like 20 minutes. While we both agreed that the added weight of the water-filled tubing was noticeable, neither of us thought it detracted from gameplay. I’ll go so far as to say that it was a small price to pay for the chill factor, which was quite welcome.

Numbers don’t lie (well, not by themselves anyway). Even after an extended play session, the surface of the tubing is a temperate 51.5º F (10.8º C) immediately after taking the headset off. The tubing temperature is so cool that I may have to rethink my insistence that it be in direct contact will my face. The new mask was comfortable enough, acting as a satisfactory substitute for the foam it replaced, but it could be improved with padding.

Over the weekend, I’ll test the system out with the now room temperature water remaining in the bucket. I’ll report the results in the comments. Maybe a closed-loop system with a radiator is in my future. I do like the simplicity of the bucket of ice water approach, though.

I was sure I’d find that someone else had beat me to the punch with this idea but was surprised when my searches failed to find an equivalent VR project. Have you seen anything like this before? Also, let me know if you like this sort of off the cuff blog-ish post on the front page or if you think it would be better to keep these kinds of projects in the forums.

39 responses to “Fish Tales: I watercooled my Vive

  1. this is really good lol, maybe a closed loop next with a radiator in back next some kind of shroud to prevent hair from getting stuck in the fan/fins and some flashy lights.

    one step closer to iron man, you can do this i believe in you.

  2. Definitely front page material.

    Also, the idea of going for the face and then the neck is probably wise although testing may be warranted. Also I would transition to something that’s wider and flatter for the neck, you could take a flexible lay-flat tubing of some kind, and just use something to create pinches along it to keep it from becoming circular?

  3. This is a very cool concept. I’ve never considered cooling my neck arteries for gaming. I have considered cooling my scalp, but this will essentially accomplish the same thing. Interesting.

  4. I need to run a test, but my new idea should be much simpler and probably more effective.

  5. This looks like a job for you to custom-mould your own liner for the vive using your cooling tubes and pourable two-part polyurethane foam.

    If you’re feeling adventurous you could 3D scan your face, 3D-print a mould (complete with tube guides and pins for ventilation) and then make a few for when they eventually disintegrate through wear or get too grubby 🙂

  6. Didn’t end up with time to play with the mask this weekend, but I’ve got a pretty good idea what 2.0 will look like, so I’ll post that update once I’ve had a chance to build it.

  7. Reminds me of where I worked before.

    One guy always talked, all the time.

    Another guy looked right at him and said

    you’re lucky your tongue is liquid cooled or your face would catch on fire.


  8. lol first thought was first world problems lol

    second was couldn’t they have designed a better rim around the mask??

  9. Well yeah, admittedly you’d have to then slap a bunch of heatsinks around it all. They’re light as a feather though!

  10. And in the process doubling the amount of heat to dissipate. Definitly not a job for peltier elements.

  11. You end up looking a bit like the bad guy from Saw for half an hour.

    [i<]Edit: Proof: [url<]http://dr[/url<][/i<]

  12. That’s an awesome idea Fish, top job!

    Next revision has the scalp-mount for the 240 rad, res, pump and fans, right?
    Clear tubing and a bit of Nulon blue for visual effect?

    I hear you and K1ngp1n are already working on v3 😉

  13. Surely this is a job for Peltier devices? Then you only need to run a power cord, not a bunch of tubing.

  14. Is anyone else having flashbacks to The Shining after seeing the thumbnail?

    Heeeeeere’s Colton!

    Still, I vote front page.

  15. Should work well on Arrakis. But that phase change patent is superseded by Frank Herbert’s stillsuit technology in Dune, and variations thereof.

  16. Excellent idea, prototype, and write-up. Although neck cooling discussed is nice. I think right on the face would just feel better. Well done.

  17. REI sells a gel powder filled narrow scarf that you can tie around your neck. You soak it in water and it expands into a moist gel tube around your neck. Its great for hiking, keeps you feeling cool.

  18. The only disappointing thing about this article is the photos need to show someone who looks like Doc Brown. 😀

    Very cool… uh, sorry.

    And another vote for front page.

  19. That’s the kind of thing I was thinking about [url=<]here[/url<], but that's a great idea for a shortcut!

  20. “All” you need is to 3D print a faceplate with internal tubing using a compliant material (TPE or TPU might work). You could pretty much define what tubing pattern you want.

  21. If they’re talking phase change on VR perhaps watercooling is already patented, worth checking though.

    Have you ever seen those gel eye masks? Running the water through something like that would provide good surface area and cushioning.

  22. *checks if search terms I used previously now point to my story*

    They do, but… [url=<]Huh...[/url<] What crazy timing.

  23. The tubing was a fool-proof way to start. Future experiments would probably include welding thick polypropylene film with my trusty flat iron. I [url=<]have some experience[/url<] in that department (parchment paper FTW).

  24. I have not, but it has occured to me that with how well such little flow works, there’s no reason to limit the cooling to just my face. Before returning to the bucket, the loop could easily be routed to a neck swaddle of some kind.

  25. Cooling your neck is key! You’d might have skipped the face route except for maybe something to sop sweat.

    But cool your neck and feet and the rest of the body follows and regulates.

  26. Nice! I imagine you get more airflow through the Vive as well? I’m in deep on the VR subreddits and tweeters, and have never seen this.

    Have you experimented with cooling your neck arteries? After reading about military use, I started doing that with much more humble tech:

  27. Now that you have proof-of-concept, you just need to cut a mold and cast the pipe into a thin shell of foam rubber to get a true prototype. Or try knocking on doors at some of TR’s old corporate contacts (Corsair?) and see if they will carry the idea forward.

  28. Hahaha this is sooo nerdy and so you. Very interesting ideas you’ve got rolling around in that head of yours!

  29. It was gone after about 45mins. If I’d had more ice to add, I’m sure the next batch would have lasted longer (most of it melted just lowering the tap water temp). I also have a cooler I could use in place of the bucket if needed.

  30. Well done. Though I think a better title might be “I Water-Cooled my [i<]Face[/i<]"

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Colton Westrate

I host BBQs, I tell stories, and I strive to keep folks happy.