HTC Vive review roundup: the best VR experience, at a high price

HTC and Valve's Vive VR headset may not have quite the buzz or name recognition in the mainstream as its direct competitor, the Oculus Rift, but it's been eagerly anticipated among VR enthusiasts. Everyone and their mother has now reviewed the Vive, even Fortune. That's rather fitting, given the kit's $800 price tag. We've filtered that truckload of reviews down for you. Early impressions of the headset were mostly positive, though the Vive isn't without its flaws.

CNET's Scott Stein was bombastic. He describes the Vive as "the best virtual reality experience you can have right now, and it's also one of the most amazing tech experiences, period." TechRadar's Nick Pino says the Vive is the "best VR experience," while Devindra Hardawar at Engadget said "it's oh-so-close to being the Holy Grail of VR experiences." Hardawar also identifies the most common complaint with the Vive: "it's just too bad that ergonomics get in the way of truly enjoying it."

Adi Robertson at The Verge said the Vive "drags your face down with its weight." Similarly, Kyle Orland at Ars Technica complained that a lot of the weight of the headset rests on the bridge of the nose, placing uncomfortable pressure on the sinuses. Most reviewers complained of sweat collecting in the foam pad that rings the visor, too. The ever-present tether that attaches to the back of the headset was a common annoyance, too. Most reviewers agreed that using the Vive for more than an hour at a time was an uncomfortable proposition, although TechRadar's Pino had no problems wearing the goggles for so long he "wasn't all there" upon taking them off.

Reviewers also complained about the setup process and the space required to really enjoy the Vive. HTC and Valve's new toy is a "room-scale" VR experience. The Vive needs a space at least 5' by 6.5', but that minimum area will lock you out of some of the experiences on offer. The full 15' by 15' play area that the Vive's spatial sensors can track offers a better experience. You'll also need three separate power outlets: two for the "Lighthouse" spatial sensors, and one for the device that connects the headset to your PC. As CNET's Stein says, "it's a lot of gear."

Still, The Verge's Robertson said getting the Vive set up isn't "conceptually difficult"—just time-consuming. Once the system is fully connected, reviewers say a surprisingly simple setup process guides new Vive users through configuring the software package. The software itself evoked mixed feelings, though. Many features of the Vive's software package garnered wide praise, especially the Chaperone, a wall in virtual space that appears at the limits of your play area. The Chaperone kept Engadget's Hardawar from smashing into his desk several times. Reviewers were also impressed with the variety of software on offer at launch and the open nature of Valve's SteamVR.

Steam isn't a simple piece of software to start with, though, and the SteamVR layer doesn't simplify its user experience. Ars' Orland praised Steam's "familiar interface," and while that familiarity may be taken for granted by veteran PC gamers, The Verge's Robertson refers to to it as "overstuffed and ill-organized." Using Steam's Big Picture VR interface, Vive wearers can do essentially anything one can do in Steam's desktop interface from right inside the headset. The Vive software can even call up the Windows desktop while the wearer is inside a game. Several reviewers made comparisons to Oculus' "simple, locked-down" Oculus Home software, noting that SteamVR trades user-friendliness for raw functionality.

That theme seems to stretch across the Vive experience as a whole. The Verge's Robertson was careful to point out the first-generation nature of the headset, cautioning users to be prepared for some technical foibles every step of the way. CNET's Stein called the Vive "enthusiast-level VR, trading out simplicity for bleeding-edge quality." Technically speaking, the Vive's 2160x1200, 90-Hz display is similar to that of the Rift, but HTC and Valve's "room-scale" VR experience is unique in the market today.

Also unique to the Vive are the included pair of touch-sensitive motion controllers, which recieved universal praise. Each of these  units is essentially one half of Valve's Steam Controller, with a touchpad, four buttons, and a trigger. While Robertson didn't care for the "military-looking" Vive headset, she admired the controllers, saying that "the trackpad elevates the Vive controller design from fancy Wii Remote to something truly futuristic." Kyle Orland at Ars said "previous motion controllers all have important technical limitations that kept them from being too convincing or useful [...] the Vive's Lighthouse tracker convincingly solves all of these technical issues." High praise indeed.

Besides the ergonomics, the other big complaint with the Vive is its price. The Oculus Rift's $599 sticker price is already a bit much to bear for most people, and while the Vive offers a decidedly richer experience, it also costs two hundred dollars more. Opinions around the web are split on the Vive's value proposition. Engadget's Hardawar thinks he'll prefer the more comfortable Rift for his VR experiences, while Kyle Orland and Nick Pino were emphatic that if you can afford the Vive, it's the headset to get. The Verge points out that the Vive, as a "no-nonsense" and expensive device, is well-suited to commercial and professional applications. Scott Stein had a more nuanced take: "I don't know if I'd want all this tech in my life right now if I wasn't reviewing it. But I'd want to be near it. And I can't wait to see the apps and games that come next."

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