Hands on with the HTC Vive
For HTC, virtual reality is here and as the holiday season draws nearer a hands-on marketing campaign has kicked off in the US for potential consumers to get a taste of a new reality that is well within their grasp. The HTC Vive World Tour is live in the US, headed to France and Germany soon, plus other markets are being targeted for a similar experience in the near future. This past weekend I had the opportunity to try HTC Vive at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky and they had to pry it off me, because I wasn’t ready to let go!
HTC Vive will come with a treasure chest of items for your home. Clearly, a headset will be included so you can see the virtual reality world you will be in, but HTC’s virtual experience comes with a few bonus items that help you forget. HTC has developed wireless hand controllers or joysticks which help you get more involved with what you are seeing through the lenses of HTC Vive.The joysticks have trigger buttons and really nice touch pads that you place your thumbs on.
On the two controllers and the headset you may have noticed little shiny mirrors. Well those are the sensors that will communicate with two boxes you will need to position in the corners of a physical space in your home to use HTC Vive. These boxes emit lasers that tell your virtual world where the real boundaries are so you don’t crash and burn.
The HTC Vive headset has a generous amount of padding around the goggles, sturdy elastic bands that pull the headset snug to your face, and even though the main apparatus extends off your face it is surprisingly lightweight and I imagine could be comfortably worn for an extended period of time. One of my friends wore his glasses during the demo and his frames caused some discomfort when he had the Vive headset on.
I had a little help getting suited up with my equipment during the demo, but handling the equipment on your own doesn’t seem like it requires a degree. At this time, HTC Vive is connected via several cables which link into a computer and is where the Steam VR software is running. You can plug your own wired headphones into the headset so find a pair you think are comfortable. Before you put the Vive headset on you will want to power on the two wireless controllers. This is so that when you put the headset on you will see the objects in your virtual viewfinder and you won’t have to fumble around blindly until your hands bump into them.
My time in the #HTCViveLive demo room was well enjoyed, but way too short since there were plenty of other fans waiting in line for their chance to demo the future! I walked into a dark room with the headset and controllers lying on the floor waiting for me. Although we were close to the main stage at a music festival, once the headphones were over my head I was plugged in to a serene environment and almost forgot where I was until the demo was over. And when it was over I wanted to do it all over again!
It’s so crisp and clear!
When the HTC Vive headset covered my eyes I was transposed into a white room kind of reminiscent of a computer data center with a white tile raised floor, but empty and quiet. As my guide lifted the joysticks off the ground I saw them rise and float in front of me in the viewfinder. I was in the Steam VR lobby and I was anxious to get started.
First, I had to do a balloon exercise to help get accustomed with the hand controls. The left controller had a color wheel on the thumb touch pad so I could select which color of balloon I wanted and then I blew it up. Then I used the right controller to swat the balloon away. When I started to get familiar with my equipment we moved into the demo portion.
I held my breath as my guide tossed me overboard into the great Blue ocean and touched down on the deck of an old, sunken ship. I walked to the hand rail and looked over the edge to find a rocky cliff and darkness way below. My initial thoughts were, “Wow, this looks so beautiful!” and “It’s so crisp and clear!” and “I can’t believe I’m not sick or disoriented.” I stepped back on the deck and began to look around. I could see tiny fish swimming around me, stingrays, and then a giant blue whale swam up to me and paused eye to eye. It was amazing! Never before have I explored the bottom of the depths of the ocean. Just think of the possibilities. The first demo wasn’t interactive to the point where I could reach out and touch the sea creatures, but some of the acknowledged my presence and there was more to see than what was in front of me. The rest of the ship and more sea life was behind me when I turned around and it looked incredible. Besides, this demo is trying to ignite our creativity. Imagine being able to walk through an art exhibit on the other side of the world or tour cities you’ve never been to and feel as though you are walking down those very streets.
…my jump shot landed the veggie right in the pot.
My next demo was in the kitchen; some place I’m very unfamiliar with! I was tasked with making a soup and the recipe was hanging in front of while most of the ingredients were on the counter ready to be tossed into the pot. That’s right, I literally tossed mushrooms into a big pot just because I could. I’d heard about people tossing eggs for fun, but I was looking for a different experience. I picked up an egg and tried to tap it on the cutting board in front of me, but it didn’t break. My guide suggested I use more force and let the egg go. I dropped the egg on the cutting board as if I was dropping a hand of cards at a poker table to reveal my winning hand in a celebratory manner, gloating over my competitors. The egg broke and the contents plopped down in front of me. Even though eggs are runny before cooked, as an object in this demo I was able to pick the yolk and egg white up as a single solid item. I continued preparing my soup which called for some Sriracha sauce so I held the bottle over the pot and began to shake it until the recipe list determined I put the proper amount of hot sauce in the pot. After I put all the ingredients I could find on the counter into the pot I was missing an item. My guide reminded me to look around. “Oh yeah, duh.” To my left was a fridge and when I opened it there were more items I could use for batch of soup. I grabbed another mushroom and my jump shot landed the veggie right in the pot. This was a timed demo and it ran out before I finished cooking so I can maintain the disclaimer that I’ve never made anything in the kitchen. This demo is helpful and could be used to build confidence so that such accomplishments in the virtual world could be completed in the real world.
Next I found myself in art class and the room was my easel. That sounds very two dimensional though. When I say the room I mean the space inside it not the walls around it. In my left hand was an advanced painter’s pallete, but it was cubed and it had different brushes on one side, colors on another side, tools to undo and redo or save and trash creations, and I forget what the pallet had on the last side. I used the thumb pad on the left to spin the wheel and the paintbrush in my right hand to point and select from the pallet. I began to paint the air in front of me. I waved the controller around creating 3-D lines that I could walk around and add more lines to. It was so fun and inspiring! It felt like I had a sparkler in my hand and I was drawing my name in the air, but this time the flaming lines were staying present in the air and I could weave in and out of them freely. Although I don’t play this game I was reminded of Minecraft and how one could design something from scratch. Could you imagine how cool it would be to actually stand in a Minecraft creation? I could probably find an interest in that type of game with HTC Vive.
The last part of my demo was something from the game Portal. I was in some kind of mechanical repair bay and a broken robot stumbled in requesting my services. While standing beside the one-eyed android I pulled the eye away from the body to expose the artificial intestines in an attempt to restore the bot to good working order. But I failed! Those that monitored my performance were displeased with me and wanted to get rid of me. Maybe I’d do better on kitchen patrol (KP)!
Even though this was part of an actual game that I’m sure lots of people are excited about I saw the practical application for this as a learning tool. Imagine learning how to repair your own car by performing all the necessary steps virtually until you’re comfortable doing it in the real world. Of course it won’t be as easy in the real world, but what if you are motivated to try things you were too intimidated to do in the past. Maybe you could put a computer together from scratch or something else very hands on.
This was my first major interaction with virtual reality and to be honest I was worried that I’d get nauseous, but my experience was far from that fear and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with HTC Vive. Even though there are wires connecting the headset to a computer, the apparatus feels lightweight and comfortable. The overall experience was triggered creative feelings throughout my body and mind and I just didn’t want to put it down.
Giant tech websites are buzzing about the endless possibilities Valve and HTC have with the HTC Vive virtual reality experience and I personally can’t wait to get my hands on the production equipment in my home. Have you caught the fever yet? If the #HTCViveLive tour makes a stop near you don’t hesitate to get out there and tell Mike that Andy from the Louisville event sent you!