Hardware Review: HTC Vive

A week after the launch of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, a new competitor in the world of VR gaming has arrived. HTC's Vive costs more (nearly $800 compared to the Rift's $600 price tag), but also provides more in the box: namely, a pair of one-handed, motion-sensing SteamVR controllers as well as two base stations that track your movement over an area of at least 6 feet by 5 feet (up to a maximum of 15 feet by 15 feet).

The aim is for that increased physical action and freedom of movement to provide an even more immersive experience, akin to a Star Trek holodeck. The downside is that you'll need to find a large enough clear space in your home to take full advantage of it.

Both new VR headsets offer similar visual resolution. As with the Rift, you'll need a high-powered Windows PC to run the HTC Vive, and the minimum system requirements are similar to those for the Oculus headset. Unlike Rift, which has its own proprietary software and storefront, the Vive runs on Steam and pairs with the Steam distribution portal. A few games (including Fantastic Contraption and Job Simulator) are free with your hardware purchase. In all, over 100 compatible games are available via SteamVR at launch, though the bulk of those are fairly simplistic.

In general, critics seem to prefer the Vive to the Rift, thanks to the more immersive experience provided by the included controllers. Below, find quotes from professional reviews of the Vive hardware. (Click on any publication name to read the full review.) Scores (converted to our 0-100 scale) are listed only if one has been assigned by the publication itself; otherwise, we have grouped the reviews into rough categories, from most to least positive.

To be frank, the Rift left me scratching my head as to why I'd need virtual reality to enjoy some of its games. Meanwhile, all of the games designed for the Vive leave no question as to why they require hand controls. VR for games that work in 2D is neat, but it feels like a novelty after sampling the alternative. Room-scale games do not feel that way at all. ... HTC and Valve came together and created something truly incredible. The experience that you get from room-scale VR with hand-tracked controllers is going to change your definition of what gaming can be.

If you want the very best VR, the Vive offers motion controllers and an entire room-tracking system in a package the Oculus Rift can't match. Yet. But you trade convenience and compactness for a stellar room-scale VR experience, if you have the room for it. I don't know if I'd want all this tech in my life right now if I wasn't reviewing it. It's complex, bulky, full of wires and parts to sync. But I'd want to be near it. Very near it. And I can't wait to see the apps and games that come next.

The Vive is as "there" as the Rift is at this point. Put it on for the first time, and your mind is blown. But spend an uninterrupted hour messing around in the virtual, and you'll pine for the gentle caress of actual reality. That just speaks to how new all of this tech is. ... HTC doesn't have the game exclusives that Oculus does, but Vive offers exclusive experiences that aren't yet technically possible using any of its competitors. If you want the fullest VR experience that's available right now — and you have both the space and the computer to support it — the Vive is your answer.

So the headset is heavier and not as polished as its competitors, the cable bundle is clunky, and setup requires a large initial investment from the player in just about every way. ... The Vive asks a lot from anyone buying the platform, but it gives just as much back, if not more so. Everyone has the same reaction after a demo, in our experience: They remark on how complicated it seems and how little they’d want to set one up in their own home, and then they get wide-eyed and want to tell you all about how amazed they are by the experience.

Do you have the Vive headset? Are you planning to purchase one? Let us know in the comments section below. You can also read reviews of the competing Oculus Rift headset.

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