HTC Vive essentials – a recap of reviews and users’ opinions

HTC Vive Headset – extracted from this image

This article is a summary of hundreds of articles, reviews, comments and complaints about the HTC Vive.

My goal was to extract all the essentials you need to know to make an informed buying decision.

Apart from all the items you must have, I also cover some optional ones – especially those crucial for improving the immersion.

The article is structured as a Q&A, which makes it easy to find specific information and skip the sections about things you already know.

In a nutshell, HTC Vive is a VR system known for a very robust, large room-scale VR. There is a premium to pay for that though.


Let’s delve into the HTC Vive essentials:

What Is VR ?

What Are All The Hardware Items Required To Use The HTC Vive System ?
How Does The HTC Vive System Work ?
Is there more than one version of HTC Vive ?
What Are The HTC Vive’s Technical Specifications ?

What Are The Features Of The Headset ?
What Are The Features Of The Controllers ?
Are There Many Additional Accessories For HTC Vive ?

Will My PC Be Able To Run The Vive ?
Why Does VR Require A Powerful And Expensive Computer ?

Are There Any Health Issues Associated With VR ?
VR Motion Sickness – Why Does It Happen And How To Avoid It ?
What’s Causing VR Headaches And How To Reduce The Risk ?
Can VR Cause The Dry-Eye Syndrome ?
Is VR Worth It For People With Vision In One Eye Only ?

What Are The Common Complaints About The Current Generation VR ?

What Are The Use Cases Of The HTC Vive System ?
Are There Many Games For The Vive And Are They Any Good ?
Are There Any Good Non-gaming VR Experiences ?
Is There Any Free VR Content ?

Are Children Allowed To Use HTC Vive ?
Can The Headset Be Used As FPV Glasses For Droning ?

Is The HTC Vive Comfortable ?
Is The HTC Vive Comfortable With Glasses ?
Is The Headset Wireless ?

How Difficult Is It To Set The System Up ?
What Issues Do People Have With The HTC Vive ?
How Good Is HTC Vive In Comparison With The Other High-End VR Systems ?
Is HTC Vive Much Better Than The Low-End VR Systems ?

What Are The Strengths And Weaknesses Of The HTC Vive System ?
Is HTC Vive For Me ?
Is HTC Vive Worth The Price ?
Any More Questions ?


What Is VR ?


What Are All The Hardware Items Required To Use The HTC Vive System ?

A standard HTC Vive package contains:

  • The headset
  • Two face cushions and one nose rest
  • Two wireless wand controllers
  • Two Lighthouse base stations (used for tracking)
  • Mounting kits to attach the base stations to the walls (this approach is optional)
  • Cable breakout box (Link Box)
  • In-ear headphones
  • Cables, chargers and power adaptors
  • Cleaning cloth for lenses
  • Codes for redeeming some free content

The HTC Vive system is not a standalone solution. To use it you will also need a powerful enough PC.

Vive requires a HDMI port. If your graphics card has just one of those and it’s already taken for example by a monitor, you will have to find another way to plug your monitor in. Depending on what other ports your graphics card has, you will need an appropriate adaptor.


How Does The HTC Vive System Work ?

I’m not going to describe here the principles of the VR. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about below, please read this chapter first.

The HTC Vive headset has the form of goggles which contain a display and a pair of lenses. It is held in place by elastic straps going around the head on both sides and over the top. You can adjust them using a velcro mechanism.

Base Station – extracted from this image


Vive’s tracking system consist of two Lighthouse base stations used by the headset and controllers to establish their position and orientation is space.

Lighthouses sweep the room with planar beams of light. The first sweep is emitted vertically, the second horizontally, the next vertically again etc. Please watch this video to have a good understanding of what’s going on.

The headset and controllers are peppered with photodiodes which register the passing beam.

Before the beam sweep is initiated, base stations fire another impulse. It stars a timer within the headset and controllers.

Let’s focus on a single photodiode for clarity.

Once the timer associated with this diode (and any other for that matter) is on, a planar beam of light starts its sweep. After it reaches the diode, the timer is stopped.

Location of the base station is fixed so we know exactly the starting point of the beam. We know how fast it sweeps and we know how much time it took to get to the diode. As a result, we can calculate the angle between the diode and the plane of light in its starting position.

After each pair of horizontal and vertical sweeps, we know four angles for each diode: two angles with respect to the first base station and two with respect to the second. Location of each diode can be calculated using a triangulation techinque.

Once we know positions of all the diodes, we can calculate the location and orientation of the headset and controllers.

Tracking will also work with just one base station as long as diodes are able to pick up the beam. Their positions with respect to the headset are fixed, so if you know two angles for every one of them, there is only one configuration of the headset in space which would produce all the angles at hand. The same applies to the controllers.

Now we are left with only a few wrinkles to iron out.

If there are any other sources of light in the room it may mess up the tracking. Base stations use invisible IR light. Imagine that someone presses a button on a TV remote control (those use IR light as well) and diodes take it as a beam from the base stations.

To prevent that, Vive’s Lighthouse beams are modulated in a certain fashion. Photodiodes ignore the light which doesn’t have the same signature as the Lighthouses.

The Lighthouse system is unable to track the coordinates continuously. We get a single result once for each pair of sweeps. The question is where to get the intermediate results from.

Both the headset and controllers are packed with accelerometers and gyroscopes. Coordinates resulting from the measurements performed by these fill the gaps left by the Lighthouse system.

Now you probably know how this system works better than the vast majority of owners 🙂 If you still don’t have enough information, you can listen to the lecture of the guy who designed it.

So far I have covered the tracking itself. That’s not the end of the story, though.

Once you are outside of the area covered by the base stations, tracking obviously won’t work.
Falling outside of that area in the middle of the game would be quite annoying.

There is a very easy solution for that. Once you are about to fall out, the system warns you
by displaying a gridwall at the edge of the tracking area (this system is called “Chaperone”).

It is also possible to configure the headset’s camera to pass to the display a monochromatic outline of the room when you are close to the edge.


Is there more than one version of HTC Vive ?

Yes, there is HTC Vive Pro. Once there is more of users’ feedback, I will cover it in details.


What Are The HTC Vive’s Technical Specifications ?


What Are The Features Of The Headset ?

  • A pass-through camera installed in the front panel of the headset
    This is useful if you want to look around the room without taking off the goggles. It simply passes the input from the camera to the display in front of your eyes.
  • Built-in microphone
  • Adjustable straps
  • The ability to change the distance between the headset’s lenses and users’ eyes
  • The ability to adjust the headset to the users’ IPD
  • Notifications system
    You can pair your mobile phone with the Vive. Once it’s done, it will let you know about incoming messages and calls while you are in the virtual world.
  • Spare USB ports on the headset
    These can be used to plug in some additional gadgets, for example ViveNchill or LeapMotion.
  • The headset can be upgraded with the Deluxe Audio Strap
    This increases overall comfort and provides integrated headphones.
  • The ability to make the headset wireless
    To make it happen you will need TPCAST Wireless Adaptor.

What Are The Features Of The Controllers ?

Vive Controllers – extracted from this image

Vive’s controllers have the form of wands with a doughnut-like ring at the top.

Each controller is equipped with:

The Trackpad is under your thumb. It reacts to swiping and clicking: up, down, left, right.

The Trigger is under your index finger and the grip button is located directly under your middle and ring fingers. It lets you distinguish between the left and right wand.

The Controllers are wireless and last about six hours per charge.

They are quite large and don’t really feel like virtual hands. They are more like a sword or a wand.


Are There Many Additional Accessories For HTC Vive ?

There are many. Here is a list of some of them:

  • Universal tracker
    It can be attached to the body or any object. It communicates with the system wirelessly and lasts about 4.5 hours on a single charge. Its position and orientation is tracked anywhere in a designated area. Currently there is not much you can do with it.
  • Stands for the base stations
    These are useful if you don’t want to attach the base stations to your walls and prefer to have your system portable. Stands have to be stable enough, because Vive’s base stations vibrate a little. You should choose the stands which are already tested for this purpose.
  • Extra face cushions
    Users tend to sweat a lot with the VR headset on. As a result the foam between the headset and the face gets soaked. Some extra cushions are handy, especially if you want to share the headset with others.
  • Correction inserts to be used instead of glasses (VR-Lens-Lab)
  • ViveNchill
    It’s a pair of small fans which can be attached at the top of the headset. This can help to remedy sweating.
  • TPCAST Wireless Adaptor
    This adaptor allows you to turn your headset into a wireless device. It’s not cheap and not exactly super reliable.

Will My PC Be Able To Run The Vive ?

An app which will check that and recommended computer specifications can be found here.


Why Does VR Require A Powerful And Expensive
Computer ?


Are There Any Health Issues Associated With VR ?


VR Motion Sickness – Why Does It Happen And How To Avoid It ?


What’s Causing VR Headaches And How To Reduce
The Risk ?


Can VR Cause The Dry-Eye Syndrome ?


Is VR Worth It For People With Vision In One Eye Only ?


What Are The Common Complaints About The Current Generation VR ?


What Are The Use Cases Of The HTC Vive System ?

  • Playing VR games
  • Playing regular games in VR
    You will need VorpX to make it work. Note that due to the less strict performance requirements, regular games are more likely to induce motion sickness.
  • Streaming games from the Xbox One console into the Vive
    These are not VR games. You can just play them on a large virtual screen.
  • Playing regular PC games or watching movies on a large virtual screen
  • Using any app for a PC which has a VR user interface
    There are already some apps available. For example you can paint in VR.

Are There Many Games For The Vive And Are They Any Good ?

There are thousands of VR games on Steam. Vast majority of them supports the Vive.

Bear in mind that because of the open nature of Steam, many of them are of questionable quality.

Steam has an internal rating system, which can be helpful in finding the good ones. Each game can be upvoted or downvoted by users. To get a list of VR games sorted according to those ratings, follow this link and click twice on the score rank.

If you believe this system is too simple or you don’t trust the users, this link will take you to the list of games with metacritic score equal or better than 60/100. Metacritic provides the average of scores given by various professional critics.

Another source of games for the Vive is Viveport. It allows you to either buy individual games
or purchase a subscription. In the second case you pay a flat fee for a limited number of apps each month.


Are There Any Good Non-gaming VR Experiences ?

Yes, there are. Below you can find a handful of examples.

  • Allumette
    Instead of watching a movie, be part of it – enjoy yourself as the story unfolds all around you.
  • Engage
    This is an app for VR education. Take some interactive lessons and learn while playing in VR.
  • Google Earth VR
    Travel the world without getting up off the couch.
  • Ocean Rift
    Take a dive in the ocean in the comfort of your living room.
  • Masterpiece VR
    Create 3D models by putting them together in VR.
  • Tilt Brush
    Is it possible to create three dimensional paintings ?
    In VR – YES.
  • Virtual Desktop
    This app allows you to operate your computer in VR.
  • 3D Organon VR Anatomy
    Anatomy lessons in VR – take a look what is inside without getting your hands dirty.

Is There Any Free VR Content ?


Are Children Allowed To Use HTC Vive ?

Vive doesn’t explicitly specify any age limit. They just mention that the product was not designed for children. Their health and safety guide can be found here.

Other VR producers (Sony and Oculus) set the age limit at 12 and 13 respectively.


Can The Headset Be Used As FPV Glasses For Droning ?

The HTC Vive wasn’t designed for this, however, if you managed to transmit the data from your drone’s camera to your laptop, you could watch it using the headset on a large virtual screen.

The main problem with this is a time lag between the moment the signal is sent from the camera to the moment it is displayed on the screen. If additionally you want the camera to move in sync with your head movements, this complicates things further.

A good article about solving these problems for the Oculus Rift DK1 (the very first Oculus VR headset) can be found here. I suppose you could use a similar approach for the Vive.

In closing it is worth mentioning that the bright daylight interferes with the base stations. It doesn’t compromise the system completely, yet the play area has to be smaller.


Is The HTC Vive Comfortable ?

All VR systems share certain shortcomings which have a negative impact on comfort. I cover those in detail here.

In the case of the Vive, the weight of the headset is concentrated in front which puts a strain
on the neck which over time may turn into fatigue.


Initially the Vive was heavier (555 g) than the Rift (470 g) and as a result less comfortable.
Over time the producer managed to trim down the weight to the same level.

Fatigue may also result from fastening the headset too tightly.

To have a quality experience, the headset shouldn’t wobble. The tighter the grip, the better.
On the other hand if it is too tight, it quickly starts to be uncomfortable. Adjusting the headset to a perfectly balanced fit requires some tinkering and experimentation.

When you have the headset on and the light from outside gets in, it reduces the immersion. Vive does a very good job in preventing this but unfortunately, as a side effect, there is not enough ventilation inside which means that you will sweat a lot.

To remedy this you might consider buying ViveNchill which is a pair of small fans directly mounted on top of the headset. It is hard to tell how good it is – there are only a handful of reviews on their webpage.

Vive allows you to reduce the distance between the headset’s lenses and the user’s eyes. The closer the lenses are, the wider the field of view is.

You can also adjust the headset to your personal IPD. This is actually a must for experiences not resulting in VR headaches.

In closing it’s worth mentioning that you can buy a replacement for your headset’s standard strap. It is called Deluxe Audio Strap (DAS). It increases the comfort and provides integrated quality headphones.


Is The HTC Vive Comfortable With Glasses ?

It depends on how big your glasses are.

I couldn’t find anywhere an official guide on the sizes allowed. In this article you can find some information about comfort in large glasses.

Vive allows you to change the distance between the eyes and the headset’s lenses. This feature definitely helps to accommodate glasses. Alternatively you can start using contact lenses or buy correction inserts for the headset (VR-Lens-Lab).

If you wear glasses, be careful – if you rub them against Vive’s lenses, you can scratch them.


Is The Headset Wireless ?

No, it is not, however you can buy the TPCAST wireless adapter which makes it wireless.
Reviews of this product on Amazon are mixed and it’s very expensive.

There is also Vive wireless adapter upcoming shortly. It is to be seen if it’s any better.


How Difficult Is It To Set The System Up ?

In a nutshell you need to go through the following steps:

  • Install the newest drivers for your graphics card
  • Download and install Vive’s setup app
  • Pick a room with enough space
    The Base stations have to be placed in the opposite corners of your room. The maximum distance between them is 16ft (5m). Of course if you have less space, you can always put them closer to each other.

Mirrors and other reflecting surfaces can mess up the tracking so they should be covered or removed.

The system will also work with just one base station on. In this case you have to look in its direction all the time.

  • Mount the base stations to the walls with the mounting kits provided.
    Alternatively you can put them on stands. These are not included in the package and have to be bought separately.

The Base stations should be above the head level (6.5ft or 2m) and tilted down. They should “see” each other and the player.

If communication between them is compromised, the tracking won’t work. Connecting them with a cable makes the communication possible irrespective of circumstances.

  • Plug the base stations into a power outlet, turn them on and sync them up.
  • Plug the headset into the Link Box and then the Link Box into your PC.
    If you don’t have the Deluxe Audio Strap you will need external headphones, for example the earbuds which are included in the package. There is an audio jack dangling at the back of the headset. That’s where you plug the headphones in.
  • Install the Steam and SteamVR software.
    Once it’s done launch SteamVR. It should automatically detect the headset.
  • Turn on the controllers.
    They should automatically sync with the headset once they are on. If this doesn’t work, you can sync them via the SteamVR menu. In case this still doesn’t work, you should connect them using cables.
  • Launch “Run Room Setup” in SteamVR
    and follow the instructions to setup the Chaperone system. It will warn you with a transparent overlay when you get too close to the edge of the play area.
  • Adjust the straps of the headset for comfort.
  • Adjust the distance between the headset’s lenses and your eyes.
    Your eyelashes and especially glasses shouldn’t rub against the lenses. On the other hand, the closer they are, the better your field of view will be.
  • Adjust the IPD.
    To do it right follow the steps described in this article. Although it refers to PSVR, you can easily adapt it to the Vive.

What Issues Do People Have With The HTC Vive ?

First of all bear in mind that Vive is not plug & play. It’s likely that sooner or later you will run into some sort of problems. With the help of the users’ community online it is possible to solve most of these. A fair bit of patience and some technical knowledge is required though.

In some cases Vive refuses to cooperate with a particular PC, which on paper should be good enough. That’s why it is important to buy the system from a retailer with a generous return policy (e.g. Amazon). In other words make sure you will have enough time to make it work and to decide whether it meets your expectations.

If you decide to buy the system from a retailer other than a large one (e.g. Amazon), make sure the product is branded for the country of your residence. Otherwise when something goes wrong, you will be forced to send it overseas, which is not exactly cheap.

Vive has overwhelmingly positive users reviews on Amazon. In what follows I recap the problems reported in some of these which are not so positive.

At the time of writing there were 1012 reviews in all. I focus here on the issues specific for the Vive. Those affecting all VR systems (I mean HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PSVR) are covered elsewhere.

Technical issues:

  • The controller’s trackpad stopped registering clicks (reported in 25 out of 1012 reviews)
    The trackpad seems to have a flaw in its design which makes this likely to happen at some point. You can fix it yourself, however this voids the warranty.
  • Serious problems with drivers and other software (24 reviews out of 2012)
  • Base station failure (17/1012)
  • The headset died or malfunctions (12/1012)
  • The controller died or malfunctions (11/1012)
  • Problems with pairing controllers with the headset (10/1012)
  • Faulty cables, problems with ports and loose plugs (7/1012)
  • The headset was damaged by sweat (5/2012)
    People reported problems with having it fixed under warranty.
  • A buckle connecting the strap with the headset fell apart (4/1012)
  • A broken Link Box (2/1012)
  • The controller’s battery dies very quickly (2/1012)
  • The velcro strap got ripped off (2/1012)

Comfort/quality of the experience:

  • The headset becomes uncomfortable during longer sessions (22/2012)
  • The earphones included in the package are inadequate (7/1012)
  • The lenses got scratched (2/1012)
    Be careful, especially if you wear glasses.
  • Serious problems with obtaining clear enough view (2/1012)

Vive’s consumer support:

The only way to communicate with the support team is via email or live chat. There is no telephone number.

Out of all the reviewers on Amazon who mentioned customer service (altogether 69 entries) only 6 claimed it was helpful. The rest (63) were of the opinion that it’s not good.

People complain that:

  • It takes a long time to get replies to emails.
  • The live chat tends to stop working unexpectedly or there is a big lag in communication.
  • Warranty repairs take a long time and there are no updates on what’s going on.
  • The customer has to pay for shipping a broken unit for a warranty repair.
  • Out of warranty repairs are expensive.

It is also claimed that Vive’s support tends to insist on fixing broken units and as mentioned above, it takes time. That’s why it’s a good idea to buy the system from a retailer with a very good return/exchange policy.

Other problems:

Altogether 10 people complained that the codes for redeeming free content – which are supposed to be part of the package – wouldn’t work or they simply didn’t receive them.


How Good Is HTC Vive In Comparison With The Other High-End VR Systems ?


Is HTC Vive Much Better Than The Low-End VR Systems ?


What Are The Strengths And Weaknesses Of The HTC Vive System ?

Strengths:

Good Enough:

Weaknesses:

  • Comfort if you don’t use glasses
    You can improve the comfort with Deluxe Audio Strap
  • Customer support could be better
  • Too much sweating may damage the headset
  • Not really plug and play
  • Not as living room friendly as PSVR
    Hardly anyone keeps a PC in the living room, right ?

A detailed comparison between PSVR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive can be found here.


Is HTC Vive For Me ?


Is HTC Vive Worth The Price ?

Let’s estimate a price of the hardware first.

Vive requires a powerful gaming PC. I will assume you already have one, however to make it more realistic, let’s further assume that you need an upgrade.

For calculations included below I have used a grand total of 750 USD, which represents the cost of the Vive and a PC upgrade. Of course depending on your situation you will get a different number. I recommend to repeat the calculations once you know how much you need to spend.

PCs are aging rapidly. Let’s assume that you won’t need any further upgrades for the next two years and that you play 4 hours per week. That gives 4*52*2 = 416 hours in two years. There are already at least 640 hours of VR gameplay available, so you won’t run out of the content.

750 USD divided by 416 is 1.80 USD – that’s how much you would spend on the equipment per one hour of gameplay.

Of course the more you play, the more value you extract from the hardware. If you played twice as much, the price would be 0.72/hour. As you can see the price of the equipment doesn’t matter that much as long as nothing breaks. What drives the cost up are games.

At the moment VR games are more expensive than the regular ones. The average price for one hour is around 7 USD. Together with the hardware, the total cost would be around 9 USD/hour.

Is it expensive ?

To figure that out you need a reference.

Let’s use IMAX 3D as an example.

In New York you have to pay roughly 14 USD for one hour of a 3D movie. In this section I have demonstrated that VR is cheaper – 9 USD/hour !!!


Any More Questions ?

The best places to start are the Vive’ support webpage and the following subreddit.


Sources Of This Information:

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