Setting Up HTC Vive
The HTC Vive is the most advanced VR system that you can buy for home use today. It allows you to use your hands to interact with digital environment, and it can track you in a space as large as 15 x 15 feet so you can move around within virtual worlds. The Vive system, which couples with Valve's Steam VR platform, also offers room for expansion with a proposed lineup of accessories that should hit the market later this year.
Setting up the Vive system isn’t complicated, but it does require some planning. You need a large enough play area, power for everything, and somewhere to mount the Lighthouse Base Stations tracking system.
Follow this guide to avoid any unforeseen problems with your installation and configuration.
Take Stock Of Your Components
The HTC Vive package includes many components. Before you get started, you would be wise to take an inventory of the different parts and organize them into relevant groups.
You should put both Base Stations, the two long power cords, and the 50-foot sync cable into one group. The second group includes the Link Box, the short power cord, and the HDMI and USB cables. The Vive HMD and the two wand controllers form the third group.
The Vive package also includes a couple of extra pieces. You get a second foam face cushion and piece of rubber with a mild adhesive on both sides to hold the Link Box on your desktop. You’ll also find a pair of HTC earbuds in the box. Put the extra parts off to the side; you won’t need them for the setup process.
Software Installation: Vive Software
The Vive package includes all the hardware and none of the software--there's not even a driver disk in the box.
The instructions that come in the Vive’s shipping box direct you to download the Vive Setup software from www.vive.com/setup and install the Vive Desktop application, which provides a portal to Vive’s Viveport distribution platform. The Vive Desktop application also allows you to pair your phone to your Vive headset so that you can receive messages while in VR.
The Vive Setup software also checks your computer for Valve’s Steam application. If it finds Steam, it prompts you to log in. If not, the install proceeds to download Steam and install it for you.
Software Installation: Steam VR Only
The Vive Desktop application gives you access to Viveport and Bluetooth pairing, but it doesn’t install the drivers for the Vive HMD. If you don’t want Vive’s software on your computer, however, you aren’t forced to install it. You do need to have Steam and the SteamVR utility installed, though.
If by some chance you don’t have Steam on your gaming PC, you can download the client from www.steampowered.com. Once you have Steam running, open the Library and filter it for Tools. Locate SteamVR, right-click it, and select Install.
You can also wait until you’re ready to plug the headset in; when Steam detects a Vive HMD, it prompts you to install SteamVR if it isn’t already on the system.
Choose Your Play Space Wisely
Room-scale VR requires at least 5 x 6.5 feet of floor-to-ceiling open space, but you can make your play area as large as 15 x 15 feet. Room-scale VR is more enjoyable with larger tracking volumes, so find a space that’s as close to the maximum as possible. Not everyone has even the minimum space available, but it shouldn’t be hard to find room for standing/sitting VR experiences, which the Vive still offers.
Remember to take the desk area for your computer into consideration. Your PC must be within range of the Vive’s 15-foot tether cable. You also want your PC far enough away that your monitor won’t be within range of your wildly swinging arms.
It’s also important to avoid reflective surfaces. Mirrors, windows, display cases, and even hardwood and tile flooring can all negatively impact your Vive’s tracking accuracy.
Take Flooring Into Consideration
You should try to find an area in your house with soft flooring, such as carpet. Carpet can help prevent damage to your hardware in case you drop it, and it's a softer landing spot in case you lose your balance and wipe out while playing a game. Carpet is also helpful because it doesn’t reflect light the way hardwood and tile floors do, and reflections from sunlight and bright overhead lighting can affect tracking accuracy.
If you don’t have carpet, you should consider an area rug or exercise mat for your play space to soften the floor surface and avoid light reflection.
Base Station Placement
The placement of your Lighthouse Base Stations is of the utmost importance.
The Base Stations must be positioned diagonally across the room from each other and as high up the wall as possible so they can cover the entire play space in infrared light. The IR emitters in the Base Stations cast light in all directions (pyramid shape) at 120 degrees from the unit. You'll want the Base Stations positioned a couple of feet outside the tracking area so you don’t end up with blind spots. For the maximum play space set up, it’s best to place the Base Stations a few feet from the corner, so the Base Stations aren’t out of range from each other (necessary for optical sync).
It’s also important to consider where the power outlets are located when placing your Base Stations. The power cords that HTC provides for them are just 10 feet long, so unless you want to run an extension cord, you'll need to be relatively close to outlets.
Mounting The Base Stations
HTC provides speaker mounts that allow you to mount the Base Stations on the wall. The mounts include the hardware that you need to attach them to a wood or drywall surface. The screws that hold the mounts to the wall are thick, so it's best to drill a pilot hole before putting the screw into the wall. If you can't find a wall stud, or there isn't one in the spot you need to hang the hardware, the package includes plastic anchors that let you mount the screws to drywall.
You should place your Base Stations at least 6 feet above the ground, but mount them even higher if you're able. It’s best to mount the Base Stations above the head of the tallest person that will be using the Vive. You don’t want to be able to reach above the tracking range while playing.
The Base Stations should point downward at roughly a 30-degree angle so that the floor gets even infrared coverage from both of them.
The Base Stations must be able to "see" each other’s IR lights so they can sync together. The visual range of the sensors is 18 feet, which isn’t wide enough to put the Base Stations in the corners of a 15x15-foot play area. The Base Stations' 120-degree range of coverage allows them to sync by line of sight in most cases. (Future Base Stations will cover a larger area). They don’t even have to be facing each other; they just have to be able to catch the light from the other unit at any angle.
For the optical sync setup, make sure that one of your Base Stations is set to channel C and the is set to channel B.
There are situations, though, wherein optical sync is not possible. If your play area is in a bright room with a lot of sunlight and reflective surfaces, or you're setting up at an event with multiple Vive systems, you should connect the Base Stations with the included 50-foot sync cable. With the cable plugged in, the Base Stations don’t need to see the infrared light from the other one to triangulate your position because the synchronization data passes through the data cable.
When you’re using the sync cable, set one Base Station to channel A and the other one to channel B.
Plug In The Link Box
Once you have the Base Stations mounted, you can proceed to plug the Link Box into your computer.
The Link Box features power, USB, and HDMI ports on each side. The headset side is marked with orange highlights; the PC side is not highlighted.
Plug the power cord into the Link Box first, followed by the USB cable, and then the HDMI cable. The PC side of the USB cable must be plugged into a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 port. The other end of the HDMI cable should be plugged into your graphics card.
The PC side of the Link Box also includes an optional mini-DisplayPort interface, which you can use if you don’t have a free HDMI port on your graphics card. You won’t find a mini-DisplayPort cable in the box with the Vive, but you can buy the cable from Vive.com.