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Hands-On With The HTC Vive

What Is Valve And HTC’s Secret Sauce?

Quite simply, when using the Vive, the level of immersion is unparalleled. It is the first VR system to offer the feeling of what is termed "constant presence." The more senses a VR system can completely fool into thinking that you’re somewhere else, the more your brain subconsciously perceives it as reality. From what I understand from others who have used them, competing VR systems are also able to provide the same level of presence that the Vive does, but it is often only fleeting. Restrictions in the range of movement or issues with the accuracy and latency of head tracking quickly snap your mind out of this feeling, back to the reality that you are just wearing a headset and staring into a screen.

When I used Vive, this didn’t happen to me once. From the moment I put on the headset and was handed the controllers until the end of the demo, I simply felt like I was somewhere else at all times. This is what I mean by constant presence. Vive can achieve this is due to a combination of a number of factors.

To start, the Vive’s head tracking, using the laser Lighthouse base stations, is incredibly solid. It didn’t glitch once in the time I demoed it. They are also able to track 360-degrees of movement because there are two at opposite corners of the room. Along with this solid head tracking (which, from what I understand, the Oculus’ Crescent Bay is also capable off), the Vive adds the just-as-solid 360-degree tracking of your hands’ movements by precisely tracking its controllers. In addition, their advanced haptic feedback adds another layer of immersion.

On top of that is the freedom of movement that the 15 x 15-foot space offers you. Being able to move around the game space with your body as you would in reality instead of having to push a button on a controller or keyboard makes a huge difference as to how your mind perceives the virtual space you are in.

Finally, the Vive instills a sense of confidence in you with the precision of its tracking and the way that it controls you movements within the virtual space to make sure you don’t actually walk into a real wall.The glowing grid that appears in front of you in the virtual world when you are near a real wall lets you know when to stop. Knowing the system is monitoring your position like this gives you the confidence to freely explore the virtual space without any fears.

Right now, the only impediments to total immersion are the cables that tether you to the system, but in my time with the Vive I hardly noticed them. The final developer version will only have wireless controllers, with just one cable from the headset, which should be a lot easier to manage.