HTC Vive VR Headset Review, Part 1: Setup

The era of VR is here, finally, with the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are leading the charge. I’ve tried several generations the Oculus Rift and while it’s amazing, the Vive goes one step further. Literally.

Using laser tracking, the Vive lets you actually move around a virtual space.

I got my hands (and head) on one. Here’s the first part of a multi-part review series.


Both the Vive and the Oculus are computer accessories. It’s important to make that clear up front. These are not gaming systems per se as much as they are interfaces for specific games.

As such, there are some specific and rigid requirements to be able to use either. The good news is, if you have a decent gaming computer from the last few years, you probably only need a new video card. My gaming PC is 4 years old and it works fine… but with one important exception: I bought an NVIDIA GTX970-based video card in November.

VR is a GPU-intensive endeavor. Big time. Not only is it higher resolution than you’re probably running right now (2160x1200, or 1080x1200 per eye) but it’s got a higher refresh (90Hz) and other challenges that mean you can’t skimp on the video card. The GTX970 is the minimum you can have and while my rig pulled it off, I can see where some additional horsepower all around would help.

The issue is if the computer can’t keep up with the game and your movements, it lags. That lag easily causes motion sickness. Running correctly, most people won’t feel sick. Laggy? Most people will. I basically never get motion sickness, but playing one specific laggy game with the Vive, and I was queasy (it’s worth noting it was just that game).

So before you run to buy a Vive or Rift, make sure your PC meets or exceeds the minimums.


The Vive comes in a box the size of a big PC tower. There are many, many cables to link many, many parts. You’ll need to connect:
1) Two laser tracking cubes to power and your PC (or one to the PC and sync them with an included long cable)
2) A connector box to your PC using USB and HDMI, plus to a power outlet
3) The Vive headset to the connector box using USB, HDMI, and analog audio
4) Headphones (not included) to the Vive headset via analog audio
5) A spare outlet or two to recharge the controllers via USB

In addition, you need to clear a space that’s a minimum of 5ft by 6.5ft, ideally larger (after all, you want to be able to walk around). You can set it up for sitting/standing, but where’s the fun in that? OK, still fun, but slightly less fun.

All the cables and charger are supplied, but the included documentation is sparse. It’s barely one step better than “Here’s some stuff, do stuff with it.” There are setup videos on the website too.

Thankfully, once you’ve got everything connected, the first step is to download the Vive software, and this does a great job leading you through the rest of the setup.

My biggest issue was trying to swap the HDMI cable between the Vive and my display. As far as I can tell, you can’t do this. My card has DVI and HDMI outputs, so I just put in a DVI-to-HDMI converter plug so I could run my main screen at the same time as the Vive. This worked perfect.

Cable management will be a challenge, but for now everything’s up and running.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play in some virtual worlds for a bit.

jnemesh's picture

I made a trek to the GameStop in Bellevue Square this weekend, and they had a demo station set up in the middle of the store. They were giving 10 minute demos to everyone, so I did have to wait a bit to try it. There was a demo PC (specs unknown) running the show, and it was preloaded with 3 different experiences...I tried two.

I strapped on the helmet and put on the headphones, then was handed the two controllers. The fit of the helmet was pretty good, especially given the complete lack of individual adjustment...although it was a little on the tight side. After adjusting the helmet slightly, I was presented with a good view...and a fairly wide field of vision...although it did block most of my peripheral vision. These was no light leaking through, either.

The image was sharp and in focus...there might have been a fingerprint or other smudge on the right lens though. While I could see a slight graininess to the image, it looked VERY good, and the "screen door effect" that some complain about was pretty minimal.

The tracking, both of the helmet itself and the controllers was FLAWLESS. I could look in any direction, at any speed, and not detect any lag or mistracking. NO ISSUES WHATSOEVER with motion sickness during my short, 10 minute demo!

Additionally, if I moved too close to the boundaries set up, I would see a grid overlaid onto my field of vision, showing me that I was about to walk into a wall. It felt natural once I got used to it.

Once the demo started, I was placed in a featureless white "room" with pictures of some of the experiences floating in mid air. I was instructed to "pick a color" using the thumbpad on the left stick...when I pressed it, a balloon would inflate in the color I selected...and I could "punch" it with my right hand. After a few of these, I was instructed to look at a console (which, by this time, was "behind" me). I pushed the button on the console and it started the demo proper.

The first demo took me underwater. I was standing on the deck of a sunken ship, with a barnacle encrusted railing separating me from the abyss below. I could hear the sounds of my SCUBA gear, and the bubbles it produced as I breathed. Small fish swam around me, and in the distance, a dark shadow approached. Eventually, the shadow resolved itself to be a large whale, which swam up right next to me and presented it's huge eye for a while, before rolling over and swimming away. This was a very passive demo...but it really blew me away. I WAS THERE! Underwater. Communing with WHALES! Awesome!

That demo then ended, and I started up a shooting demo. I reached behind my back with my left hand and pulled out a shield. With my right hand, I held a pistol, and was able to select between different methods of fire. The demo started and ball shaped "targets" appeared before me. I shot a few, then a new "wave" would appear, each one more intense than the last...with more "targets" (that shot back), and more aggression from them. They kept going behind my back when I wasn't looking to! I could crouch, block their shots with my shield, dodge, and fire back. It all felt VERY natural...almost ZERO learning curve here!

There was a 3rd demo available, one that lets you "paint" in 3D...but I didn't try that one. The two demos I DID try were more than enough to sell me on VR! This is the REAL DEAL, folks!

Now I just need to find a few thousand bucks to pay for it all! (The Vive is $799, but I need a new computer to go with it!)

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
I've found there are only groups of people: those who love it, and those who haven't tried it.
Jonasandezekiel's picture

Another excuse to retreat from reality for the "in crowd". Call me names, a Luddite or whatever, but I can't see this as a good thing. Plus, it will be all porn in a HEARTBEAT.