Before the 28th of August 2017 I had not tried any kind of virtual reality device. Then I went to get an HTC Vive virtual reality headset, since there was a significant (-$350cdn before tax) price drop not long before. This post is a look at the unpacking process and a few notes about the device.
I tried to find the box dimensions beforehand as I was getting it from the Microsoft store up the subway line and wanted to make sure I didn’t need a taxi on the way back. For anyone else who is looking, the size is 52 x 32 x 19cm. It was light enough to carry the distances I had to go as the box has a plastic carrying handle on the top.
Quick look at the box front. Simple black packaging, with blue highlights. There’s not a lot of writing, even on the other sides – if you’re going to buy one of these, you probably don’t need to know a whole lot more about it once you see the box in order to convince you.
On opening the box, there are two main compartments, one for the headset and the other for the controllers and lighthouses. The blue rectangle contains some of the supplementary components shown further down, the rest are underneath the left-hand foam section.
Just out of view in the previous shot was this sheet with a diagram of exactly what’s in the box.
The headset comes in a translucent plastic bag. Not much exciting to see until I take that off.
Now I can see the main piece of tech – the Vive itself, with the long triple-connection wire coiled underneath it. We’ll get a closer look at the device itself once I’ve finished unpacking.
The second compartment contains the two motion controllers and the two lighthouses.
This far was entirely straight forward.
Underneath the lighthouses and controllers is this space with a plethora of smaller components.
This is what you see when you unpack the extras. Note the small blue box to the right.
Here is the spare face pad, a USB and HDMI cable, the power adapter for the headset, the three-way connector box and the included in-ear headphones (I’m not using them).
The small blue box contained more parts. Here we have one each of the two power-to-USB adapters for charging the controllers, two power adapters for the lighthouses, micro USB to USB cable for updating the firmware on the controllers and the audio extension cable (which I do not need to use). Also, in the plastic packet are the two wall mounts for the lighthouses. Mounting the lighthouses on the wall was the most difficult part of the setup, although nothing was particularly hard.
However, disaster struck! When I powered up the headset, the right-hand lens had bright green stripes running down it. This was clearly not right. I could briefly put the headset on and have a look at the Steam VR Home area, but I knew I would have to pack everything back up and return it to the store in the morning. I was just hoping that a Microsoft store in the city had a replacement unit in stock.
I was pretty disappointed to have been so close to using it, even having a tiny taste of what it would be like via a minute or two in Steam VR Home, only to have to return it – but I was in luck. By mid-afternoon on the 29th I was back home after a trip in the other direction on the subway from the day before. With great trepidation I unpacked and set everything back up. This time, no green lines. Bingo!
I was still concerned as, during the setup video, I was informed I should remove the protective film from the lenses. Neither the original defective unit, nor the working replacement had plastic film over the lenses, just a paper sheet with a warning not to get sharp objects or direct sunlight on them. Perhaps newer models are shipping without the film, maybe it was leaving a residue on the lenses? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
The headset has a long, thick cable running out of it that connects it to power, HDMI and USB via the 3-way connector box. I don’t have a good picture of the box, but the orange side connects to the Vive and the plain side to the computer and AC adapter. There is a mini display port on the computer-side of the 3-way box, but it’s optional to use it and I don’t need to.
Along with the 3-way cable is a short, thin cable with a 3.5mm female audio port for connecting headphones – either the supplied ones, or your own will work. The headset itself has a mic built in. It’s not top-quality, but it is functional and I’ve used it successfully for Discord while in VR.
Here you can see what it looks like as you go to put the headset on. The foam face-pad can easily be switched out for the other one that comes in the box. One is labelled “narrow face” and the other “wide face” but I have used both comfortably, which is useful if you start sweating while playing something particularly active.
This image is about as clear a shot as I could get of the functional, but inactive, right lens. These lines are an artifact of the type of lens in the Vive, not a defect. The effect isn’t visible when your eyes are the correct distance from the lenses.
Next is a front-view of the headset, where you can clearly see the sensors that pick up the lasers emitted from the lighthouses. You can also see the front-facing camera, which is useful for monitoring your surroundings while you have the headset on.
This image is to show the grey ring (one on each side) that can be pulled to snap it out of its locked position, then rotated in increments to move the lenses closer to or further from your face in order to optimize the image sharpness. Less obvious is the small black knob sticking out (only on the right side), which adjusts the “inter-ocular distance”. That’s the distance between your pupils. A sheet is provided in the box, which is printed in reverse so you can measure your own separation. However it’s quite tricky to be accurate, even with someone else looking too. I’m still not sure I have it just right after nearly a month, but I’ve played around with it and I’ve found that for me about 66mm is comfortable.
Now let’s have a look at the motion controller design. It’s based off the steam controller. The big circle is a multi-function touchpad. To the right (above as you hold it) is a menu button and below it is a steam button, which will bring up the steam VR menu whatever you are doing.
From the side you can see the trigger on the underside and the left grip button. The large head is studded with sensors like the headset, which is what enables tracking. As for the strap, I haven’t dropped the controllers yet while not using them, but I do put them on for anything relatively active as I try to take care of my equipment and I don’t need a broken controller, thanks!
Last shot of the controller(s). From underneath you can see both grip buttons and the width of the trigger. I would say that, although better controllers that track your fingers are on the way, these are effective and satisfying to use, with excellent tracking. They provide an extra level of immersion that a standard joypad-style controller cannot.
Finally, here’s a picture of one of the mounted, powered-on lighthouses. It can’t really be seen in this image, but in the bottom-left corner is a simple LED display which should read B or C. Each lighthouse needs to be on a different channel, which can be set with a small button on the back.
There will be more information coming along about my experiences with virtual reality, but that concludes the unboxing and hardware notes.
I’ll leave off with a simple one-word “review” of VR with a powerful PC and the HTC Vive – wow!