1 month in the Vive - Part 1/4

Join Michela as she shares her experience with the HTC Vive in this four-part series of posts.

It's coming up to four weeks since Mod started working with room-scale VR. It's been a long time coming.

This all started for me in the 90s, mucking around with VRML on the desktop, playing Dactyl Nightmare in a games arcade (a minute's play for my coin!), and selling my own VR “interactive film” screenplay, Ten Weeks in the Headbin.

A lot of excitement. A lot of dead ends. And ultimately a slow realisation that things take time. You never know when truly new mediums will take hold. This time around, VR looks more promising.

After spending the tail end of 2015 in a submarine I emerged to discover VR hype hitting overdrive. Mod had already bought two generations of the Oculus dev kit, for pre-vis and post-vis on our shows, but something was still missing. I wasn’t convinced the experience was compelling enough and early testing showed too many people getting nauseous. In December I had my first go on the HTC Vive (devkit) and another piece of the jigsaw dropped into place. You could walk around inside VR! Position tracking - techy as it sounds - is the key to making VR a comfortable and immersive experience. While the Oculus Rift also has position tracking, only the Vive to-date gives the user freedom to take steps and move around - within a maximum 5x5m area. We decided to take the plunge as early adopters once again.

Make no mistake VR adopters are still very much taking a punt. We didn't get much change from AU$5K by the time we'd forked out for the HTC Vive and a new VR-ready PC. Ordering within minutes of the pre-order being opened, our kit was one of the first consumer models to arrive in the country, not counting the devkits distributed last year.

SETUP

Unboxing the Vive we got that special whiff of plasticy aroma as we unwrapped all the parts. It's a treasure chest of components. Two Rubic’s Cube sized "lighthouses" are the secret ingredient - a very clever solution for simple, cost-effective tracking. They bathe the play space with invisible laser light, and don’t know or care what is being tracked - they only communicate with each other and do their laser thing - which leaves the field open for all kinds of interesting peripheral development. It’s down to the other components, a chunky head-mounted display (HMD) that is rather heavy but also well designed for comfort, and two hand-held, button-full controllers with lots of options. And cables, lots of cables.

The hardest part of setting up the Vive is clearing the space you will need for room-based play (minimum 2 x 1.5m). The lighthouses must be positioned diagonally on either side of the play space so you also need to decide how to attach the lighthouses. We opted to mount them at first on light stands using Joby clamp and gorillapod arms.

This provided a mounting that’s portable, flexible and easily adjustable, without requiring any tools.

Read part 2 of this post.

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