The Beginner’s Q&A for Virtual Reality (Vive)

So you’ve heard about Virtual Reality (VR) huh? You want to look into it? Maybe a Christmas present or Birthday surprise for that gamer in your life? But the problem is you know next to nothing about it! You hear it’s fun and amazing but that’s about all!

Have no fear! Rill is here! Guides are my specialty and for this one I’ve done my best to make sure I’ve covered all the basics for the Beginner’s Q&A for Virtual Reality.  This guide will cover a lot of questions and pulls from my own and others experiences with VR. Let’s get started!

What is Virtual Reality?82be3330996257f1e9b353670fd9deae049d11d0
O.M.G. It’s amazing. Have you watched Star Trek TNG? You know that the Enterprise has a holodeck and it can look like anything right? Well VR is exactly like that. When you put the headset on, it’s like walking onto a holodeck. You’re someplace completely different. It is that real and that immersive.

Vive vs Oculus vs PSVR vs Everything Else
First of all, let’s get this out of the way. This post is not about comparing equipment. There are several VR headsets out there on the market and each has it’s own ups and downs. The great debate will always rage on about which one is the best but it boils down to what you’re looking for. If you’re just looking for something neat and fun, Google Cardboard might be right for you. If you want the fully immersive experience, don’t skimp and go for the Vive. These questions, however, are not answered in this guide. I recommend checking out this article instead.

But Rill! What do YOU use?
HTC Vive is, in my opinion, the best rig if you really, truly want to experience virtual reality at its best.  It’s the one I use and the one that I’m featuring in this guide.

Sounds awesome! What do I need to get started?
The short list is this:

  • A computer powerful enough to run it. A test program for the Vive is available here. (Yes, it’s a download) Note that it is not available for Mac users (without finanglin’) as of this writing.
  • Enough room to play (6ftx5ft area – check ceiling height too!)
  • Virtual Reality rig (Purchase the HTC Vive here. )
  • Consider Accessorizing

That’s it?
Ya, that’s it. Seems easy enough right?

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Just kidding. That IS basically all there is to it but that’s like saying to buy a car you go to the dealership, pick a car, sign the papers and drive your new car home. It’s just the condensed version. Let’s get more detailed.

Awesome Computer Required
Before you do aaaaaaanything. Before you even think about purchasing a Vive make sure you have a computer powerful enough to run it. The current version of the Vive is not standalone. (Meaning you need a really good computer setup to plug the Vive into. It’s not like an Xbox or Playstation where you just need a TV.)

 

The best way to know if your computer can handle it is to download the Vive Check program here.  Please note that Macs are not currently supported for the VR. There are workarounds and they will be supported in the future if you want to wait or if you think you’re savvy enough.

If you do not have a computer and want to purchase one capable of running VR then expect to spend $1100-$2000. You can get it a little cheaper if you build it yourself. I highly recommend that you seek advice from the online VR communities which are generally very helpful.  Vive Reddit and SteamVR on Facebook have been my favorite communities thus far.

 

Space Needed
There are two ways to play VR: Standing Room Only or Room Scale. Standing Room only means you have very limited space and will only be playing games that don’t require much movement. If you have standing room only then you should be very careful when purchasing games as they will say whether or not they can be played in your environment.

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Many of the Vive games are Room Scale games, meaning you will need to have an emptied space in your home dedicated to the VR. Minimum required space for Room-scale setup is about 6ft x 5ft. It’s also helpful to check and make sure your ceiling is going to be high enough so you don’t crunch the controller against the ceiling if you’re reaching up.

 

Two more things you need to consider for your VR space is power outlets and reflective surfaces. The base stations that are placed in opposite corners of your play area need to be powered so consider how close they will be to outlets and if you’ll need a small extension cord or not.

Reflective surfaces can also be a problem that will need to be addressed. The base stations send out signals to each other but if they get bounced around too much you’ll have a frustrating experience trying to get them to sync and stay synced properly. Shiny hardwood floors may need to have a rug, windows may need curtains and large pictures or mirrors may need to be removed or covered with a dark sheet.

Virtual Reality rig – HTC Vive
u_10144056The full Vive setup is about $800. This gives you the headset, controllers, base stations and all the cords and cables you need. You will pay a little bit more for shipping if you choose to buy online or you can sometimes find it at a local game shop and save yourself a little money. Keep an eye on the Vive website and social media sites for deals, bundles, sales, and specials. They’re almost always running something!

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to budget for some games. There are awesome freebie games out there to get you started but it’s nice to throw in another $100 or so right at the start to purchase some of the most popular games like Job Simulator and Raw Data. See the Steam section below for more on games.

Lastly, for costs, you may wish to consider purchasing some accessories. See the Accessories section below for my recommendations.

 

Steam – Buy all the Games, PLAY ALL THE GAMESss_62690ec83252d1699996f4d248a005eb27c9702d.600x338
Steam is an online game store that has a downloadable utility which is required for setting up your Vive and running games. You can download it from their website: SteamPowered.com. Steam has the largest collection of downloadable games on the internet and is strictly an online store. They have two huge sale times per year in the summer (mid to end of June) and in the winter (mid to end of December). You can also find tons of fun and free VR games and experiences there too.

Accessories
There are a myriad of accessories out there to improve your VR rig but these are ones I particularly recommend as being very useful. 
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Light/Base Stands
If you don’t like the idea of putting more holes in your walls by mounting the base stations directly to them then these stands are the solution. My husband didn’t really understand what virtual reality was and wasn’t too keen on the idea of me setting it up in our living room and having these black boxes mounted to the walls. So to placate him, I purchased these stands and am really glad I did. They make it really easy to move and/or put away as needed and it makes it really easy to access the base stations if I need to reset or adjust them.

Gel Protective Skins Controller & Headset
You’d be surprised how often you randomly bump the controllers against the headset or against other controllers. Or graze it along the wall or accidentally tap the ceiling fan.  These skins are not very thick but just a little bit of extra protection for the equipment makes a big difference. IMG_5712

Tether Management
It’s difficult to find a tether management system that is easy to take down/put away. Right now, the best solution is retractable cords that attach to your ceiling. Amazon has one here but you can also make your own for relatively cheap.

Replacement Headset Foam
While I found the default face foam to be more comfortable than the replacement foam I’ve linked here, there are two major issues with the default foam. First, it’s open foam with no cover. It absorbs sweat super easily which is gross when multiple people are using it. But it’s also gross when it’s just your own but it’s been sitting there cooling, but not dry yet. You got to put it back on and it’s this squishy wet yucky feeling on your face. *shudder*. You can’t clean it easily nor quickly.

Second, about half the people that I talk to (and myself included) have had allergic reactions to the foam if they let it sit on their face for more than five minutes. My skin gets all red, itchy, and irritated to the point that it starts getting painful. So the solution is to just get a nice pleather replacement that is easy to clean and more comfortable to the skin. Installation is super simple too since the foam is just attached by sturdy velcro.

Headphones
The Vive does not come with headphones but there are two options to get that immersive sound over your ears instead of from a speaker. There is a headphones jack on the headset so you can just connect a pair of headphones to it.

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Or you can purchase the Deluxe Audio Strap. The downside is the DAS is still brand-spanking-new so it sells out almost as soon as it’s in stock. But the DAS is more than just headphones, it’s also a more comfortable and secure headstrap for the Vive headset. Choose what’s best for you and your budget.

 

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Q&A

How do you not run into things?oculus-rift-vs-htc-vive-hands-on-25
When you setup the play area you will draw boundary lines that outline the empty space. After setup is complete, if you get near the boundary line (also called Chaperone bounds) then a grid will appear, overlaying the game so that you know your real world walls are getting close. It only takes a little getting used to before it becomes natural to be aware of your boundaries. Additionally, there is a tutorial/intro that you can play and have other newcomers play that is very helpful in teaching about the boundaries and the controls.

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I wear glasses. Can I still play?
Yes, you can still play. The default headset foam has notches carved out of the sides to accommodate people who wear glasses but I also have not had any problems with wearing glasses with the replacement foam either. If anything, it squishes your glasses a little closer to your eyes then you might be used to.

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I want to let my kids play, is that safe for them?
The recommended age is 13+ and that’s mostly because of height issues and how intense/real the games can be for young kids. Some games have the ability to adjust for height though so it really comes down to if you trust your kids to obey the boundary lines and if you, as a parent, are going to make sure the games they play are age appropriate. If those two issues are settled then there’s no reason not to let them play.

I want to let other people try Virtual Reality at a party/function. Any suggestions for keeping it fun, safe, clean, etc?
Yes! I have a list coming soon that I will link here when it’s posted! In the meantime my quick suggestions are: set time limits, nobody goes into the play area when someone is playing, clean the headset with baby wipes between uses, return the equipment gently when you’re done, if you’ve never played VR before you must play the tutorial first. Good luck and have fun!

I’ve heard there’s this problem called SDE?
SDE or Screen Door Effect is an issue with many VR headsets. It basically means that the super HD lens tech isn’t quite there yet and sometimes it can seem like you’re looking at the world through the grid of a screen door. For most games it’s only noticeable if you’re looking for it or if you’re trying to read something in the game. Personally I don’t think it’s nearly so bad as people make it out to be.  95% of the time I don’t even notice.

What’s the difference between a game and an experience?
Games in VR are exactly that, games. There is a purpose to them and you interact in order to reach the purpose, be it points, high scores, etc. Experiences in VR are generally very limited interactions. There are no scores, no points, no winning/losing. Oftentimes experiences are just that. An experience. Something to sit back and enjoy. 3D movies or neat little music videos or short films are usually the fare of experiences. The most popular experience is theBlu which has three underwater scenarios for you to explore but other than being able to shoo fish away and poke sea anemones, there’s nothing else to do but look and see.

How do I know which games I should get?
Check the reviews on steam and watch some gameplay footage style videos on youtube. You can also search for reviews on google. I’ve got my own game list up here and will be doing reviews on this website soon too.

 

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I hope this guide has been helpful and informative! Please comment your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them and add them to this post.

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