HTC’s innovative VR technology brings Star Trek’s Holodeck one step closer to reality

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HTC Steam VR Headset
The HTC Vive SteamVR headset
• HTC and Steam have teamed up to produce cutting edge Virtual Reality for PC
• Room sensors allow you to walk whilst you explore VR worlds
• Action Western game puts you in a gun battle against zombie cowboys

For over twenty years the concept of virtual reality has been the holy grail of video games. The idea that you can experience a game not just by looking at it through the window of your TV, but actually be in it so that you feel you are in another place. Now years of research into technology has bought this dream in touching distance with a number of hardware manufacturers developing their own products that are almost ready for market.

HTC Vive VR Tech Specs
Display Technology: OLED
Resolution: 2160 x 1200 (1080 x 1200 per eye)
Refresh Rate: 90 Hz
Field of View: 110 degrees
Input: 2 x SteamVR controllers
Tracking System: 2 x pulse laser emitting base stations

The HTC Vive is a partnership between the Taiwanese company HTC, renown for making smartphones and Valve the company behind the leading online store for downloadable software. They have combined their hardware and software expertise to create a VR product for PC users.

Like other VR solutions it features a headset with two lenses that each give you a slightly different image to replicate the two different views the left and right eye have, to create the illusion that you are in a 3D environment. You use two SteamVR controllers that each have a touchpad and trigger.

 

HTC Vive SteamVR wireless controllers
HTC SteamVR controllers used for interacting in virtual worlds. Each has a touchpad and trigger

I was able to test the latest version of HTC Vive VR in a demo room. The headset is noticeably heavier that those for the Sony PlayStation or the Oculus Rift and is uncomfortable to wear for prolonged use, but the sales rep said this will be improved. Here are our thoughts on the selection of demo software.

 

The Blu: Encounter

The Blu: Encounter - Werno Labs

Not knowing what to expect for the first demo it was a surprise to be transported to the bow of a sunken ship deep underneath an ocean.

I hear breathing in an oxygen mask. When I move my feet it causes the wooden floorboards to creek. Looking across the deck there is a broken mast and an object that might be a rusty anchor. A school of fish swim past and I reach my hand out to touch them but they are just out of reach. Looking upwards there is a stingray illuminated by the light from the sun.

It is a wonderful sensation to put the HTC headset on and feel I have been transported somewhere else. I walk to the edge of the deck and look over. The ship is perched of a cliff on the seabed and there is steep drop. The sudden feeling of vertigo is overwhelming! So I step away.

The blue light induces a serene feeling of loneliness. But then I hear something – a roar. I look up and see a great blue whale heading towards me. For a split-second I wonder what is going to happen, but there is no fear. I start giggling with nervous joy. It slows down and looks down at me and I look back. It is a moment of unspoken communication between myself and the whale. Where I have this connection with the most magnificent of mammals, and it feels utterly beguiling!

 

Job Simulator: The 2050 Archive

ob Simulator - The 2050 Archive - Owlchemy
Job Simulator gives you a chance to have fun in the office by pressing, touching or throwing anything you can see

Job Simulator is set in a near-future office. I’m standing in front of a desk and everything has a cartoon-like styling to it.

There’s a printer, a telephone a computer and coffee machine and you are able to have fun with performing a variety of office tasks.

In both my left and right hand I’m holding a SteamVR controller, when I move them a corresponding virtual glove moves in front of me. I press the button on the virtual coffee machine by raising my right hand and pushing it in front of me. It feels slightly odd but I succeed in releasing coffee into a mug. I see a paper aeroplane and pick it up by holding the trigger on the controller. I then perform a throwing action and release the trigger, the aeroplane goes flying. It’s a very clever mini-game that quickly familiarises you with how to use the controllers to interact with the game world. I then practice my newfound skills by seeing what other objects I can throw at the talking computer.

 

DOTA 2: Secret Shop

DOTA 2: Secret Shop - Valve
DOTA 2: Secret Shop

This demo begins in an enchanted hut, warm with firelight that cast shadows on the stone walls. As I turn my head to get my bearings I see shelves filled with mysterious ingredients, potions and a baby dragon with a mischievous grin on his face.

The door of the hut opens and there is a booming voice coming from a portly shopkeeper. He drops a glowing ball on the wooden counter and I take a few gentles steps which moves me forward in the virtual world. Using the SteamVR controller I pick up the orb and raise my arm to shine it on a sheet of magical parchment. There’s a flash and I notice that I have suddenly shrunk to the size of a mouse. I look up and see the shopkeeper, ginormous looming over me.

A little spider which seemed harmless, when you are shrunken becomes utterly menacing. Thankfully it runs away from me. A toad shoots its long tongue out to catch me and I jump out of the way! A genuine jump-scare moment which leaves me laughing with relief.

 

Tilt Brush

Tilt brush - Skillman Hackett & Google
Tilt Brush is a VR version of Photoshop. You can create vivid artwork that stretches into the distance

Tilt Brush is a VR version of Photoshop. You use the right controller to draw and the left hand controller for palette, brush and colour controls. You can paint using some beautiful fluorescent colours, but where it really comes to life is the ability to paint in three dimensions so a drawing can begin near you and stretch into the distance. So your creations have a depth unlike any art you might have seen before. A simple concept but the visual effect is amazing.

 

Arizona Sunshine

Arizona Sunshine - Vertigo Games & Vertigo Interactive
Arizona Sunshine will have you fumbling for your guns to defeat the approaching zombie cowboys.

Arizona Sunshine begins with a simple warm up exercise to acquaint you with the mechanics of shooting. You use the controllers to pick up a gun in each hand and fire at bottles. If you’ve ever played an arcade games with a light gun, or ever pulled the trigger on a real gun the concept of lifting your arm up to aim and shoot is easy to understand.

After the warm up I find myself in the middle of a sun scorched Arizona landscape with nothing but rocks and sand around me. I hear groaning it’s a zombie cowboy lurching towards me. I have time to raise my guns and bring it down. Then more start coming but as they get closer they start running! With their outstretched arms in touching distance I managed to shoot them. It’s an exhilarating experience that gets the adrenaline flowing.

Arizona Sunshine is a shooter that proves a Call of Duty game with scares could work fantastically in VR.

The future of Virtual Reality
Over the past fifteen years in gaming there have been few significant innovations. So having the opportunity to put on a headset and feel like you have entered another place is a revelation. This is the nearest thing to being in the Holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Virtual Reality like 3D movies has the potential to deliver thrill ride moments where players are dodging and leaping out of the way. However for VR to succeed it has to deliver full games that are playable in a virtual world. The future of gaming is not here yet, but it is coming!

HTC Vive SteamVR preorders will begin the 29th February and it will ship in April. A price has yet to be announced although the Oculus Rift has been given a launch price of $599.99 excluding tax.