What it's like to spend a weekend with the HTC Vive

Something weird happened a couple of hours later. I was making dinner - while still feeling cloaked in a background worry, I felt an itch I hadn't experienced in years.

I wanted to play again. It was like being 14 years old, when I would get bored of something like Wave Race having played it for hours, then 45 minutes later wanting to play again.

I decided against it, but the urge gave me pause. If this experience was enough to float above the general terribleness of anxiety, there must be something in it. It was an intriguing enough feeling to make me determined to try again when a few minutes earlier I'd wondered if I was going to be able to complete this feature.

The next day I came down into the lounge, fresh and into the light of day. I'd spent the evening googling 'VR anxiety' and while I'd found a wealth of information, it was all about the opposite experience to me.

People using virtual reality to overcome fears, or spend time floating in digital space to just calm their raw minds - but nothing on VR being a trigger.


Fighting Zombies isn't as scary as you'd think

I decided that, while I couldn't stomach my original plan to play for 12 hours straight, some familiarity would make things different and trigger anything. Thankfully, I was right.

One of the nice things about jumping back into the experience was that I didn't need to move things around, with only the infrared sensors needing to be shoved back into place. Having that playing area clear meant that I could just dive back in - and throughout my playing experience, even with cats roaming around, I failed to accidentally bash into one.

I did have to run the Room Setup again when I turned the PC back on… was I going to have to do this every time?

I fired up Space Pirate Trainer again, and I was having a great time. I quickly hit the same boredom when the waves of enemies became repetitive, but it was still great. I tried JeeboMan, which was a similar shoot-'em'up title but with multiple platforms and weapons to choose from, and it was much more immersive, asking me to move around the space to find an angle to attack from.


Jeeboman is a great game, but again too repetitive

HordeZ, a zombie experience, also had multiple weapons and a variety of angles to attack from - with the game slowly moving me at walking pace through the halls in a way to counteract your inability to move far with Vive.

Each time I spent time getting to grips with the control system and playing the early levels through a couple of times to feel comfortable with what was going on, and it soothed me in a whole new way.

One of the interesting experiences I found in the middle of all the downloaded games was Gladiator, from 8i. This wasn't a game, but a short movie with what sounded like a frat bro in the middle of an arena, about to take on a lion.

I thought I'd be able to hit him, but instead I could just walk around the space. He'd talk about different gates and experiences about to come, forcing me to change my gaze to see what he was talking about. It wasn't that exciting (and was very short) but it showed a very different way to watch a movie.

Imagine if somehow this was possible in place of sitting a watching a real movie? Or a scene in something you were watching could be 'Vive-enabled' to give you a different perspective? It's a much more active involvement, one that's completely against the passive nature of usual couch-dwelling, but I was intrigued.

Then I finally experienced Fantastic Contraption, which I'd heard so much about but never got around to playing the day before. It was brilliant - building machines on the middle of a floating platform to either transport a balloon to another section or create a chain reaction that would get some pink things to hit other pink things, manipulating balloons, wood struts and wheels to make any device you want and set it rolling.


Fantastic Contraption - sounds boring, but you'll suddenly find you're four hours in...

Trust me, it's a lot better than it sounds. Even just being able to pick up a wood strut and throw it into space was more intuitive than anything I've ever played on a console.

But it was a lonely experience. I wished that other people could be there with me, helping me construct the device and offer suggestions when the thing I'd spent 15 minutes conceiving and creating just crumbled into a heap the second I tested it out.

So I decided to do the next best thing: call in some others to come and watch. I invited my fiancée and a few other friends into my VR holodeck (AKA the living room) and fired them through the same experiences: underwater with the whale, fighting space robots or building a massive contraption in space.

I learned three things quickly: firstly, it's boring walking people through the VR set up, but amazing seeing their reactions for the first time. Secondly, people can't really hear you when they've got the earphones on so you'll need to shout. Thirdly, VR is actually an oddly social experience, despite only one person being able to experience the world.

Having a monitor that shows what they're seeing really helps, and it's really easy to imagine yourself in the same world as you see them traversing the space in real time.

The reactions varied from one person literally not being able to spend 10 seconds in the virtual world ('No, I don't like things like this!') to someone being hooked on building devices in Fantastic Contraptions, ignoring the virtual walls, accidentally punching the TV and having to be (almost) wrestled away from the machine.

Then we tried the ultimate test: Sisters. I told everyone how frightening it was, but most had enough bravado to put on the headset and give it a go. But everyone, when the headphones went on, perceptibly changed and tensed.

It took us five attempts to complete the 4 minute demo (I'm proud to say I was the first to make it all the way to the end) as different shocks led to the headset being yanked off and screams emitting from the mouths of those using it.

This was immersion at its best / worst - and I can safely say I'll not be buying the full game when it comes out (although I sadistically want to - it's very well made).

When asked for their opinions on the Vive world, everyone was unified with the same result: immersive. Feeling totally lost in the new experience, and even when asked leading questions nobody mentioned once seeing a fuzzy pixel or that the digital cage broke the 'fourth wall' of the experience - and all of them loved the fact that being an object in the 3D sounds space felt awesome.

There were a few issues though, and they mostly revolved around the times when virtual reality didn't mimic the real world fully enough.

For instance, the mini golf game put people in the wrong place outside the green, meaning some people didn't know 'where they were supposed to go'.

There was also universal derision of the touchpad on the controllers, which is located where your thumb rests. This is a clickable space where you can swipe your digit left or right to make selections, and for many games it was the way to select between guns, or for something like the 3D painting app TiltVR (by Google) a chance to interact with your brushes, colors and palettes.


TiltVR is a good game, but terrible touch controls mar the experience

It just didn't work. The accuracy under the finger was terrible, and the results meant that if you were in the heat of battle and needed to switch guns quickly, or just select a new section on the palette in TiltVR, it was impossible.

I hasten to stress that this isn't the final review unit of the Vive and is subject to change before the retail version appears, but I'll be surprised if this isn't something that will take a long longer to correct.

That said, if I have to run that F***ING Room Setup every time I turn the computer on, I'll lose my mind. I had to do it seven times, and it drove me insane.

There was also widespread dislike of the fact you need to be tethered to the PC, that everything is controlled by a large wire that protrudes out the back of your head and curled worryingly around your feet.

Caught up

The wire attached to the Vive is generally clear, but can get caught up

There was one instance where a frenzied move (oddly while someone was playing minigolf and not something that actually required violent motion) meant the cord was caught around someone's foot and saw the headset being yanked out the back of the PC - thankfully not terminal, but not the kind of thing you want to see with such an expensive unit.

Let's address the elephant in the room: I've tried to keep away from the price of the HTC Vive, because with the new PC that many will need and the cost of the headset, you'll be spending at least £1500 (US $2000, AU$2500 ) to play a few games.

But that's not what this piece is about, as I tried to explain to my best friend over the phone when he was asking about the Vive. He's desperate to own virtual reality - he's buying a Samsung phone simply to get a Gear VR - but can't understand why anyone would pay £350 for a PlayStation VR, let alone the high price of the Oculus or Vive.

I found myself being a defender of VR, to explain that this isn't the final product - it's ground zero. It's the beginning that everyone will laugh at in ten years time, when we're all dancing around with tiny goggles or Bluetooth contact lenses, wireless buds in our ears and our phones powering the whole experience.

Because lest we forget a decade ago we didn't even have the iPhone, and if you compare what emerged in Steve Jobs' hands in 2007 to the iPhone 6S of 2015, it's insane how far we've come. I can only hope that I get to read this piece in a decade and laugh at my prescience - and I'm proud of my first few days with VR.

In terms of out and out issues and glitches with the Vive, those listed above were pretty much it from everyone I spoke to, with everyone walking away breathless at the world they'd just seen.

Because that's what this is. A whole new world, and with some parts of it, yes - you do actually have to be brave.

I have to be honest though. Even though I was tremendously sad to pack up the Vive and PC on the last day of the test ('Maybe one more game of JeeboMan...?') I still couldn't foresee a time when I'd drop that much money on something that has a high chance of being consigned to the same cupboard as the Wii, a novelty that doesn't tap away at me when I've got an idle moment to be played.


Everyone found that playing even with cats roaming around wasn't an issue - and when Chaperone mode comes in it'll be easy to see them

I'd hope that wasn't the case. I'd like to believe when all the forthcoming games appear for the system that I could pay for a single title and play it through to completion every chance I get - but I know what I'm like, always intending to do leisure 'projects' but never getting around to them.

And that, for me, is what the HTC Vive (and VR in general) is all about - it's something for the early adopter. The amount of sacrifice and setup (drilling into walls, tethers from the bulky headset, paying huge lumps of cash for the system) means VR is for those that want to experience the future at any cost, getting the new experience no matter what it needs.

And there are enough of those people out there, which is brilliant. There's the momentum building, it seems, that VR will need to become consumer friendly in a few years' time. And THEN I can countenance spending a few hundred dollarpounds on something I probably won't play that much... But will keep meaning to.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.