HTC Vive review

A few years since release, the HTC Vive still offers a fun experience, despite the advanced competition.

htc vive review
Editor's Choice
HTC Vive

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, until you try it for yourself at a friend's house or in your own living room, you can't possibly predict how much you'll enjoy the HTC Vive. (But, if I had to guess, I'd say the answer will be "a lot.")

If you want a free estimate, however, answer the following questions as honestly as you can: How much time will I dedicate to a technology that requires me to re-arrange my living room every time I want to use it and, more importantly, how much do I trust that developers will continue to support the Vive down the road?

One of those factors is entirely out of your hands. The other requires a fair bit of honesty with yourself. If you don't plan on digging deep into the software and buying loads of interesting, experimental games, then the Vive isn't for you.

However, if you have a positive response for both questions, then it's a safe bet you'll enjoy this truly astounding piece of kit.

At the heart of this experience is excellent hardware and software. A 110-degree field of view means that games will feel more natural, and a larger area to walk around in will keep you from feeling restrained or claustrophobic in your new virtual environment.

This is coupled with two absolutely superb controllers that are shipping with the headset. And sitting just below everything else is Steam, the trusty marketplace of PC gaming that has supplied millions of gamers with software for the past decade. The infrastructure of this platform is as solid here as it's like to get.

Admittedly, this level of perfection isn't without a price, though one that has been recently lowered. You'll need to plonk down $499 / £499 (about AU$615), which is less expensive than the $800 / £689 / €899 you originally had to pay.

But the costs don't stop there. If you want the minimum recommended specs, it'll cost you another few hundred for the Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 (and potentially a whole new PC to house it), which isn't cheap. Then you'll need a space big enough to fully enjoy your new escape from reality which, if you live in a place like San Francisco, London or New York, can be the most expensive part. Of course you can enjoy most games in smaller spaces, but in doing so you're freely giving away the Vive's biggest advantage: virtual space.

We liked

Nearly everything. The Vive remains the best virtual reality headset on the market, bar none. The fact that it allows for room-scale virtual reality should sell it alone, but the fact that it does so in a way that's more believable and fluid than other headsets handle seated play puts the nail in the coffin.

Add to that the two incredibly intuitive controllers that ship with the unit itself on day one, and a library of games that seems to be growing in size at an uncontrollable rate and you have a wildly compelling package at any price.

We disliked

While the HTC Vive used to be prohibitively expensive at $800 / £689 / €899, that has come down significantly. But the question is: is it too little, too late, considering Oculus Rift has had a much lower price for much longer? 

Neither HTC nor Oculus release sales figures, so we can't know how many units are actually sold. But HTC Vive is essentially playing catch up with its new lower price, rather than setting the trend.

It's also important to remember that experiences vary based on the hardware you're using. If games run lag-free on a friend's computer, but run like a terrible molasses seizure on yours, don't blame the headset.

While it's not necessarily a negative, the onus now is on developers to leverage the technology and push VR forward. Valve and HTC have enabled a realm of new experiences possible but, what scares me, is that all this technology may fall victim to novelty that will wear off, turning an expensive headset into nothing more than a companion for the Wii that sits in our closets collecting dust.

Final verdict

Putting fears of abandonment aside, HTC created something amazing with the Vive, and that's been refined in the final consumer iteration of the hardware.

It's more immersive than the competition thanks to the ability to walk around in the space, and the reduction of wires from the base stations and controllers is hugely welcome. Gaming using this, even with short demos and incomplete games, feels like the future, and I can't wait to try a dozens more titles using the headset.

Many will wish the resolution was a tad better, that the price was a lower or that the headset fitted them better, but will appreciate that it's too early in the VR game for expectations of perfection. It's a balancing act between performance, size, resolution and price, and HTC seems like it's exactly where it needs to be to deliver on all fronts.

Pure and simple, the HTC Vive is awesome. Virtual reality is amazing. It's the beginning of a new format that isn't constrained to a 16 x 9 or 21 x 9 screen. In many ways, the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are similar to the watching the first step on the moon or the train coming out of the screen. They're pure, objective proof that entertainment isn't done evolving.

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.