Vive la Vive – My VR adventures Part II

2016 had given us not one but two VR ecosystem. Oculus’ Rift, which we had discussed in Part I, and the HTC/Valve Vive. Today, I’ll try and explain why I think the Vive is the a more technologically viable option of the two. This will not be an “unboxing” as those can be found all over the internet. In this post I’ll try to go over the reasons I went the Vive way.

I will not go over the details as for the usage of the system, his will be discusses at a later date, after I’ll be using the Vive for some time and gained some experience with the system and have found the correct balance for my rig. (as we do for all new hardware). I don’t believe in Reviewing a product 10 minutes after getting my hands on it.

I was initially very fixated on getting the Rift. But we have established that Oculus just didn’t want my money… fair enough.

HTC however did, and boy they took it. 900USD (800+tax+S&H) and that is just to get it in the US, I still need to fly it over… another 200USD… And that is before local taxes 😐 Compare this to the 600USD Rift (free S&H, no sales tax) + smaller box, leading to “only” 100USD of shipping. for me that translates to 400USD in purchase price alone, not to mention, local taxes…. Now you understand why I initially insisted on the Rift?

Following the Rift “incident”  I’ve been at a cross road. one option would have been to just “walk away”. second option, was to keep fighting for a rift. a third, have a chance in getting a Vive.

So let’s start by making some basic observations.
HMD wise, they are pretty much the same. 1200*1080 per eye, 90Hz, minimum requirements are the same (high power I5 and GTX970 or equivalent), and both would work perfectly in a cockpit scenario. So on paper they are both doing the same thing, so let’s start nip picking.

the Rift is 600$ the Vive is 800$, why? because of the peripheral package and some other features.
so let’s go over the dry facts first.

The Rift

The Rift is connected to your PC using a single cable off the headset, it droops over the left shoulder, to make a seated experience, it’s main target, more comfortable. the single cable, splits to 3, one for power, one HDMI that connects to the PC, and a USB.
The HMD also has built-in headphones you can take apart, and his a USB socket, to connect other stuff without the need for an additional cable down to the computer.

The rift tracking system is an IR camera connected via USB covering a cone of detection in front of it. the closer you are to it, the smaller the tracking area is, in addition, I assume it has some susceptibility to bright lights or IR sources/reflectors interference. but it’s just an estimation, not supported so far by user reviews.

The Rift package also includes in the Rift package is the XBOX one controller. The best PC compatible controller not made by valve 🙂

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The Vive

The Vive HMD is not connected directly to the PC. It uses a replaceable cable, which is very wide, and connected with power, HDMI and USB to a dedicated link box. This allows the headset to be disconnected without digging in the back of the usually not very conveniently placed computer case. The link box is connected to power, and to the computer using a USB cable and either an HDMI or a Mini-DisplayPort cable, and options are always good. The HMD does not have a builtin headphones, but it does have a 3.5mm jack extension, allowing you to use external headphones, without having to “drag” an additional cable back to the PC. The HMD does contain a front looking camera, allowing it to be used in applications in the future.

the tracking system is based on two base stations, connected only to power. The units are basically synchronized IR lasers, which gives the system its name “Lighthouse”. The base stations flood the area with IR sweeps, allowing the HMD to calculate its position in space. in fact, an unlimited amount of devices can use the same two lighthouse beacons assuming of course that they don’t block each others LOS. the stated distance between the units should not exceed 5m giving a work area of 34 meters which is about the size of a bedroom (with a bet and a closet limiting some of the space) – in fact, 34 is the size of the room I use for my cockpit.

The Vive comes with two “wand-like” controllers, they are wirelessly paired with the HMD (Bluetooth I think) and send their tracking data to the headset to determine their position. (AFAIK, they send timing data based on the lighthouse sweep times across their multiple sensors). This allows the controllers to be tracked in millimeter precision and with no noticeable delay.

Because of the room scale, Valve had developed a “chaparone” system. allowing the Vive to give you visual cues when you approach your configured play area. (as well as triggering the camera if so configured)

The controllers and the lighthouse system are probably the reason that the package costs considerably more.

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Why Do I think the Vive concept is better?
  1. I currently consider myself a pit builder, VR for me is more like a game, to see what the future holds. because of that I was thinking what should I be doing with the headset once I’m over the testing and playing with it bit. The Vive with it’s room scale capability will allow me to “throw” it in another room in the house. Not tying myself to “sit down games”, but allow me to have a fun creative way to “get rid” of nieces and nephews when family comes to visit. With what seems to be an amazing room scale walk around experience.
  2.  The link box. the linkbox actually allows me to disconnect the headset without reaching back to the computer buried on a table behind a 40″ monitor, beyond the central console of the pit. not a place you want to mess around all the time.
  3. This one is a little nip picky and will require some backgound. My pit setup has two graphics cards. currently GTX970 driving a 4k 40″ screen via DP and an 8″ central console screen via HDMI to VGA adapter. The second card is a GTX750 driving a 20″ monitor via DVI, and my two 8″ MFDs one with DVI-A to VGA adapter, the other via HDMI to VGA adapter. however, from some reason, the 750 cannot support 2 HDMI to VGA adapters. they work for a while, but one of them start blinking out at some point. Because I think VR is temporary on my rig, I found the DP option on the Vive very useful.
  4. In the future, as HMD technology moves ahead, I will only need to buy a new HMD (say 3rd gen vive). As according to my very non-professional estimations,  Oculus will depart from their IR camera based tracking concept, which is pretty much a fancy TrackIR, and will develop a more flexible tracking system for their 3rd gen HMD. However, the way I see it The lighthouse and controllers will continue to be effective and useful for a long time (and with FW updates will probably be able to support more then 2 units, allowing even larger play areas (not that more is needed in a residence). in addition, the independent tracking system actually opens the possibility for 3rd party devices to be incorporated into the ecosystem.

Are those three reasons worth 200+$? That is up to you to decide. for me, these reasons, were almost enough. but not really, I was very insistent that I do not wish to pay the premium for a bunch of features I don’t really need. But then Oculus turned up to be a dishonest bunch of A-holes (see part I). All this might I add happened without me being aware to the Oculus DRM fiasco. Oculus had locked content in their store (legally bought content that is) to Oculus HMD users only, which is a complete opposite to everything they had promised in the past.

In short, I bought a Vive, I was forced to pay 400USD I didn’t want to pay just because I wanted VR and I was to pissed off by Oculus’ BS. I have it with me and I’ve been playing with it for a few days now. Getting it was not without some hiccups and heart attacks. But more on that and some more about how it actually holds in Real life will be in another day (and in another post).

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