​HTC Vive – The holodeck dream finally realised

A long time coming

Virtual reality is finally here. A good chunk of my childhood was spent watching the now exceptionally dated lawnmower man, wondering when they’ll sell holodecks in Toy’s ‘r’ us and then being inevitably disappointed by 3d TV (VR’s underachieving brother). The launch prices were enough to make even a seasoned veteran of gadget buying consider whether it’s truly worth it. I’m impressed I managed to resist ordering for a good 2 weeks before I caved and handed over my £800 for the HTC Vive. To add insult to injury a £300 graphics card upgrade was also required. This better be good.

Virtual castle sacking

After a few weeks of furiously checking shipping websites to get an arrival date, it arrived. After setting it up in my front room and putting it on for the first time, I can understand where my money has gone. This genuinely feels like a piece of technology plucked from the future and brought to now. OK, it does have that first-gen feel to it in the sense that there are cables, the head strap doesn’t feel that well designed etc but all in all this is the single most impressive piece of technology I’ve used.

One of the first games I play is The Lab, it’s made by valve and you can sense that straight away. I’m standing in the turret of a castle shooting arrows at the bastard attackers trying to sack my castle. Thanks to the room tracking, the sensation that you get from walking around the virtual scene is enveloping. Leaning forwards allows you to peer over to turret and fire your arrows at your cartoon attackers.

Everything is fantastically 3d, you really do believe you’re there. Your hands are tracked via the controllers and are reflected in virtual reality perfectly, the vibration from the control let’s you feel the tensile strength of the bow you’re armed with.

The future now please

This is clearly the future, I’m not sure how but this is absolutely something that is going to last.

Google’s Tiltbrush for me demos the potential of this medium to change creativity and collaboration. Painting in a 3d space, one hand attached to a virtual easel the other brandishing your brush or pen of choice feels. It starts to feel natural very quickly. I handed it over to a friend and watched him create a 3d flaming phoenix. The brilliance of this is that I (or anyone else in the world) can then explore this through their headset, in fact you can even re-watch them draw it at any time, stroke by stroke in a weird virtual time lapse. If you want to share a non 3d version, Google have even added a fantastic feature where you can hold up a virtual camera and film a GIF of you moving around / through your creation. This is then instantly exported to your desktop – seamless.

Triple A deficit

Full length games are currently slim pickings. Is this surprising though? Currently, the best games can take anywhere from 5 – 10 years to develop and this platform requires an entire rethink on how games work. For that reason I haven’t found myself using it as much as I expected but gradually the experiences are becoming more and more premium.

I’m not entirely sure that this becoming an affordable thing is an entirely good idea. The unhealthy addiction that some people had to things like World of Warcraft doesn’t bode well for this new technology. It’s so easy to get lost. Within 10 years the line between true reality and the virtual will become increasingly blurred. Inevitably some people will get addicted. If people can live vicariously through things like Second Life then this will almost certainly be a more convincing alternative for some. Definitely more on this to come.

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