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Hands-on: HTC's Vive headset made this virtual reality noob a virtual reality believer

“Wow!”

That was all I managed to mutter after finishing my demo with the Vive, HTC’s new virtual reality headset powered by Valve’s SteamVR technology.

For 20 minutes, I existed in an immersive world unlike the one I live and breathe in every day. I hung out with a whale underwater, painted the ceiling with fire, and even helped fix up an ATLAS-type robot from Valve’s Portal. I didn’t just look around, either; I interacted with the fish swimming near me, walked underneath the ceiling of fire to the see it on the other side, and moved around on a walkway similar to one in Half-Life: Episode 2.

When I tried the Samsung Gear VR at IFA last year I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of bringing virtual reality into my living room. I’ve always thought the technology to be sort of a gimmick—something that only hardcore gamers would really want to invest in. And GearVR, like the Oculus Rift (which I haven’t used), requires you to basically stay stationary, tracking only your head movements.

But the Vive and its ”room scale” virtual reality technology made me a believer. It transported me to a world that I was able to walk around in and truly experience. I even had to physically and emotionally adjust after taking off the headset—but not because I was disoriented. I just needed a few minutes to remember that I was back in the real world.

Three cords and a pair of headphones

To be clear: the Vive unit that I tried out is a developer model, not the final consumer edition form promised for the end of the year.

It was a little awkward to set up.

I strapped the Vive on my head and placed a pair of noise-canceling headphones over it. There were three thick cords attached to the top, one of which was an HDMI cable tethered to a very basic PC rig. My primary concern was to avoid tripping over one of them while I had the headset on. Thankfully, the cords hardly tugged during the demo, though I did get tangled up in them halfway through the experience.

Oops, I dropped the knife

I didn’t actually play any games when I tried on the Vive, though there was a demo that asked me to chop up vegetables for a soup. I used the controller in my left hand—a wand similar to a flight sim joystick—to pick up and hold a mushroom steady on a cutting board, and my used right-hand controller to chop it up with the knife. At one point I let go of the button, accidentally dropping the virtual knife on the floor, and I was so immersed that I instinctively bent over to pick it up.

That’s the thing about virtual reality with the Vive: I was so completely engrossed in this imaginary world that I took the same precautions I normally would in real life.

Right now, HTC and Valve’s virtual reality headset is only in its early stages. It’s just a developer kit, and a rather gritty one at that. Apparently, you’ll only need only one cord sticking out of your computer to use this thing when it comes to market, but you’ll probably need one seriously long cord (and a heck of a clean room) to wander around the Vive’s supported 15 ft. by 15 ft. range.

I’m looking forward to seeing what materializes from this new technology, despite the many open questions that still plague us about Vive. Can HTC really make it in the gaming world? Will Valve sell consumers on bringing this type of technology home? How much will it cost?

I do know one thing: Gaming like this seems like it’ll be seriously fun, and though I’ve banned my PC to the closet, I think the Vive may be the reason to drag it out again.

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