Virtual reality is the next big thing, with uses for VR going way beyond gaming – it could be used for socialising, or even work. Virtual reality opens doors to situations previously impossible, like a surgeon being able to operate on a patient on the other side of the world by popping on a headset and VR-enabled controllers. HTC isn’t alone either, as the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are now on sale too. Here, we summarise all you need to know about the HTC Vive headset including the latest accessories, UK pricing, release date and spec. Read next: HTC Vive review

Last updated to include new accessories for the HTC Vive announced at CES 2017 - read more.

What it is like to use HTC Vive: podcast discussion

HTC Vive VR headset UK release date and pricing: When will the HTC Vive be available to buy? How much will it cost?

So, when will we be able to buy the HTC Vive? When the HTC Vive was originally announced, HTC claimed that a small number of consumer units would be available to purchase before the end of 2015. Of course, as we all know, that didn’t happen. Rumours then surfaced suggesting that the HTC Vive would “premiere” on 8 December 2015, according to HTC’s Product Commercialisation Manager Bartosz Zuk, who confirmed the date with Polish media sources. However, there were issues regarding its authenticity, as it wasn’t clear whether Zuk was referencing the release date of the headset, or an event announcing it.

Turns out, that was a dud too. HTC took to its blog in December 2015 to ‘clear up speculation and misinformation’ and announced that “We will be starting the new year by making an additional 7,000 units available to developers, with pre-orders from the end of February followed by commercial availability in April 2016.” 

True to its word, HTC launched the pre-orders of the HTC Vive headset (along with its two controllers and base stations) on 29 February 2016 at 3pm GMT, with bundles shipping in April 2016. Those of us in the UK will have to pay out £689 for the kit, which when compared to the £499 Oculus Rift may seem pricey, but with the Vive you also get two bespoke handheld controllers and a system that allows you to 'walk' around your virtual world - two features not available with the Oculus Rift. Although with that being said, HTC didn't mention that the £689 price tag doesn't include the postage and packaging - including the £57.60 postage fee, UK buyers paying a whopping £746.60. Ouch. 

It's not all bad though, as HTC also confirmed that all pre-orders would receive three VR 'experiences' to get you started - Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, Tilt Brush and Fantastic Contraption.

If you're unsure whether the HTC Vive is worth the £689 price tag, there are a number of UK retailers offering the opportunity to trial the hardware before parting with your cash. Specifically, from 17 March 2016 anybody can talk into any of the following stores and try out the HTC Vive before ordering from the retailer directly (which should save you the £57.60 delivery fee!):

  • Currys PC World, Leeds (Birstall)
  • Currys PC World, Reading
  • Currys PC World, Tottenham Court Road
  • Overclockers UK, Newcastle-under-Lyme
  • Scan Computers International Ltd, Bolton

Update (01/08/2016): While we thought the HTC Vive was fairly pricey with its £689 price tag and extra £57.60 for P&P, we were wrong. Why? It turns out that it was pretty cheap as in a new blog post on the Vive website, the firm explains that "due to recent currency valuation changes and the current value of the GBP we are adjusting the price of the Vive in the UK to £759 + P&P." The blog post went live on 29th July, and the changes have come into effect today, 1 August 2016.

This makes the HTC Vive's main competitor, the Oculus Rift, a much more attractive option for buyers at £499 - especially after Oculus released an update to Oculus Home with coding that suggests it too can handle room-scale tracking. Once this is officially released (which we assume will be alongside the Oculus Touch controllers later this year) we imagine that it'll be a great option for those originally planning to buy a HTC Vive in the UK, especially if Oculus undercuts the new £816.60 (inc. P&P) price tag of the Vive. 

HTC Vive features and spec: What does the HTC Vive offer?

The HTC Vive VR headset is set to be a thing of beauty, and its spec is evidence of this.

The consumer model of the HTC Vive headset sports a 2160x1200px display, which when split across two eyes equates to 1080x1200px for each eye. This provides gamers with a fantastically detailed environment to interact with – plus, it beats PlayStation VR’s 960x1080px offering. The headset also has a refresh rate of 90Hz, which allows your games to be rendered at 90fps (frames per second) and should remove the jitter present in other headsets, which contributes towards the feeling of nausea that some early VR adopters experienced.

As well as the display, the headset features more than 70 sensors to quickly and accurately track head movement to 1/10th of a degree. The sensors include a gyroscope, accelerometer and laser position sensors that, when coupled with the ‘Lighthouse’ base station, allows the user to be tracked in a 15ftx15ft space. The ‘Lighthouse’ allows users to freely move around in a virtual space without the need to use joysticks, which helps the experience become more immersive and enjoyable overall. Front facing cameras allow the headset to identify static and moving objects in your environment, and you’ll be visually warned when approaching an obstacle (tables, walls) in real life.

The inclusion of the ‘Lighthouse’ technology is particularly impressive and sets the HTC Vive apart from its competition, especially as other mainstream VR manufacturers (Oculus and PlayStation) currently only support stationary head tracking.

As well as the Lighthouse base stations, the Vive uses a set of specially designed handheld motion controllers, providing users with an intuitive way to interact with the virtual world around them. Want to use the handgun on the floor? You’re going to have to bend down and pick it up. Need to open a drawer? You’ll have to reach out, grab and pull back. The controllers feature triggers for shooting, as well as a touch-sensitive pad and, of course, standard buttons.

The Vive headset also sports a front facing camera. The job of the front facing camera is to merge virtual reality and real life, allowing users to switch to a camera to observe their physical surroundings and enable them to pick up controllers, use their smartphone, unwrap their leg from the long HTC Vive headset wire, etc. without having to take the headset off. 

Weeks before the HTC Vive was due to go up for pre-order, the official manual for the developer version of HTC's VR headset appeared on the HTC website. This gave us a better idea of how the Vive would be used in the standard home, along with how to prepare your gaming space for the headsets arrival. One of the most interesting discoveries from the manual was that while the Vive was designed to allow gamers the freedom of moving around within a virtual world, there's also the option for gamers to either sit down or stand in a single space, ideal for those with limited space.

It also notes that if you do want to move around your virtual environment using the HTC Vive, you'll need a clear 5ft by 6.5ft space to do so. There's also a hint of third-party controller support, thanks to a built-in USB port in the headset. If you want to take a look at the manual for yourself, you can do so here.

See also: HTC Vive vs Samsung VR comparison review

HTC Vive accessories: Best accessories for HTC Vive

While you'll get everything you need to use the HTC Vive when you buy the bundle, there are a number of first- and third-party accessories available that enhances your VR experience. Here's the latest news on the best HTC Vive accessories.

TPCast: Make the HTC Vive wireless

While the cables running from the HTC Vive to the PC was one of our biggest bugbears when reviewing the VR headset, the latest announcement from HTC changes all that. While the HTC Vive is still wired, HTC has announced an official add-on developed by TPCast that'll enable completely wireless VR without compromising on quality, and is compatible with existing HTC Vive headsets. It'll last around an hour and a half on a single charge which should suffice for casual VR sessions, although the company claims it'll have a larger version that'll sit in your pocket and provide more play time coming to market in 2017.

TPCast's "VIVE tether-less upgrade kit" (preview edition) enables tether-less VR and was available to pre-order on 11 November 2016 for around £182, but sold out pretty quickly. The company claims it'll have a larger XL pack available mid-2017 offering five and a half hours of wireless gameplay, but pricing is yet to be announced. 

Intel working on wireless accessory for HTC Vive

While TPCast has seen huge amounts of interest regarding its wireless accessory for the HTC Vive, it's not the only company working on one. Announced at CES 2017, Intel is also working on a wireless solution for the HTC Vive. The company is said to utilise the new incredibly fast WiGig standard, and should create extremely low-latency wireless VR. Unfortunately there's not much on pricing or availability at this point, but we'll update this section as soon as we know more. 

HTC announces Vive Tracker

HTC announced the Vive Tracker during CES 2017, a small accessory for the HTC Vive that offers the same level of tracking as the controllers and headset, but can be used with inanimate objects. Smaller than the Vive controller's disc, you can attach it to standard objects like baseball bats or golf clubs for use in VR, adding a level of realism that cannot be matched by the Vive controllers.

However, it doesn't just provide tracking for inanimate objects - the tracker can be combined with traditional gaming peripherals via USB, allowing users to use old-school gun peripherals in VR for example. Plus, with a six-hour battery life, the Tracker should last longer than the Vive controllers with average use. 

No word yet on pricing, but Vive users can expect the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap to go on sale in Q2 2017. 

HTC announces Vive Deluxe Audio Strap

As well as the Vive Tracker, HTC also announced the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap at CES 2017. The strap is to be used with the HTC Vive HMD and offers a setup akin to that of the Oculus Rift, with built-in headphones within the head strap for an improved audio experience. As well as adding headphones, the new strap is said to be more erganomic, with a new cable management system that makes movement easier.

No word yet on pricing, but Vive users can expect the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap to go on sale in Q2 2017. 

HTC Vive VR headset: Valve announces SteamVR Theatre mode

The Game Developer Conference (or GDC for short) has kicked off by Valve, co-manufacturer of the HTC Vive and owner of Steam, announcing that it has created a SteamVR Theatre mode for both the HTC Vive and other compatible SteamVR headsets. The new gaming mode (which is currently in early beta testing) should enable players to play any game from their Steam library in virtual reality. The idea is that instead of trying to force non-VR games to be VR-compatible, you'll be transported to your own private 'cinema' where your game will be played on screen, providing the illusion of playing games on a large display. 

Obviously, Valve isn't the first company to offer something like this - Windows announced a similar idea with Xbox One games, and Netflix is already creating the Netflix VR app. Valve hasn't released any imagery showcasing SteamVR's theatre mode or any information about a planned release date, but we'll update this article with more information as soon as we receive it. 

HTC Vive VR headset: Games

So, what can we look forward to with regards to gaming with the HTC Vive? Will we have to wait for months while developers add VR support? While this may be the case with certain games, there are quite a few games that already feature HTC Vive support. One of the most popular games that has HTC Vive support is Frontier Developments’ Elite: Dangerous, a first-person space simulator that lets gamers pilot their own spaceship. The hugely popular game boasts a player base of over 500,000 and lets gamers explore, trade and battle in a vast 1:1 scale universe.

The Gallery is another upcoming HTC Vive title, which provides an interesting workaround for the limited (15ftx15ft) space you can walk around in. The developers provide gamers with the ability to teleport over greater distances, similar to the Blink mechanic used in 2012 classic Dishonored. Players apparently warp directly to any point in the game by pointing a reticule on the ground where they want to teleport to. The movement system has been likened to a point-and-click adventure game, but with a modern, VR twist.

HTC has also announced that consumers who buy an HTC Vive headset will also receive three 'experiences' - Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, Tilt Brush and Fantastic Contraption.

Job Simulator is a tongue-in-cheek experience that places you in an office with your computer overlords observing you with the goal of learning how humans 'work'. Almost everything in the experience serves a purpose - you can even eat rotten cake and projectile vomit everywhere (virtually anyway). Tilt Brush is a Google creation and allows users to create art in a three-dimensional environment, enabling users to effectively draw in 3D. While we only drew cubes on our hands-on, the idea of drawing a virtual gallery showcasing virtual sculptures and artwork seems like a really cool idea (we only wish we were better at art!). Fantastic Contraption allows users to build and test weird and wonderful inventions that they design and put together themselves.

Read next: Everything you need to know about Samsung Gear VR