HTC Vive review: The most immersive VR headset of 2016

The HTC Vive is the most expensive option in the current virtual reality headset line-up, beating the £500 Oculus Rift and £300 PlayStation VR. But why the high price? The HTC Vive offers an unparalleled experience by providing users with the opportunity to not only look around the virtual environment but physically walk around and interact with the environment using bespoke handheld controllers. With the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive now on sale, the question has to be asked – is the HTC Vive worth the £689 price tag? We’ve spent some time with the HTC Vive, and here’s what we thought. Read next: The complete guide to virtual reality: VR headsets, VR games, apps and more

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Last updated to include news of a new accessory enabling a completely wireless HTC Vive experience

HTC Vive review: UK pricing and availability

So, how much does the HTC Vive cost – and more importantly – where and when can users buy one? The HTC Vive headset complete with two bespoke controllers and two base stations will set the average consumer back £689 for us in the UK, and $799 for those in the US, making it a pretty pricey headset. Although with that being said, compared to the £499/$599 Oculus Rift that only includes the headset and an Xbox One controller, it’s not so bad. However, there is a catch - it's worth mentioning that the £689 price tag doesn't include the eye-watering £57.60 for postage and packaging, which brings the total up to £746.60. Ouch. 

To sweeten the deal, HTC has confirmed that all pre-orders are to receive not two but three VR 'experiences' to get you started - Google's Tilt Brush, Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, and Fantastic Contraption, although the deal isn’t going to last forever. The headset has started shipping to those that pre-ordered it back in March, and HTC recently announced that those who order a Vive directly from HTC now will have orders shipped within three working days. That's shipped as in 'leaving the warehouse' not three days to your doorstop, although once shipped it should be with you within a couple of days. To compare, those interested in ordering an Oculus Rift at the time of writing will have to wait until August 2016 before it ships.

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, anybody can walk into any of the following stores and try out the HTC Vive before pre-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 pricey enough with the £689 price tag and £57 P&P, we were wrong. Why? 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 since come into effect.

We're not so sure about the value of the HTC Vive at this price, especially when you add the P&P price on top of the new price tag, totalling £816.60. It was just about justifiable at £689 and while the HTC is fantastic, we're not sure it's worth this much - especially when you consider that Oculus claims room-scale tracking could be coming to the £549 Rift (with the Oculus Touch controllers) early next year. We imagine the Rift with room-scale tracking will cost a bit more, but it'll be interesting to see whether the company purposely tries to undercut HTC with price to steal some of its prospective customers. 

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What it is like to use HTC Vive: podcast discussion

HTC Vive review: Design and build

So, what makes the HTC Vive Pre different to other virtual reality headsets that are due out in 2016? Let’s first discuss the design of the headset. The HTC Vive headset is extremely comfortable to wear and features soft, memory foam-esque material around the edges to avoid any kind of skin irritation when being worn. The material can be easily switched out thanks to the use of Velcro, and the company provides users with two fits – wide and thin – for different shaped faces.

It’s matte black in colour, and while no VR headset will ever look gorgeous, the HTC Vive does a ‘pretty’ good job. The outside is clad with sensors that help the base stations (which we come to below) track your exact location within the virtual space, and comes with a supported head strap that should take some of the weight off the front of your face. The strap is easily adjustable again thanks to the use of Velcro, and users can adjust the distance between the eyes via a little dial on the side of the headset. All this should provide users with something that’s comfortable on the face, and can be used for a long period of time with no complaints (which in our experience, it has).

As well as receiving the headset, HTC also provides users with two handheld controllers. The controllers are nothing like the Xbox One controller provided with the Oculus Rift, but instead are designed to be versatile and used in a number of different ways in the virtual world. The controllers’ feature triggers, a touch-enabled circular panel and a couple of physical buttons with the built-in sensors allowing the controllers to be tracked in the virtual space almost perfectly. This allows users to reach out and directly interact with objects in the virtual world, which is a fascinating experience and one that is incredibly hard to describe.

The only real downside to the design of the HTC Vive is that it’s wired and not wireless. When we went hands-on with a pre-release HTC Vive, we actually tripped over the wire and damaged the cable connecting the headset to the PC – not an ideal situation, especially for consumers. HTC have combatted this issue with the consumer HTC Vive by featuring a camera on the headset that can be toggled on and off, allowing users to observe the physical world on top of the virtual world. This means if you feel the cable wrapping around your leg, simply look down and you can untangle yourself without having to take the headset off. That’s just one example of course, but the idea is simple. Simple, but effective.

However, the inclusion of such a heavy duty cable is still disappointing. You can always feel the cable running down your back and in fast paced games or games that require you to constantly turn, it’s easy to get tangled. We accept that the technology isn’t quite there yet and it’s both too expensive and too difficult to create a lightweight wireless headset, but we feel that until it does, room scale VR won’t be as immersive as it can be. You can be shooting robots or working in a 2050 office simulation and either way if you feel that cable wrap around your leg, it’ll ruin the magic of the experience – in our case anyway.

Update (11/11/2016): 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) will enable tether-less VR and will be available to pre-order tonight, 11 November 2016, from 11pm GMT. Interested users will have to order the system from China but it ships worldwide, and will set prospective buyers back 1,499 RMB (around £182). You'll have to be quick though, as there are limited quantities available, although existing Vive users that can provide a Vive serial number will get priority. 

Read next: Best VR headsets to buy in the UK 2016

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