A look at VR and the HTC Vive

Author: Kelly Van de Geer

HTC Vive Headset
HTC Vive Headset

What is VR? 
Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive world that appears and feels life-like, but it can only be experienced while wearing a head-mounted display. It is usually paired with hand-held controllers. Most virtual reality experiences offer user interaction. VR is different from augmented reality (AR) because AR is a blend of reality and virtual reality together.

How does the technology work?
There are sensors set up in the room that detect the exact position and angle of the headset and the controllers. This allows the user to see a 360º view of the virtual world and interact with it. Combine this technology with 3D audio for an even more immersive experience. 

Where can I experience it? 
You can experience virtual reality through devices such as the HTC Vive (currently around $800) and the Oculus Rift (currently around $600), among others. These devices are connected to a computer where you can download games and experiences for it. One place to download VR for the HTC Vive is the Steam store.

What type of experiences are there?
There are many types of experiences for VR. They range from recreational use (e.g. gaming, drawing, movies) to training with serious applications (e.g. education, medical, military).

Screenshot of a YouTube video that presents VR in VR development inside of Unreal Engine 4

How can I develop for it?
You can develop VR experiences in Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) or Unity 3D or other game engines that support VR. The world is commonly created on the computer and then can be experienced through the VR headset.

However, there is a also plug-in available for UE4 that allows you to develop for VR while inside your VR headset. You can access the regular UE4 user interface just like you would if you were on the computer, and you can use the controllers to build your world instead of your computer mouse.

What does the future for VR hold?
The industry is continuously growing and the technology is constantly improving and evolving. It is also slowly becoming more affordable for the average household to buy. The potential uses for VR are endless too. Read this TIME article for more thoughts on the future of VR.

Job Simulator is the first SteamVR game.

Personal Experience
I’ve tried several different experiences with the HTC Vive. Some of the most memorable for me are: Job Simulator, Tilt Brush, and The Lab.

Out of these my favorite experience is Tilt Brush. I love painting, and it’s incredibly fun to be able to do it in 3D. For example, I can draw a picture, then instantly view it from a different distance, and even paint it from any angle! The application has a variety of mesmerizing brush tools and different settings to experiment with.

Also, one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had so far is playing the Waltz of the Wizard. There was one day when I was done playing the game and I wanted to put the hand-held controllers down before taking the head-set off. So I thought I’d put the controllers down on the table I saw in front of me. Only at the last moment did I realize that this table only existed in the VR world and not in real-life.