Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Virtual Reality at home... Impressions after one week with the HTC Vive...

I have been playing with the HTC Vive for a week now, and I really like it... so I thought it may be useful to give my impression on this whole Virtual Reality hype, especially for those who may be considering to purchase it.

First, it is not cheap. You need a good computer to run it, and my 3770k with a GTX970 is barely considered sufficient. Then the headset... in Italy it is 599€ for the Oculus Rift and 849€ for the Vive, plus taxes and shipment.
The two headsets have similar resolution and characteristics, but while the Oculus ships with an XBox 360 controller, the Vive comes with two "motion tracking" controllers... which are really nice and work well - but at first they look quite strange. The other big difference is that the Vive supports full "room-scale" VR, which means that you can actually stand up and walk through your room - up to 5m x 5m.
The last big difference (maybe not that big for us simmers) is the software availability - while both can work with software distributed in other ways, the Oculus has its own store, while the Vive relies on Steam (which also has a VR mode). The Oculus at the moment has more games and in general a better support - and its content is (supposed to be) locked, so you cannot play it with the Vive...although of course you can find hacks on the internet for this.
Reason why I picked the Vive over the Oculus is simply that, apart from being a simmer, I am also a technology enthusiast and a gamer... and I really liked the idea of room-scale VR. If you plan to use your helmet only, or mostly, for simulations (that means for "seated" experiences), the Oculus is perfectly fine and significantly cheaper.

The only word of warning on the Vive is that if you want to use it a room-scale, you need to have 2.0mx1.5m minimum free space, although some applications require 2.4x2.4 or more - I had to move some furnitures to make room for it - by the way there is a safety "chaperon" feature that will prevent you from hitting the walls by projecting virtual walls when you are getting too close to the real ones...very well implemented IMHO.
You will also need to drill some holes in your bookshelves or walls to fasten the two motion sensors.
Then...after the setup (which takes one hour or more)....here comes the magic. You are literally transported in the virtual world. You can walk, kneel, jump look around and you really "feel" you are there. The biggest drawbacks are:

- the resolution is not great: 1080x1200 per eye...not enough to read some instruments.

- if there are "judders" (which may be due to both the software implementation and/or the hardware) you may feel a little dizzy...this can become motion sickness if you use it for too long.

- Anything less than 60-90 frames per second may induce motion sickness... which happens (of course) more often in softwares like flight simulators. You may want to avoid too much acrobatic flying at 15-20 frames per second...

Here is what I tried, in no particular order:


The latest version of Prepar3d has native support for the HTC Vive, along with the Oculus. Unfortunately, the implementation is not great - apparently there is no Asynchronous Time Warp nor any other technique to prevent judders... so the experience is shaky and a little unpleasant.
On the good side image is well filtered looks good... let's hope that P3Dv3.5 has a better implementation.

PREPAR3D v3.4 with FlyInside P3D

Now, there is this nice software called FlyInside, available for both P3D and FSX, which not only renders the simulation with Asynchronous Time Warp, but also provides a number of functions and shortcuts to operate the simulator within the virtual environment. Albeit the image quality is a little more jaggy than the default P3D support, the difference is day and night. The experience is much smoother and you can actually enjoy flying in the virtual cockpit with an unprecedented level of immersion. Also, you can use it in Avatar mode too... and walk around your aicraft (albeit this mode is a little buggy especially if you hop-on, hop-off the aicraft a couple of time).

NOTE - FLYINSIDE P3D has some issues with  Tacpack experimental features (HMD and TFLIR imaging)... the HMD will not work as intended, and TFLIR sometimes works and sometimes not. It may be better to turn those features off.


The magic of FlyInside works very well with FSX too... and it is even more valuable given that FSX does not support Virtual Reality natively. Also, the performance is really good and is smoother than P3D - although P3D has better shadows that result in a more realistic image rendering...


As per my previous post, I also tried AEROFLY FS 2... And I was not super-happy as I thought. Sure the frame rates are stellar, and there is native support of the Vive... but, at least on my configuration, the head tracking suffers from occasional judders... resulting in a little discomfort in some flights. Still, cockpits are amazing - and so is the scenery. 


Assetto Corsa does not support the Vive, but, as I said, there is a hack on the Internet which allows you to use Oculus compatible games with the Vive. It works great...and you can even walk out of the car and be amazed by the level of detail of the modeling. No judders - very smooth performance and amazing immersion. 


We simmers have an headstart with respect to the rest of the "gaming" population... we have been building virtual cockpit for years, and it is awesome to finally "feel" there. But Virtual Reality has a huge potential for games and education. The Lab (directly from Valve) is a collection of mini-games / experiences that will make you fully appreciate the potential of these devices. Some of the games are really funny... but the whole interaction with The Lab is amazing. Really cool - try it (it's free)!


Yes, there is a official free minigame of Star Wars. Yes you can wield a lightsaber (cool!)...but the game is disappointingly short. Just few minutes and it's done - and not much of a challenge. It is free, but I unistalled it immediately.


Another free game, Quanero is a cool experiment in storytelling... basically you are a CSI guy in a futuristic bar in which a bomb exploded and a guy has been killed. You can rewind the time and look around and your scope is to find who has done what. Really cool and quite well done... it suffers a little from the fact that it is an indie games and so some 3D assets are not top-notch... but don't get me wrong, it is well done and a very interesting experiment.

I made a quick test just to see how difficult it would be to develop virtual reality experiences... and a look at the Unreal Engine VR support. It is quite good - and it would be possible to create something in a reasonable time...unfortunately, there is my real life job...


Well... it is a lot of money, and a pretty cool technology. Strictly speaking of flight simulation it offers an unparalleled level of immersion. For the first time in my life a computer program made me feel into the cockpit. It is great...unless you do a lot of IFR, then the resolution is a problem. Also, if you plan to use it with FSX/P3D you will have to face the poor frame rates - even with the magic of FlyInside you may feel a little uncomfortable.

The best things is to try before you buy. Don't get me wrong...it IS AMAZING. But it is also very expensive and my guess is that, in a couple of yearsm these devices will have better resolution and cost less.

In any case, Virtual Reality is probably the next big thing in home entertainment.


DreBolton said...

Have you tried this? http://www.roadtovr.com/how-to-improve-your-htc-vive-image-quality-with-supersampling-pixel-density-tweak/

MMOGamer8080 said...

Rift can use room scale too and can even play all those room scale SteamVR titles. At issue, the touch controllers don't ship till December 11. That is when VIVE and Rift will have feature parity.

ScimmiaSpaziale said...


No, I have not tried that hack... reason is that I mostly use the Vive in P3Dv3 with FlyInside...and the frame rates are not stellar, and I believe this will have a (small) impact. But I'll try as soon as my 1080 arrives ;-)
BTW other apps, like The Lab, have a much better image quality.


You are right in the sense that the helmet could do room-scale tracking, ad actually can run Steam VR with a hack. However, the full room-scale capability of the units currently shipping is unclear - and may require multiple "lighthouses". It is far to say, IMHO, that currently the Vive has a better support for that. When the controls ship, then, to have feature parity you will also have similar costs.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Can you use those devices if you wear glasses ?

ScimmiaSpaziale said...

...I cannot tell for sure. Few of my friends tested it, and some of them usually wear glasses...but they used it without them. I think I've read somewhere that you can - although the vive doesn't seem to be designed for it :-S

Unknown said...

How about a Bombardier CS100?

lynchsl62 said...

Is that the Typhoon that you are working on in one of the screenshots.What is the status and the likely release schedule for the Typhoon, can't wait

Unknown said...

The vive is awesome with p3d. Has anyone tried the F-35 with pro plus?

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