A virtual reality newbie’s experience of HTC VR.
Last updated: 3 May 2016
There are a few moments, growing up, when a piece of technology has made a massive impression on me. My Little Professor as a 6-year-old, my 80s Toby Jr AM-87 robot (best Christmas present ever) and my first smartphone, that allowed me access to the internet whenever, wherever. But when I was invited to a demo of the HTC Vive at company’s headquarters in Slough, I had no idea what sort of technological eye-opening treats were in store.
Six of us were there to test out the product, and one by one we got led into a meeting room for 20 minutes of adventure. Being the last one to give it a go - and my colleagues being sworn to secrecy - I was pretty keen to see what all the smiles and muffled screams (you know who you are) were about.
Trying out VR for the first time.
When my turn finally came, with nervous excitement I put on the headset and goggles, and held on to the controllers. I was ready for action, but why was I so tense? I suppose I have very little experience of virtual reality – a flight simulator and Spiderman 3D experience at Disney World are about as far as it gets. And I’m not a big gamer (I struggle to keep up with my 5-year-old son playing Mario Kart on the Wii) so I’m pretty much a blank canvas. I couldn’t even imagine what this VR experience would involve.
VR experience 1: Stunning and breath-taking.
The first of the four experiences was a beautiful deep-sea adventure. I was underwater, stood on a shipwreck, with small fishes that I could bat away with the hand controllers. And a huge whale coming towards me. At first I told him to “go away” (yep, I said it out loud), and then without hesitation I reached out to touch him. Like a prime candidate for a Derren Brown experiment, I was completely immersed and sucked in to the VR world. I even started breathing more heavily, with a strong sense that that being underwater required an oxygen tank. D’oh.
VR experience 2: Fun and interactive.
Next up, an interactive cooking game. I was the chef and I was stood in a kitchen, complete with gadgets, utensils, recipe book and ingredients. I needed to make a soup, so I scoured the kitchen for what I needed and grabbed them with my ‘controller hands’. The sensation of being surrounded by an animated world was odd and made me feel like a character from Tom and Jerry. But it all felt very real; I even managed to ‘break’ the animated knife handle when chopping the carrots.
VR experience 3: Immersive, captivating storytelling.
This was like being a character in a Harry Potter film. I stood in what looked like an old pharmacy or bookstore, with candles flickering and dingy doorways and dusty books. The VR world is all around you, so there were ledges above and all sorts of shelves and items surrounding me. Then, the door in front of me creaked open and a large, old, sorcerer-style man entered with a candle held high. He said “hello” and he offered me a bright light to take hold of. I reached out with my controller (completely oblivious to the fact this wasn’t actually real) and set about shining the light on the relevant symbols in order to gain access into other elements of this fantasy world. I couldn’t get enough of this one, but in the real world the clock was ticking, so it was time to move on to the next ‘world’…
VR experience 4: Thrilling, frightening and a need for speed.
OK. So now I’m in a desert. As far as the eye can see are cacti, rocky slopes and dust. I was a bit nervous about this one as it was far too quiet and it just felt eerie. My controllers were now guns and from behind a nearby rock, a zombie cowboy - complete with dripping blood - was heading towards me. I frantically shot my gun, only to see the next zombie heading towards me. But when I shot this dude, nothing happened. He was getting closer and closer. I then realised I could reload my gun (thanks to the HTC expert in the room giving me a helping hand) and ‘bang’, he was a goner. I’m relieved for a split second, but then spin 180° to see zombies emerging from behind more rocks, and my hands get sweaty. This was by far my favourite VR game – but it was such an intense and frightening experience. “So this was where the screams came from,” I thought.
Time’s up. So how was it?
How could I sum up those 20 virtual minutes? Literally, it was out of this world. I screamed, I laughed out loud, I got scared and I lost awareness of where I actually was – in a meeting room, in an office building, in Slough. I’d been underwater, to the desert, in a cartoon kitchen, and a world that only exists in the best fantasy books. Three of my senses were indulged – only touch and smell missed out.
So what’s next for VR?
Smell and touch will no doubt be coming. What then? Could you experience the Sahara, complete with the feel and smell of scorched sand? Could you try on clothes with your friends in a VR changing room?
No matter what you’re doing: gaming, deep sea diving, enjoying experiences that you can’t afford in the real world; whether HTC Vive is a showcase for brands and their products, or even a psychological tool to help people overcome fears; the possibilities are endless.