If you want to experience true virtual reality, with the ability to move around as you play, the HTC Vive is as good as it gets right now. Here’s everything you need to know about setting it up so you can get started playing.
The Vive takes a bit of time to set up, and there are a lot of different components. But it’s actually quite easy, as long as you follow the instructions–and do a bit of planning before you start.
What You’ll Need
Everyone’s setup will be a little different, so what you need will vary from person to person. We highly recommend reading “Step One” of this guide below, which will help you determine what, if anything, you’ll need beyond the Vive itself. But to give a quick overview, you will need:
- An HTC Vive, obviously. The Vive comes with most of the accessories you need, but not all of them.
- A powerful gaming PC. Playing games on the Vive is more demanding than playing normal two-dimensional games, which means you’ll need a beefy rig to run them. You can see HTC’s recommended specs here, as well as buy compatible PCs if you don’t already have one. If you’re more of a builder, Logical Increments has a good guide to building VR-ready PCs. You can also run a few tests on your PC to see if its hardware is powerful enough.
- Ample floor space. If you want to use the Vive’s room-scale abilities (so you can move around while playing), you’ll need some empty space in your home. It can be as small as 5 feet x 6.5 feet, but the bigger the better, with Vive supporting spaces up to 15 feet x 15 feet. (We’ll talk about this more in the next section.)
- Extra cables or extension cords (for some people). If your play area is far away from your PC, the included cables may not be long enough. The included cables can reach about 18 feet. If your play area is further away, you may need a longer HDMI cable, a USB extension cable, and extension cords for the many power adapters.
- Tripods, light stands, or other mounting accessories for the base stations (for some people). The base stations can mount on your wall, but if you don’t have walls nearby–or if you rent an apartment and aren’t allowed to drill into your walls–you may need to mount them using tripods, photography light stands, or other similar hardware. Make sure they can reach 6.5 feet high off the ground. Tip: Buy them from Craigslist to save some money.
This list isn’t necessarily exhaustive, but it should give you a good idea of what you might need to get. Even if you don’t have your Vive yet, I highly recommend reading through the instructions below so you know what other accessories you might need. There’s nothing worse than setting up the Vive only to find you’re missing one measly cable, and have to run to Best Buy before you can start playing.
Step One: Plan Your Play Area
You can play Vive games seated or standing, but if you’re buying the Vive, there’s a good chance you’re looking for room-scale play, which allows you to move around in the space.
By far, the most difficult and time consuming part of the process is the initial planning of this space. If you have a big house with lots of empty room, you’ll be better off, but for those of us with smaller houses and apartments with lots of furniture, it may take some creativity. The good news is, you can start this process before your Vive even ships.
As we mentioned above, your space can be as small as 5 feet x 6.5 feet, but the bigger the better–with Vive supporting spaces up to 15 feet x 15 feet. You don’t want to have to move furniture around if you don’t have to, but you’ll have to make do with the space you have.
Don’t be afraid to get a little creative. I, for example, did not have nearly enough space next to my gaming PC, since my office is quite small, and opens into the furnished dining room:
Instead of moving furniture around in the dining room, which would have been a huge hassle, I went looking elsewhere. There was a decently-sized space outside said dining room, near the front door. It’s a bit far from the PC, but with a longer HDMI cable and a USB extension cable, I was able to stretch the Vive headset far enough for it to work.
I measured the area and was able to eke out a rectangular space of 8 feet x 6 feet, which works very well for the games I’ve played so far.
As for the base stations, you’ll need to mount them at least 6.5 feet high, on opposite sides of the play area, facing each other:
I had a wall on one side of my play area and a kitchen island on the other. So I was able to mount one base station to the wall, and set a tripod on the kitchen island for the other. Again, not completely ideal, but it would work.
(Mine are also a little lower than 6.5 feet, and they work fine–but HTC insists on 6.5 feet, so do as I say, not as I do.)
Step Two: Unpack the Vive
Next, I recommend unpacking your Vive. We aren’t going to start hooking things up just yet, but it’s a good idea to unpack the Vive and unwrap its many, many accessories so you don’t have to later. In the box, you’ll find:
- Two base stations, along with some mounting hardware, a long sync cable, and two power adapters: The mounting hardware will allow you to screw the base stations into your wall. If you can’t do that, you’ll need to buy a tripod or stand them on some boxes or something. The sync cable is only necessary if there’s an obstruction between the two, but most users won’t need it.
- Two controllers, along with two microUSB cables and two USB power adapters for charging: They should come with a partial charge, but you should plug these into the wall now so they’re all charged up and ready.
- The Vive headset: Awwww yeah. Put this aside for now. It comes with an alternate face cushion for narrow faces.
- The link box, which connects to the included HDMI cable, USB cable, and link box power adapter. Remember, if you’re playing far away from your PC, you’ll want some alternate cables or extension cables to go with these.
- Earbuds: They’re fine, I guess, but I prefer to use a nice pair of open headphones. (Seriously, even cheap ones will make a huge difference.)
Gather up all the accessories and set them aside in little groups, matching the correct cables with the correct part of the Vive setup. It’ll make your life easier in the next couple steps.
Step Three: Install the Vive Software
You could set up all your hardware now, but the Vive software will walk you through it step by step, so you might as well install it now. Head to htcvive.com/setup and click the “Download Vive Setup” button. Double-click the resulting installer to begin the process.
Click “Next” through the next few windows until you reach the following screen. Ensure that Vive found the correct folder for your Steam games, and click the “Install” button.
During the installation process, you may be prompted to log into your HTC account, as well as your Steam account (if you aren’t logged into the Steam client already). When it’s finished, it will install the SteamVR software within Steam.
Step Four: Set Up Your Base Stations
Next, the Vive software will walk you through setting up your base stations. This will be a little different for everyone, but the Vive software can give you some general guidelines, as can HTC’s official setup video, embedded below. I highly, highly recommend watching it.
You’ll need to mount the base stations at least 6.5 feet high, either directly on the wall or onto a tripod, bookshelf, or other surface. Angle them 30 to 45 degrees downward. They should be directly across from one another in your play area.
If you’re using the included mounting hardware, screw it into the hole on the back of the base station, then tighten the nut to secure it. Use the included wall anchors and screws to mount it to your wall. You can see more of this process in the video above.
If you’re using a tripod, screw the tripod’s plate into the hole on the bottom of the base station, like so. Then clip it into the tripod like you would a camera.
Once mounted, plug the base stations into the wall. They should light up and attempt to detect one another. If all goes well, you’ll see a green light at the top of each. You’ll also see a “channel” letter on the side: “b” on one, and “c” on the other. If you don’t, press the channel button on the back until you do.
If one of the base stations has a purple status light, that means it can’t see the other. You’ll need to connect them manually with the long sync cable included with the Vive, and change the channel to “A”.
Step Five: Plug the Headset Into Your Computer with the Link Box
Next, hook up the headset. You’ll notice that the headset has a long 3-in-1 cable coming out the back. Plug those three cables into the orange side of the link box…
…then plug the HDMI cable, USB cable, and power cable into the back of the link box.
Lastly, plug the HDMI cable into your PC’s graphics card, the USB cable into your computer, and the power adapter into the wall.
NOTE: The Vive uses USB 3.0 cables to connect to your computer, so if you have a USB 3.0 port, that would be ideal. However, many people have had issues with USB 3.0–particularly on older computers with crappy USB 3.0 chipsets–so if you’d rather start with a more reliable connection, USB 2.0 should work fine. I use USB 2.0 and have had no issues with my Vive so far.
Step Six: Calibrate Your Hardware
When you’ve gone through the rest of the setup, click the “Launch SteamVR” button in the Vive software.
If it has trouble launching, you may need to restart your computer–I did. Just restart, launch Steam, then click the “VR” icon in the upper right-hand corner of the window. This is how you’ll launch SteamVR in the future.
When SteamVR launches, you’ll see this window at the bottom of your screen. Green icons along the bottom indicate the component has been found, grey icons have not been found.
If any of the icons are grey, make sure the corresponding components are set up properly and placed on the floor in your play area. You may have to press the bottom button on the controllers for them to turn on and connect.
Hover over the icons to see if there any firmware updates available. If there are, click the “Update Available” link and go through the prompts to download and install new firmware before continuing.
The Room Setup window should have opened automatically with SteamVR. If not, double click on “SteamVR Room Setup” in your list of Steam games to start it.
We’re assuming you want to set up room-scale play, so click “Room-Scale” on the first screen.
Next, you’ll be prompted to stand inside the play area and locate your monitor with the controller. This really should say point at your computer tower, not monitor–it determines the default direction you’ll face when playing games by setting your starting position the opposite direction of your computer. That way, the cables travel out the back of your head and behind you, toward your computer.
So point the controller at your PC tower, and press and hold the trigger button until it stops vibrating.
Next, place your controllers on the floor and click “Calibrate Floor”.
Lastly, you’ll set your play area. This is pretty simple, and the on-screen animation will give you an idea of what to do. Essentially: click Next, grab a controller, and drag it around the perimeter of your play area while holding the trigger button. Be careful to keep the controller outside the bounds of any furniture or walls–the more accurate you are here, the less you’ll bump your fists into the walls while playing (which I’ve already done twice).
Again, see HTC’s instructional video higher up in this post for a more visual demonstration of the process.
When you’re done, it will calculate the largest rectangular play area from the perimeter you selected. Click Next to accept it and move on.
Step Seven: Start Playing!
At this point, you should be all set up! Yes, it takes a little while, but it’s well worth it. Put the headset on, plug your headphones into the port on the headset, and start the SteamVR tutorial. Even the tutorial is pretty amazing, and you’ll be playing games in no time–the tutorial will show you how to launch them. (If you haven’t bought any games yet, I recommend The Lab and Space Pirate Trainer.)
Tips for a Better Vive Experience
I’ve only been using the Vive for a few days, but I’ve already learned a few things that have made the experience much more pleasurable. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t forget to take the protective plastic off of everything, including the lenses inside the headset. I didn’t notice the plastic was there for a couple hours.
- If you find that the Vive is too blurry, try this: don’t let the headset sit on your nose like a pair of glasses. The foam along the top should be in the middle of your forehead, with the bottom foam sitting on top of your cheekbones. This will put the “sweet spot” in the center of your vision. (Thanks to RipeManlyMango on Reddit for this tip.)
- You can also adjust the lens distance and IPD of the headset to eliminate blurriness (and make it more comfortable if you wear glasses). First, pop the grey rings on the side of the headset “out”, then twist them to move the lenses closer or further from your face. Push them back in when you’re satisfied, and twist the small knob on the right-hand side of the headset until you get the sharpest image.
- Adjust all three of the straps (top, left, and right) when putting on your headset. This will make it immensely more comfortable.
- If you have mirrors in your play area, or even a reflective TV screen, you may need to cover them with a blanket to get better tracking–otherwise, your base stations may get confused by their own reflection.
- In SteamVR’s settings, you can turn on the camera to see an outline of your room and furniture when you get close to the chaperone bounds. There are a lot of settings to adjust here, and it may only work reliably with USB 3.0, but it’s there if you want it (and are prone to bumping into things while you play.)
- My headset audio seemed to work fine, but you may need to go into SteamVR’s Settings > Audio and change the playback device to HTC-VIVE when SteamVR is active, and back to your normal speakers when SteamVR is exited.
If you have any other tips, feel free to add them in the comments and we’ll include them in this list!