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First Look: Making Soup and Fixing Robots With HTC's Vive Virtual Reality Headset

The HTC Vive provides a good view of what's possible in the world of virtual reality.

Bonnie Cha

I’m standing in a room with one other person — a man I only met five minutes ago — smiling like an idiot. Occasionally, I flail my arms around in the air and stumble around the room in circles. The whole time, inside my head, I’m giggling like Beavis and Butthead.

No, I’m not drunk. I’m just testing the new HTC Vive virtual reality headset.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did. While virtual reality sounds like a cool idea, I don’t see much practical use in it — not for me, anyway — so I haven’t had much interest in it. Still, when HTC offered me the chance to try out the Vive, I couldn’t resist.

But before I tell you about the experience, here’s a little more information about the headset itself.

The Vive is HTC’s first foray into the world of virtual reality, and it joins an increasingly crowded field of headsets.

Bonnie Cha

HTC says what makes the Vive different from the others is its partnership with PC gaming company Valve, which will help provide games and apps for the headset, and its 360-degree, full-room experience.

The latter means that you can get up and walk around to view a virtual object from all angles. The Oculus Rift Crescent Bay headset offers similar capabilities, but other products like the Samsung Galaxy VR provide more of a fixed experience.

The Vive is able to provide that 360-degree solution by using motion-tracking technology. Included with the Vive is a pair of base stations that you place around your room and connect with sensors embedded into the headset to track your physical movements. HTC will also offer game controllers that can be tracked and let you interact with objects in the virtual world. While the controllers will be wireless, the headset needs to be tethered to your PC.

Lastly, the Vive features two 1,280 by 1,080 displays, one for each eye, with a video refresh rate of 90 frames per second, which HTC says should eliminate the jittery video experience found on other VR headsets.

HTC plans to release a developer version of the Vive this spring and then a consumer product by the end of the year. The company did not release pricing at this time.

Bonnie Cha

Now, back to the demo.

I put on the headset, which feels pretty comfortable — not too heavy. I’m also handed two controllers, which aren’t final product and are wired. HTC wouldn’t allow me to take photos in the demo room, but they look like joysticks minus the base. Each one has a trigger button right where my index finger naturally falls and a touchpad that I can use to scroll through menus and select things using my thumb.

After a quick intro, I’m transported underwater where I’m exploring a shipwreck. Little fish are swimming around me as I look over the deck of the boat to see what’s below. Then I hear a voice in my headphones saying, “I think there’s something behind you.” I turn around, and there’s a huge whale headed in my direction. It comes so close that I want to reach out and touch it. I can’t, but as it swims away, it looks like the tail is about to smack me in the head, so instinctively, I duck. I wasn’t expecting virtual reality to be so immersive.

Bonnie Cha

Next, I find myself in a restaurant kitchen. There’s a soup recipe in front of me, with ingredients on the counter and in the refrigerator. Using the hand controllers, I pick up a couple of tomatoes, some mushrooms and spices, and throw them into a pot. When it’s done, I plate it up to be sent out into the dining room.

Using the controllers is a bit of a crude experience. It doesn’t quite feel natural, and I had to repeat my motions a couple of times to pick things up or open doors. This was also true when I was trying to fix a robot. I got pretty frustrated when I went to go hit a switch as instructed, but nothing happened. Well, I shouldn’t say nothing happened. A woman’s voice (I assume it’s my boss) came on the intercom and basically told me I was an incompetent human. I broke the robot, by the way.

Bonnie Cha

There were some other glitches. In one scenario, I found myself overlooking a battlefield. By crouching down, I could get at eye-level with the soldiers, but as I walked forward through a castle, the scene tilted to the right. Before I could ask what was wrong, the gentleman running my session rapidly switched to the next demo.

Also, as I was walking around, there were times my feet got tangled up in the wires of the headset and controllers. I didn’t fall, but it definitely took me out of whatever virtual world I was in at the time. True, you won’t have to deal with wired controllers with the final product, but you definitely don’t have as much freedom to roam since you’ll be tethered to your PC. There’s also the issue of trying to navigate around the furniture in your room. (HTC says Vive can work in spaces up to 15 feet by 15 feet.)

All that said, the Vive definitely opened my eyes (no pun intended) to the possibilities of virtual reality — more than any other VR headset I’ve tried so far. My absolute favorite part of the demo was when I created some pieces of art by drawing in the air and then walked around them for a 360-degree, 3-D view. It was exciting and surreal. But I’m not ready to embrace VR just yet.

It’s still a developing technology in terms of hardware and content. Plus, I still like to go out and experience a lot of things in real life. Some early adopters and gamers may dig into their pockets to be one of the first to experience the virtual world, but for most, it’s just a fun category to watch.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.