Setting up your VR headset doesn’t have to be torture!
Vive Setup Deconstructed — tips and tricks I would have wanted before spending over 20+ hours setting up my device
After spending almost the entirety of last weekend hooking up an HTC Vive, I thought I would put together a 5 min summary to streamline setup for the next lucky reader.
While Oculus and Vive both offer a fantastic VR experience, I decided to purchase the Vive because I wanted the room scale experience with the handheld controllers. With the release of the Oculus Touch controllers, I believe the two devices will be almost at parity — the choice of which you purchase is entirely up to you.
Purchasing your VR Headset
Once I mustered up the courage to drop $1500 on VR equipment, I wanted to rip the bandaid off as fast as possible, so I purchased by Vive on Amazon, and two, Prime sponsored days later, it showed up at my doorstep. Both Amazon and Best Buy offer PC+Oculus bundles, so if you want to save a little money and get an entry level PC guaranteed to meet the VR specs, a bundle could be a great route for you. I went with the more labor intensive route, and thanks to all of the time it took to setup, I wrote this article to save you time :)
Purchasing your PC
The HTC Vive site recommends the following specs as minimum requirements for your VR PC. You will want to make sure to buy something that meets these, otherwise frame rate on the device could slow down and you might experience more nausea and dizziness.
- GPU: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 970, AMD Radeon™ R9 290 equivalent or better
- CPU: Intel® Core™ i5–4590/AMD FX™ 8350 equivalent or better
- RAM: 4 GB or more
- Video output: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
- USB port: 1x USB 2.0 or better port
- Operating system: Windows® 7 SP1, Windows® 8.1 or later, Windows® 10
A simple Amazon search for VR PC led me to the Cyberpower Gamer Extreme VR — and based on the name alone, I was sold. The specs met the min bar for the Vive, and the price was right, so I pulled the trigger. And the PC has red flashing LED lights when it is powered on, so it really fit well with my new living room gaming aesthetic.
Supplemental equipment (these are required for setup)
Here is a quick shopping list of things to pick up with the Vive so that you have everything you need. I will reference these items throughout the article.
Setting up your PC
When the PC arrived, it had instructions on how to take it apart and rebuild the PC to make sure all of the components were connected… this is when I realized that this setup was going to a little more laborious than I had expected. Alright, I’m exaggerating a bit- while taking off the side panel to remove the paper filling was a surprise, but all of the components were connected, and I screwed the panel back on and was back in business. Note the PC comes with a lengthy manual on how to add additional components if you were to soup up the machine in the future, but you can ignore that for initial setup.
The Cyberpower Gamer Extreme is like a PC from 1998 that time-traveled to meet us in 2016, it is not Wifi enabled. Thankfully, the PC comes with a USB wireless adapter so that you can get on the internet right away.
PRO TIP #1 (yes first PC/Vive setup deems me as pro)
Make sure to hard-wire your PC to your modem to download the Vive setup software. Trying to do this over the low speed wifi that the USB adapter picks up caused the setup software to take 5+ hours to download. I ended up buying a 50-foot ethernet cable and wiring it around my entire living room to make this happen, and it was worth it.
You PC is now unboxed. If you’re going to be using your Vive in the living room, you will probably want to connect it to your TV. This makes for a fun social experience even if you only have one headset because people can watch and hear what you are seeing in the device on the TV.
PRO TIP #2
You will need to connect your TV to the HDMI port into the graphics card in the back of your computer. There are HDMI ports in the top area of the PC and they do nothing, because the PC has a graphics card installed, you need to plug into it to render… graphics! Take a wild guess how long it took me to figure that one out. Longer than you want to know.
Now you’re unboxed, connected to a monitor, and connected to the internet — time to give the PC a spin. Situate yourself awkwardly on the floor next to your TV because the mouse and keyboard cables are not long enough to reach the couch, and power that baby on.
When I powered on the PC, my mind was blown by the fact that Windows 10 was already installed, and it was ready to go. No forced update? This was going to be a great day. Time to open up your Vive…
Setting up your Vive
The Vive comes beautifully packaged, and really make the unboxing experience fun, you feel like you’re opening a treasure chest.
The printed quick start guide directs you to the Vive website where you can follow the onscreen setup instructions. This is where you install the Vive and Steam software. If you are not familiar with Steam, this is the application from which you will browse/purchase/view content and games. It is like an iTunes or Play store for game content. I chose to manually download Steam before running the Vive setup so that I could browse content while the Vive software downloaded.
PRO TIP #3
When browsing Steam, look for games under Virtual Reality, and then you can sort by price to see the free games. Though it is counter intuitive, when you are ready to download one, select the Play button to download. Selecting “Play” before the game has downloaded does not launch the game in the Steam app, it downloads it to your computer.
The Vive software is about 700MB, so once again, this is why it is so critical to not download it over Wifi. If you haven’t already, make sure you plug that ethernet cable in now.
Once your software completes downloading, the tutorial will walk you through how to setup the equipment. First you will setup your base stations — these allow the headset to understand the boundaries of the room. The setup will ask you to put the base stations at a height above 6 feet, pointed down 45 degrees. I found that putting one on a mantle about 5 feet high and one on a counter across the room about 4 feet high was sufficient to be able to play with — using these surfaces meant I didn’t have to mount them to the walls, which I was hoping to avoid. The 45 degree tilt is where the tripods come in. In a mad rush to figure out what I was going to balance the base stations on in order to achieve the angle without them sliding onto the floor and breaking, I pulled the trigger on a set of mini tripods. Attach each base station to a tripod and snap them into place at the angle you want. I don’t know about you, but I found myself using the term base stations numerous times over the weekend, “sorry guys, I can’t come out tonight, I’m having technical difficulties setting up my base stations,” and things of that nature. I really went all in with the living in the future thing.
The controllers turned on with no issue — thank you. After the base station agony (Prime delivered the tripods the next day Sunday delivery, so I was base station negative for 24 hours), I needed a quick win.
The ol’ headset — now we come back to the issue I mentioned before about having to plug graphics related items into the graphics card. You see, while I explained this like an expert earlier in this article, the truth is that I plugged the headset into the non-graphics card port on day 1 of my setup endeavor, and could not get the headset to turn on render on the screen. The headset will not turn on if it isn’t plugged into the graphics card. Say what?
PRO TIP #4
You only have ONE HDMI port in the graphics card! What the hell?! You have to plug in the monitor and the headset, now what? Pull out that trusty display-port to HDMI adapter that you bought because it was on my non optional equipment list, and plug the headset into that, and then display port into the graphics card.
Your headset is in, your base stations on, your controllers powered up! Join us in the future baby. Sit back, relax, and let the rest of that software download.
PRO TIP #5
Setup all of your user account details and get a credit card on file for the Steam store from the PC. I recommend doing all of this outside of the device so that once you are in the headset, you can easily browse and add content.
The first app you will want to download is The Lab — this is essentially the OOBE (out of box setup experience) for the Vive that allows you to get your footing. From there, I recommend going straight to Tilt Brush, because it is awesome, and allows you to get really comfortable with the controllers. When you’re ready to put down a few bucks, go for the infamous Job Simulator. This game is really fun and gets you into the headspace where you start connecting the controllers with your actual hands. And from there, feel free to roam about the VR cabin.
I hope you enjoyed this article and had as seamless as possible of a time setting up your device. Enjoy the ride!