Mobile World Congress has been all about VR this year. Virtual Reality has the delegates in a fever-like grip and we have seen launches conducted over VR (Samsung), VR cycling goggles (Garmin), more VR cameras (LG) and promise of a VR console (Sony).
However, the one that absolutely triumphs head and shoulders above the rest is HTC Vive. If you go over to HTC's booths in Hall 7 you realise that the Vive is getting more attention than their smartphones and with good reason... you have to experience VR via Vive to know and understand exactly how incredible it is.
Firstly, despite being a tech journalist and having to road-test and review all sorts of wearables, I have steered clear of VR in the past. Reason? It makes me sick as a dog. I am not kidding, at MWC 2015, I almost threw up on the Samsung rep who was giving me a demo of the Gear VR. I had strapped it on, only to see a distorted skyline of New York City and realise that in this virtual world, I was standing on the edge of a helicopter, ready to jump out.
My head had reeled, I had taken a step back (in the real world), slumped on a chair and shut my eyes and started fanning myself to not throw up. The lady demo-ing the device realised what was happening, took the headset away and offered me a refreshing drink. That had been the end of my tryst with VR.
Since then, whenever I have been offered a review headset, I have politely declined or gotten my colleagues to road test them for me.
So when I was asked if I wanted a demo of the 'revolutionary' HTC Vive, I was very hesitant about accepting the offer. But in the name of work I did.
At the appointed hour, I presented myself at the HTC booth and was told my demo was about to start, I tried not to fidget, wiping my sweaty palms at the back of my shirt and trying to appear 'cool'.
The first question I asked was: "Will I get nauseous?'
'No, absolutely not', I was told.
Turns out that the Vive is super customisable as far as a good fit is concerned. Also nausea stems from a lag in action or blurry vision, something that's not experienced on the Vive. And here, not only is the super light headset attached with three velcro attachments, but you can also adjust it according to 'how rounded your face is' or 'how set apart your eyes are'. There is space between the eyes for ventilation and a gap on the headset if you wear glasses.
There is also space for headphones and a headphone jack built into the headset. All the wiring finally goes into the CPU of your personal computer.
HTC understand that not all of us have the space to play VR games in our bedrooms and you are able to draw out the dimensions of your room during set up so you dont crash into a table or stub your toe on a sofa. There are two laser-firing room scale movement sensors that make sure you stay within the virtual room that are part of the set when you purchase it.
After putting on the headsets, I saw the two VR controllers with the touchpad in my virtual world which was a really weird feeling because the controllers were suspended in mid-air, I couldnt see my hands. I clicked ok and my VR experience started...
My first encounter didnt go as planned, primarily owing to my ocean/sea phobia and the first VR game being loaded for demo called The Blu Encounter.
I found myself standing at the bow of a shipwreck under water, schools of small fishes swimming around me, while a ray glided just over my head. The ship appeared to be teetering on the edge of an under-water cliff and was so realistic that I started panicing... My situation was not made better by the appearance of a whale at the top left, making its way lazily towards me...
That's when I asked for time-out... It was so hyper-real, with zero lag or distortion that it totally and utterly overwhelmed me. My brain kept telling me that it was just virtual but my eyes refused to believe it wss something I was just experiencing through a pair of glasses.
The next sequence was a lot less scary. Set in an office where you carry out daily tasks that you would have in a 90s office like eat doughnuts with coffee, get printouts and fire people. I managed to do all of them without much problem although I couldnt drink coffee without spilling it down my front.
The last one was a drawing program that makes you draw wide arcs in the air and then step through your art work to make changes to it... Very nice, although not as overwhelming like being underwater.
I have always been very cautious about VR and have not known what to expect from it except perhaps a headache and nausea, but the HTC Vive blew me away... Hyper-real, comfortable with the kind of immersive experience that has not been possible from outs out there, if this is what the future looks like then take my money already!
The HTC Vive goes on pre-order on February 29 and costs £650.