BestVR.Tech does a tour of the accessory shops to find the best accessories for our HTC Vive headset
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a hardcore gamer in possession of a good VR headset must be in want of a few accessories.
However little known the views or feelings of this gamer may be on his first purchasing a Virtual Reality headset, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the purveyors of VR hardware, that he is considered as the rightful customer of some one or other of their products.
To a large extent, the reason for this is that the makers of VR headsets vary in their generosity when it comes to accessories. The Virtual Reality market is still far from mature and most of its customers are hardcore, dedicated gamers. One thing the market knows about hardcore followers of anything is that they are ready to pay top dollar to indulge their desires. That’s why tickets to major sporting events or rock concerts command a premium price. And that’s why VR and AR hardware products are so expensive.
For that same reason, the makers of such products follow a policy - at least in some cases - of not bundling those little extras that make the experience of using their products a great experience but rather let it remain merely a good one. In some cases, they develop the accessories and peripherals in-house but sell them as optional extras, knowing full-well that there is nothing “optional” about it to a hardcore gamer! In other cases, they leave the development of the accessories and peripherals to others.
As HTC tends towards the less generous end of the spectrum when it comes to the policy of bundling accessories, we have decided, in this article, to take a look at some of the best accessories available for the HTC Vive.
Deluxe Audio Strap
This audio strap, with its adjustable earphones, provides 360-degree surround sound. It has interior padding for comfort and an easy-to-use adjustment dial to ensure the right fit. This makes it very easy to switch between users. You can vary both the height and angle. The adjustment dial is also useful for taking off the headset when you’ve finished. In fact it is important to turn the dial and loosen the headset before removing it. Otherwise the act of pulling it off can loosen the screws at the back.
The cable management system with this audio strap is much better that the default version, so you no longer feel like you’ve got a pigtail that some irritating kid behind you keeps tugging. The cable path can also be altered to the side. An added benefit of the audio strap is that it facilitates better weight distribution. However, there’s still that little bugaboo of a Velcro top strap.
But the greatest strength of this accessory is of course the audio itself. Instead of the Vive’s ear buds that had a tendency to fall out - and that offered mediocre audio quality even when they stayed in - this set, with its on-ear phones, makes this deluxe audio strap the perfect accessory for a truly immersive experience.
Another good feature is that the audio strap can be used as a duplicate for the sound so that a second person can hear what the player is hearing. This is done under Settings, by selecting the “Mirror audio device” option and then selecting the device from the drop-down list.
This headset is not completely perfect. The rear section that covers the back of the head is not adjustable and may not suit every head shape. Thus, one can adjust the angle of the earphones but not the headset as a whole. Also, it is somewhat annoying to think that you still have to shell out an extra 100 for this accessory. Even after the latest price reduction, the Vive commands a high price and it’s like buying a luxury car for a goodly price only to be told that you have to pay extra if you want comfortable seats.
Protective Frame & Silicone Protective Case
Let’s face it. We all drop things from time to time - some of us more than others. (And yours truly more than most.) Furthermore, it is precisely in the heat of an action game you’re most likely to drop things. And given the nature of the activity, the thing you’re most likely to drop is of course the game controller. So a shock protector for your game controllers is really a no-brainer when you think about it - if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
This pair of shock-protectors feature all the attributes that you’d expect: shock absorption (obviously!), anti-scratch, anti-slip grip and shatterproof construction - at least in the course of normal usage. The flexible silicone protective cases slide on and off easily and the rigid protective frames screw on with a finger operated dial.
This protective arrangement reduces the risk of damage from dropping the controllers without significantly interfering with the interaction between the controllers and the sensors. I say “without significantly” because it does marginally interfere. For example, if the controllers are held very low, the sensors seem to struggle to locate them and may drift slightly. Adjusting the angle of the sensors can alleviate this problem. The problem becomes more noticeable if a controller with these protectors on moves into a spot covered by only one of the sensors. This can happen even when using the sync cable.
Another minor gripe is that the silicone protective case isn’t cut perfectly. The top part of the cutout should be just a tiny bit higher (2 mm at the most) to leave unobstructed access to the top button. It might be that one should just to push the silicone up to the top really hard, but the trouble is, even if you do, it tends to slip down slightly.
A further complaint, is that the “ears” of the trackers do extend outside the cage. This might be because the makers assume that because of the "bent" shape of the trackers, these “ears” are unlikely to come into contact with a hard surface, even if dropped. To which I say, if dropped onto a flat surface like the floor maybe. But if dropped onto, say, a desk with things on it, the shape of the frame may fail to protect them. This may seem like a petty complaint, but it is worth mentioning.
Focitec Studipro - 2 x 7'6" Light Stand
These stands are basically photographers lighting stands that can also be used as stands for your HTC Vive sensors. They are 7’6” high, use a standard tripod-base support and mini-ball head mounts, giving them three degrees of freedom. The three section columns above the tripod can also be adjusted for height from 2’9” to the 7’6” maximum. And they come with a carry bag.
Whilst the Vive requires that the base stations be set at least 6” high - making the 2’9” minimum irrelevant - there is no reason why they should not be set higher. This kit allows you to set them 18 inches higher than the required minimum. And also, with this kit, you are not forced to mount the sensors on a wall. This gives you greater flexibility.
The stands are spring loaded for easy opening, however this is a liability with the Vive lighthouses as the lighthouses tend to vibrate and the vibration is then passed on to the spring where it is exacerbated and becomes noisy and disconcerting (though not in any way damaging).
Also, they are somewhat fragile. Although they can easily take the weight of the lighthouses, they can break if handled roughly. And some people can rough-handle parts like this without even realizing that they’re doing so.
Lastly the bag is not of top quality. It can early show signs of wear quite quickly. Also, it can only be hand carried. This lack of a shoulder strap can be a bit of an inconvenience.
Memory Foam Face-Foam Replacement
These foam face replacements offer a better field of view than the originals, but at the price - it has to be said - of comfort. Indeed, this is always the trade-off and one cannot shy away from acknowledging the fact.
However, aside from the FOV advantage, these replacements have other significant points in their favor. Coming, as they do, from virtual reality hygiene specialists, they are easy to clean and prevent the buildup of bacteria. The foam is made with polyurethane leather which is easy to clean with a wipe of an antibacterial cloth. This is important for users who share their headsets with others.
There are two pads, so you can swap them between users. However, you do not have to do even this. Just put in one pad and be sure to clean it between users and the problem is solved. However, it’s good to have the extra pad.
Aside from cleaning by wiping with an antibacterial cloth, you also have the option of washing it with dishwashing soap on a wet cloth. It is best to rinse it under running water after that, as wet cloths themselves sometimes harbor bacteria. Then let it air dry.
The problem is that these replacements are too wide for the headset and actually have to be bunched up somewhat to fit. This is even visible from the picture itself. This gives them a somewhat uncomfortable feel against one’s face, almost as if one is being pinched. It also undermines, somewhat, the advantage of them being thinner than the originals.
The synthetic polyurethane material also causes sweating, despite the pores on the surface. But as we said at the start of this review, it is a tradeoff between comfort and field of view - also between comfort and hygiene.
MDW VR Cable Management
This is essentially a hook-and-eye based, ceiling-mounted cable management solution. And boy was that a mouthful to say. And that pretty much sums up the nature of the solution. It is quite a "dramatic" solution for the cable management problem.
At one end, you have the hooks that fit to the ceiling by adhesive pads. (This of course means that no drilling is required - the adhesive pads just stick, after you peel off the outer backing and push them into place on the ceiling.) You then attach, to these hooks, stretchable lanyards which can stretch to 90 cm. For the benefit of the physicists among you, these lanyards are essentially springs that obey Hooke’s law (excuse the pun) of elasticity and return to their original 12 cm when the tension is removed from them.
There are a total of ten lanyards and ten hooks. This doesn’t mean you should (or need to) attach all ten to the ceiling. What it does mean is that if you require greater length, you can attach two or more lanyards together. (You don’t need the hooks to string the lanyards together because they have carabiner hooks at one end and circular eyes at the other.)
You also don’t have to worry about the ceiling hooks coming off the ceiling. The adhesive is very strong. But that means that once you have stuck them in place, they are equally hard to remove.
Having said all of the above, the system is still far from perfect. It stops you from tripping over the cable but at the price of getting tangled up in it. It avoids the feel of the cable pulling against the back of your head, but it doesn’t give you the same true freedom of movement that a cordless headset would give you.
But then again, cordless headsets are what we’re all waiting for.
The Final Word
A good audio headset (or rather component of a headset) is pretty basic when it comes to virtual reality. It should not be subject to an extra charge. And when you’re talking about something like a VR headset - which is pretty expensive to begin with - a customer has the right to expect good earphones as part of the basic setup. Just like a car should have seats and a steering wheel as well as an engine!
That said, it could be argued that leaving the option open to attach alternative peripherals and accessories actually opens the market to third party partners who might actually make better accessories. Audio is, after, all a specialized area. And some of the major players in that area may have more experience than those in the VR field who tend to focus on the visual, for obvious reasons.
But in that case, it would be better if the VR companies were to form partnerships with the makers of audio equipment and then bundle the whole caboodle together. Even if that is reflected in the consumer price that would still be better than selling something second-rate and expecting the customer to leap through hoops trying to upgrade it. Worse still, they should certainly not make their own improved version and expect people to pay more for it. There is a case for selling different versions of a product. But at these prices, the choice should be between a good and a great version, not a mediocre and a good version.
With the other accessories, there is more of a case for leaving something on the field for others to supply the value-added products. Hence the controller protectors, the sensor stands and the face-foam replacements.
The cable management question is a bit more thorny. There is an obvious market for it. But in this age of Bluetooth, WiFi and WiGig, it ought to be unnecessary. If the headset needs a computer to feed it, the mobility requirement of gaming makes wireless a necessity. It’s something that should have been delivered already. In the meantime, as long as cables are used, we need a suitable management system for them.
All of these accessories are worth buying by HTC Vive owners. It’s just a question of how much you’re willing to pay.