(Pocket-lint) – There’s no denying that virtual reality gaming is a whole world of fun. There also aren’t many VR experiences better than those available on the HTC Vive, Vive Cosmos and Vive Pro.
The HTC Vive, whichever model you have, is an impressive bit of kit, for sure. That’s not to say, though, that it’s impossible to improve it with some judiciously picked upgrades, attachments and accessories.
We’ve been hunting down the very best bits of kit for you to buy to make your VR gaming all the more enjoyable.
Leap Motion hand tracking
- Advanced hand and finger tracking for VR
- Fast-accuracy, low-latency VR control
- Replaces conventional controllers
The Leap Motion tracking device was launched a few years back and promised Minority Report style control of our computers where we’d be able to wave our hands around to control what we were seeing and interact with software interfaces. The technology has not fully blossomed just yet, but we’re always excited to see it progressing.
Now that same motion tracking technology is being put to use in another developing area of technology – Virtual Reality. By attaching a Leap Motion device to the front of an HTC Vive, you can ditch your VR controllers and immerse yourself in a VR world where your hands work the magic. At least, that’s the promise.
The Leap Motion controller is one of the easiest things to install on your HTC Vive. Simply stick a dock on the front of your headset, pop the Leap Motion controller in and plug it into a spare USB port on your PC using a lengthy extension cable and you’re away. Of course, there’s some necessary software to download and install, but the setup is otherwise a total breeze.
From there you’re then able to try out a variety of different experiences available to download for free from the company’s website.
Our favourites of these current experiences are almost certainly Cat Explorer and Blocks. Cat Explorer lets you poke and prod the innards of a furry feline, with the ability to see inside and strip back layers to see its bones, vital organs and more. A brilliant little tech demo that shows the potential educational uses VR could have in the near future.
Blocks, meanwhile, is a simple demo of what’s possible with your hands. Creating objects of varying sizes out of thin air with your bare hands is pretty thrilling. We also liked being able to manipulate gravity – tossing objects we’d created into the atmosphere only to turn gravity back on to make them crash back down to the floor with a thump.
Of course, these are all just tech demos at this point. They’re certainly worth playing around with and a lot of fun to do so too, but they’re not full games just yet. That said, you can certainly see the potential of this tech and what would happen if VR headset manufacturers started to build the tracking right into the headsets themselves.
For now, the Leap Motion controller-free VR experience relies on developers to make it a reality. There are a number of games and experiences currently available:
And some enthusiasts have even managed to tweak other games to introduce support like putting clickable buttons in the cockpit of a WW2 plane in IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad. As interest gathers we expect to see this list to grow alongside the expanding catalogue of experiences available from Leap Motion itself.
If you’re interested in trying controller-free VR and want to see what it will be like to be able to use your hands freely in virtual reality, then the Leap Motion controller is well worth purchasing. It’s also one of the most affordable HTC Vive accessories available at the moment.
Deluxe Audio Strap
- Integrated audio
- Improve comfort
- Easy-to-use size adjustment dial
One of the frustrations with the standard Vive is the need to use your own earphones or headset. We had problems finding a suitable USB powered headset and using the 3.5mm jack meant messing with more cables.
The standard out-of-the-box Vive is also a bit of a fuss to put on and take off. The triple Velcro strap system is great for adjustment, but it’s a bit of a faff.
If you’ve felt the misery of these hassles, then the Deluxe Audio Strap is the upgrade for you. This accessory replaces the standard straps and integrates audio right into the headset design.
This has several benefits – firstly the headset fitment is a lot more comfortable; padding and plastic housing allows for improved weight distribution and less pressure on the nogging while you game.
The improved head strap also makes the headset a lot easier to use with a comfort adjustment wheel on the back replacing the three strap system. A simple twist of this dial loosens or tightens the headset to quickly achieve a comfortable fit or make it wide enough to slip off in a flash.
The next highlight is the integrated audio. Simple flip-down ear cups sit on the ear while you game and can be easily moved out of the way should you need to hear something happening in the real world at any point. These integrated earphones mean you don’t need to use your own. The design also means less cables in the way when you game, which is always a bonus.
This accessory not only improves the audio experience of the HTC Vive, but the comfort too. We found this meant better immersion during gaming sessions and far less face pressure, both of which are welcome additions to an already awesome system.
TPCAST Wireless VR adapter
- Wireless VR upgrade for HTC Vive
- 20,100mAh battery pack powered wireless VR
- Easy installation
The HTC Vive might be one of the best VR experiences around, but it still needs a great gaming machine to run and you need to be tethered to that machine while you play too. This can really ruin the experience when you get tied up in the cables as you play, especially in the more frantic games or just plain annoying when you feel it tugging on the back of your head constantly.
This is where the TPCAST wireless adapter comes in. This is a wireless upgrade for your HTC Vive which allows you to ditch those restrictive cables in favour of wireless transmitters and receivers, as well as a hot-swappable battery pack that’s capable of as much as five hours gaming before it needs recharging.
TPCAST is an aftermarket upgrade to the HTC Vive that’s certainly worth considering. It’s not cheap, but it is impressive.
We found this wireless adapter yielded some fairly impressive results, with very little in the way of noticeable lag or frame rate drops while we played. It’s not without its foibles – there’s no official microphone support at the moment and it can be frustrating when the battery runs out of juice mid-play sessions (especially considering it takes around ten hours to fully recharge). But it is a brilliant bit of kit that works really well.
We can’t tell you enough how fantastic wireless VR gaming is. There’s nothing like the freedom to move around without tripping over cables or feeling the constant nag of the tethered cables.
The downside is being painfully aware of gaming borders and not knocking over precious household objects while we play.
HTC Vive official wireless adapter
- Uses Intel’s WiGig wireless technology
- Requires a PCI-e card installed in your machine
- Works with both HTC Vive and HTC Vive Pro
- Supports 6m x 6m (20ft x 20ft) play area
- Up to 2.5 hours battery life from a 5700mAh battery pack
As an alternative to the TPCAST Adapter, you also now have the choice of purchasing the official HTC Vive wireless adapter. This device works in a similar way but delivers slightly better (and more officially supported) results.
This system works with both HTC Vive and HTC Vive Pro – requiring a separate purchase for each. Which makes it an option for Vive Pro owners who couldn’t access wireless until this point.
Using Intel’s WiGig technology, the official wireless adapter swaps your link box for a wireless receiver/transmitter that sits on top of your head while you play. You no longer need to worry about plugging anything into your graphics card or indeed connecting your Vive to your gaming machine via any wires.
The system handles everything thanks to the PCI-e adapter installed in your machine. This does mean you need to be technically savvy in order to install and use this option and it won’t work with laptops, but it does allow for some pretty brilliant VR gaming without the bore of wires.
You can’t get quite as much playtime out of this adapter compared to the TPCAST as the battery pack is a lot smaller, but we did find it to be highly capable, easy to use and really easy to pair during testing.
Prescription lens adapters
- Easy-to-install lens adapters
- Prescription lenses for glasses-free VR gaming
- BlueGuard coating to block out those nasty rays while you play
If you’re a glasses wearer then you know the frustrations that come with trying to wear a VR headset over your prescription frames. It’s not only uncomfortable, but it also often leads to double the problems with smudges, smearing and steaming up.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to upgrade your HTC Vive and add prescription lens adapters so you can game without your glasses.
These adapters are a great addition to your headset. They not only allow you to play without your specs, but they also offer some protection to the lenses themselves. If you scratch the standard lenses, they’re not easy to replace, so it’s worth keeping them safe and the adapters will stop you accidentally scratching them with your standard specs.
There are a few different sources for prescription lenses for the various VR headsets out there. We’d recommend VR Lens Lab. This company not only offers prescription lens adapters but also offer additional extras like Blueguard coating that protects your eyes from blue light radiation while you play.
Of course, the lenses cost as much as your standard prescription lenses, so prices will vary according to how bad your eyes are, but in our mind, it’s a worthy upgrade for comfortable, immersive VR gaming.
3dRudder motion controller
- Foot controlled movement
- Multi-game and device compatible
We’re big proponents of Room-Scale VR gaming. It’s so much more immersive when you can walk about in the VR world, by moving about in the real one. The problem with this though is it soon gets tiring. We’ve often found our gaming session cut short due to sore feet or an aching back.
3dRudder offers an interesting solution to this problem by allowing you to control your in-game movement with your feet while remaining seated.
Rest your feet on this motion controller and you can simply dip, twist or turn your feet in order to move your character about in the VR game. With simple movements,11 you can walk, run, strafe or simply move about with ease.
The underside of the 3dRudder is slightly curved allowing you to easily rock it in any direction. It does mean that you cannot use this device standing up though, as you’ll not only break it but likely fall flat on your face too.
This accessory is an interesting premise. Built-in pressure sensors accurately track movement and relay that information into the game. It can even detect when you press down or lift your feet up and this can be used to move vertically too. This opens up use in flight sims too and any game that requires a joystick.
Of course, many modern VR games offer controller-based movement controls via the trackpad or control sticks, but using a foot controller frees up your hands for the important/interesting things – like shooting, looting and engaging with the world.
We also found that 3dRudder helped maintain immersion while playing as controlling movement with your feet just lends itself naturally to VR gaming, even if you aren’t actually walking in the normal sense.
With fast-paced games where quick movement is key to survival, we also found 3dRudder made us much agiler than trying to move about with the standard movement controls.
3dRudder is versatile too. It’s not only compatible with a variety of VR games out of the box, it’s also possible to use the controller in a variety of ways including keyboard mode, mouse mode, joystick mode and more. This means its possible to use it to control all games, not just VR ones, but also as a giant mouse to browse the internet if you feel so inclined.
All the settings are fully customisable with the accompanying software, so it’s a breeze to set it up just the way you want.
3dRudder connects to your gaming machine using a plug-and-play USB cable. Your PC should immediately recognise it as a joystick, but the software allows you to tweak the settings to your particular liking and the games you’re playing too.
3dRudder is remarkably intuitive and easy to pick up and use. It’s also not limited to VR use, so when you’re not gaming inside your Vive you can put it to good use elsewhere too.
Hyperkin Protection Case
We’re big VR fans, and the Vive is a stellar system, but it’s fair to say that we don’t necessarily use it multiple times a day, every day. It can eat up your space and get in the way if you have it set up at all times. A protective case for when you’re not using it is a must, therefore, to make sure that you don’t end up accidentally breaking one its components and wasting your money.
This case from Hyperkin can fit your headset, controllers and sensors all in one bag, and isn’t too bulky or brash as a bonus. It’s a smart investment for any Vive owner.
The HTC Vive seems to be getting more modular all the time, with additional elements that you can add on to your system to unlock new features and options. One such addition can be the Vive Tracker. This nifty little gizmo can attach to anything you like to make that object, limb or item trackable in VR as you move it around.
We’ll be updating this list in future with even more accessories for your Vive, so be sure to check back to keep in the loop.
Writing by Adrian Willings. Editing by Max Freeman-Mills.