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An HTC employee shows off a Vive headset in Seattle.
An HTC employee shows off a Vive headset during an earlier stop in Seattle.

HTC and Valve may have announced today the new Vive virtual reality headset won’t hit shelves until 2016, but Seattleites don’t have to wait that long to experience what many are calling a game changer for the VR industry.

HTC has been touring the country in its Vive bus since July, setting up mobile demo stations for anyone willing to stand in line long enough to snag a reservation. Seattle is the latest stop, as the company is offering free Vive demos to PAX Prime game conference attendees as well as the general public.

I had a chance to try it out last time the Vive bus was in town for the The International Dota 2 championship in August, and it did not disappoint.

GeekWire reporter Jacob Demmitt tries out the HTC Vive.
GeekWire reporter Jacob Demmitt tries out the HTC Vive.

What sets the Vive apart from other VR headsets, like the Samsung Gear VR, is that it operates at room-scale. In addition to the normal sensors in the headset itself, HTC’s hardware uses outside equipment to watch where you move. Oculus is working on similar technology with its own new controllers.

That means you can do more than just look around 360-degrees, like in traditional VR. Vive users can actually walk around the real world — and have that correlate to movement in the virtual space.

In the first demo HTC has been showing off during the tour, you’re standing on the deck of a sunken ship when a whale swims up beside you. I found myself completely forgetting I was standing in the back of a bus as I scurried to the other side of the room to get away from the animal.

Another demo uses a virtual paint brush that lets you draw in 3D space by waving a controller around the air. You can then walk around your drawing to see it from different angles.

HTC's new virtual reality headset.
HTC’s new virtual reality headset.

During one demo, I got down on my hands and knees and was able to look beneath a virtual table.

I’ve tried a lot of VR demos, but this the first time I’ve ever forgotten someone else was in the room, watching me crawl around the floor with a grin on my face.

Other people who did the demo with me had a similar reaction, though almost everyone had a hard time putting it into words.

“I want that. I just want that in my house,” Canadian college student Kelly Monaghan said.

No one I spoke with felt any of the motion sickness that has plagued other VR devices, though some did find themselves walking too far in the virtual world and bumping into real walls.

“Because I was so immersed in it,” film director Chris Lee said. “That’s a good thing if you feel that immersed in it that you want to walk further.”

“I would say this one is going to kill Oculus Rift,” he added. “Amazing. The Vive is Amazing.”

Here are some of the highlights from my conversations with people after their demo in August.

This weekend, the Vive bus is open to the public and parked at the intersection of 8th Avenue and Pine Street. Other demos just for PAX Prime attendees are going on at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Both locations require a reservation, which are handed out in the morning on a first-come-first-serve basis. Demos take about 20 minutes and will run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday through Monday.

All of today’s slots were filled by 10:30 a.m., but more will open tomorrow.

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