In the last 20 minutes, I’ve gone from ducking to avoid being hit by the tail of a blue whale to creating a three-dimensional piece of art to going face-to-face with GLaDOS, the sadistic antagonist AI of Valve Software’s popular Portal games. And shifting back to the real world from those fantasy wonderlands is harder than you’d imagine.
Oculus’ Rift might have the spotlight these days with its recent pricing announcement, and Sony’s PlayStation VR seems poised to be the virtual reality sales leader, but HTC’s (HTC) entry in the field is something that can’t—and shouldn’t—be ignored.
Wherever the HTC Vive lands on price—and make no mistake, it will almost certainly be higher than the Oculus Rift’s $600 price tag—it offers a unique VR experience that lets you physically explore the environment, walking around the room and seeing things at a different angle.
The recent addition of a forward-facing camera lets you pause your immersion in an alternate world and interact with the real one when necessary, but rather than simply showing a real-world video feed of whatever has interrupted your experience, it shows that world as a silhouette, letting you attend to business without completely walking away from the virtual world in which you were immersed.
And it’s quite a world. Thanks to the two sensors that come with the Vive, you’re able to move in physical space, rather than being confined to a chair as other VR headsets recommend. Moving too close to a wall? A grid will appear in the game warning you to stop moving, but will keep the VR experience moving forward.
Word has gotten out at CES about the Vive. Lines at the walk-up station outside of the Las Vegas Convention Center were two hours long Wednesday. That’s despite the 10 stations (many run by partners) showing off the technology throughout the city during CES.
The demo I received was pretty much the same one I saw nine months ago, but no less impressive. Each segment lasted five minutes and showcased a different world.
First up was theBlu, by WEVR, where I stood on the bow of a sunken ship deep in the ocean. Small fish fluttered near my face and an occasional ray would swim by. Before the end of the demo, a massive blue whale swam over to check me out, leaving with a swish of its tail that shook the wreckage.
It’s the same demo that users of Samsung’s Gear VR can experience, but being able to walk on the ship and the significantly improved graphics of a PC vs. a smart phone make it much more immersive.
WATCH: Samsung enlisted LeBron James to show off its Gear VR. See more in this Fortune video:
Up next was The Job Simulator, a fun, often funny demo meant to showcase the Vive’s controllers, which will ship with the unit this April. That was followed by Tiltbrush by Google, a three-dimensional art program that lets you draw in real space with a variety of patterns (ranging from lines to stars to fire) and colors.
Finally, I was thrust into the labs of Aperture Science, a familiar place to fans of Portal. Designed by Valve, it was purely a demo, but it gave hope to the possibility that Valve could expand its popular series onto the Vive, something that would certainly help adoption. HTC representatives said software titles for Vive would be discussed more at the end of the month at an event Valve is hosting.
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The fact of the matter is Vive isn’t going to be cheap. And, despite the assurances of the company representative, I’m not convinced it’s going to be all that easy to set up. Additionally, whether people will want to clear a space in a room for a game is questionable.
It has a lot working against it but (as is often the case with any sort of VR) if HTC and Valve can find a way to let people experience the technology and see what it has to offer them, it just might find an audience big enough to let the Vive grow.