One of the very first articles I wrote for this site was entitled “5 tips for using the HTC Vive in your classroom” It covered five basics of Vive setup and orientation that I found myself being asked by educators at conferences and on social media. You can read the original post here but the topics covered were:
1. PC power – what sort of desktop/laptop you need to run a Vive
2. Room scale space requirements and setup
3. Using the Vive with multiple students and the consideration of using single-use face masks with it.
4. Joining Steam and Viveport to access content
5. Finding educational content on Steam
Flash forward 18 months or so and whilst I will still get asked these types of questions from time to time, there have been several other key questions that have become regulars. I’ve also picked up a fair few tricks and hacks along the way. As such I decided to write this follow-up piece and rather than just 5 new tips, this time I’m giving you 10! Hopefully some educators beginning to explore the huge potential of Vive technology in the classroom will find them beneficial.
1. Watch out for your security software
Sometimes I’ll load a new Steam VR experience on the Vive and it will seemingly hang on the loading screen. Quite often the issue here is that my Kaspersky PC security software has thrown up a pop-up window asking for permission to grant the app audio access or something similar. You can’t see these in the headset so if you experience this, pop the HMD up and take a peek at your PC’s taskbar to see if a notification is needing your attention.
2. Dealing with compositor errors (red screen in the headset)
One of the most common error messages you'll likely face is this:
If this is happening, then inside the headset, you'll see nothing but a red screen. The compositor's purpose is to make sense of all the VR overlays and pull them together to create a realistic visual inside the HMD. This error is often caused by a new app opening and pulling focus from the compositor or by the user clicking somewhere on the desktop, thus highlighting another window. It's usually a very simple fix - just drag your cursor to the second screen of your extended display and click. This will pull the focus back where it should be and things will be right in the virtual world again. If the issue persists, reboot Steam.
3.Advanced room-scale setup
A couple of tips together here. Firstly when you are completing room-scale setup, you might notice a checkbox labelled "advanced mode" (it was Paola Paulino that first pointed it out to me.) This little option allows you to set up for room-scale by marking the corners of a space rather than drawing the outline of it and can save a little time during the Vive setup process - especially handy if you use the Vive in multiple rooms like I do. The other tip? Head into VR Settings via the settings cog in the top right of the main menu from Steam Home (ie inside the headset not from the desktop) and you can customise the chaperone that marks the boundary of your room-scale space. You can custiomise the style, colour and opacity which could be useful for helping enthusiastic students stay in the safe space you've marked out
4. Using the Vive’s camera to see the real world from inside VR
By default the Vive’s front-facing camera is turned off. You can switch it on via the Steam VR settings. Right now there aren’t really any applications (except Vive Paper) which utilise this camera but you can still use it to see the real world and any people with you.
There are three variations you can use with the camera. Firstly you can allow it from the dashboard. This enables you to hold up your controller and see a live camera feed as if you were holding a tablet inside VR. In the screenshot below I am looking at my laptop whilst in the Steam VR home. You can see the laptop inside the camera feed:
Another unique way that you can harness the camera on the Vive is as the chaperone for room-scale VR. Rather than the traditional grid-like chaperone boundaries, what happens with this option activated is that when you reach the periphery of your space, you “see” the world around you in a sort of green Tron-like way. It’s not only very cool but it allows you to interact with the real world on a basic level e.g. picking an object up like a drink (use a straw) or identifying where people are in the space around you. In the image below, you can see this effect - in fact you can even see my hand reaching for the touchpad on the laptop to take the screenshot!
The third option is Room View. Once activated, Room View is turned on by double clicking the system button on the Vive controller. It overlays a full digital outline of the real world space and is another great option for breaking down the walls of VR and finding objects or people in reality. It looks like this:
6. Multiple headsets on one set of base stations
If you have more than one Vive setup available, note that you can use the same set of base stations for more than one Vive. You will still need a separate PC for each but this can be a lifesaver in a room wisth limited plug sockets! Bonus tip – if you want to get a bigger play area, use the long sync cable that comes in the box with the Vive to connect the two base stations directly. (You knew that wire had to be for something right?)
The image below is from the #VRClassroom experiment I was involved with. Chris Long worked with the teams from Immersive VR Education and HTC Vive UK to set this up. Note the sole base station at the back of the photo (its counterpart is not shown in the picture but would have been in the bottom right corner.)
7. Mirroring the headset display
Whilst you can use apps like OBS or even the built-in Windows gamebar to screencast from within VR experiences, you cannot do this directly with Steam. This can be a problem if you are trying to support students to navigate through app selection or even if they have accidentally pressed the system button during an experience. Fortunately there is a way for you to see what they see in these situations - from the SteamVR window on the desktop, select Screen Mirror and you'll see a live view from inside the headset. This can also be set to show just one eye's view.
8. Mirroring the audio
From the Steam VR settings you can select Audio and then choose sound playback and recording devices. One handy tip here is that you can set the audio to mirror to another device. This could be the laptop itself or a connected TV or other classroom screen. This can come in useful if you have a group fo students using one setup and taking turns as it means that they can follow along with the experience - especially if audio is integral to a narrative or even if key instructions are given.
9. The Viveport subscription
New to Vive and want to try a lot of VR apps without incurring a huge cost? The Viveport subscription may well be for you. With over 400 titles available, you can download 5 apps a month for the equivalent of about $9. That price drops even further with an annual subscription and can potentially save schools a lot of money. Even if you didn't want five new apps in a month, this price is less than many single apps anyway (e.g. Google Tilt Brush costs double a month's worth of Viveport Subscription.) Obviously not all the apps are education-focsued but there are a lot of gems in there for you to download. Find out more here.
10. Locate screenshots from a specific app
Something I mentioned in my article about evidencing learning with the Vive was where to locate the Steam VR screenshots you can capture within any VR experience. They are somewhat buried in the Steam program files and can be a pain to track down. One helpful tip for quickly tracking down all of the screenshots you have taken from within a specific app is to right click on the app in your Library in Steam and you'll see the option to View Screenshots if you have any. Clicking this will bring up a window showing the screenshots and clicking Show on Disk will open the folder on your PC where they are stored.