Curry’s PC World isn’t exactly where you’d expect cutting-edge technology. Regular laptops, televisions and printer cartridges, sure. But the future of technology? That’s best left to the shops that don’t have the reputation and technological expertise of a small, somewhat haggard block. So it was with some surprise that I learned that the retail chain will showcase the HTC Vive in three of its stores in Leeds, Reading and London.
Of course I had to go see how they handled it.
At first glance, it’s hard to say that the HTC Vive is in the Currys PC World on London’s Tottenham Court Road at all. The storefront is dominated by the Google store-within-the-store, as well as the usual array of special offers and gleaming TVs. Vive advertising is limited to a poster hung over one of the security scanners used to detect if rowdy teens have managed to sneak out with an iPhone case or two.
Once inside, there’s no signage at all indicating that the Vive is on display. You’ll need to make your own way to the back of the store, where the Vive is tucked away next to the “Gaming Bunker”, an l33t gaming-style room decked out in black paint and racks of mechanical keyboards and gaming mice. However, the Vive area is a bit more inviting, with some large bleachers and posters offering to let you “experience Virtual Reality”.
I arrived at the store around 5:30 PM, half an hour before closing time. There was a short line of people to try the Vive: two students writing their thesis on virtual reality (who had come all the way from Croydon to try it out), along with two older gentlemen who had a lot of questions about the friendly employee who leads the sessions. Most of the questions revolved around price and PC hardware, which to my surprise were all answered expertly. Notably, the demos were staffed by HTC and not Currys PC World.
According to this member of staff, PC World will sell you a compatible PC for the Vive if you ask, though she couldn’t provide details. However, she noted that “usually you just need a graphics card upgrade” to run the Vive, and that most people can easily figure this out by running Valve’s SteamVR performance test on their home PC. That’s solid advice, although I think it would be even better to have a few cards knocked around with the link to the test on them for people to take home.
While I haven’t done the demo myself – which wouldn’t be fair to those lining up, especially since I’ve been doing quite a bit of VR lately – I did see an eager teen walk through. It’s easy to forget how magical VR is when you first try it, and after being helped setting up the headset and given the controllers, there was a wonderful moment when the Vive started up and it screamed “oh shit !”, much to the amusement of us in the store.
The Currys demo only lasts 10 minutes and is divided into two sections: one for the shooting game Space Pirate Trainerand another for Google’s 3D drawing tool Tilt brush. Both were well received by those who did the demo, especially the one person who figured out how to change the background Tilt brush and suddenly found himself floating around in space. Shortly afterwards there was another loud “oh shit!”.
While it was relatively quiet when I arrived at the store, according to the staff, it had been much busier around lunchtime, with quite a long line of people waiting to try the Vive. There were non-stop demos all day long, and considering the fact that the demo space hasn’t been advertised much beyond a few articles online, that’s pretty impressive. As word gets out, I expect it to get a lot busier.
No one who tried the Vive pre-ordered it then and there – which isn’t too surprising given its £689 price tag – but I’d argue that’s not the point. Even for those who’ve heard of the Vive – and let’s be honest, at this point that’s mostly early adopters and core gamers – it remains a pipe dream, both in terms of price and usability. Demos like this show that this isn’t necessarily the case.
If you’re still on the fence, I highly recommend checking it out. You have until April 4.