From room-scale VR to house-scale VR

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

You’ve probably heard of ‘room-scale VR’. It uses additional sensors installed around a room that track the position of a head mounted display. These sensors define the boundaries of a play space, allowing the wearer to physically move around the room and have those movements translated into the virtual world.

We’ve already seen this in action using an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. In fact, games such as Arizona Sunshine, Job Simulator and Unseen Diplomacy already show room-scale VR gameplay to great effect.

Taken a step further, a room (and its furniture) can be mapped into a game in real-time. At CES 2017, Intel’s Project Alloy demo (pictured above) transformed a typical living room into a futuristic game space, incorporating the chairs and a table as objects in the virtual environment.

Valve, however, is thinking bigger. Its president, Gabe Newell, believes that room-scale VR is just the beginning. In the future, the technology will become available to extend a virtual play space across several rooms, thereby creating a more complex and engaging ‘house-scale VR’ experience.

Unique VR experiences

Again, this isn’t a new idea. In the US, a company called The Void is creating unique VR experiences that ‘let players walk around a real location while playing a VR game.’ The VR world is mapped onto a bare, physical stage, so virtual doors need to be opened manually by reaching out and pulling, because there’s a real door there underneath the pixels.

Of course, house-scale VR has its technical challenges. First, giving players the ability to move between locations requires onboard positional tracking. The alternative is to install sensors/base stations in every room.

Second, VR headsets need to cut the cables and go completely wireless.

The Void solves the wireless problem by giving players VR headsets connected to backpack computers. But for home use, systems like the MSI VR One can be less practical, especially if you already own a VR-ready PC.

VR hardware with wireless built-in?

Wireless add-ons, like the TPCAST adapter for the Vive, might be a better solution. At least until second generation VR hardware comes along with wireless built-in. But we might have to wait for that.

“Right now, to get the streaming at the resolution the headset requires, is right on the edge of possible,” Oculus’ VP of content, Jason Rubin told PC GamesN. “They’re getting it, not to say it doesn’t work, but it’s compressed, it’s not perfect and it’s expensive.”

Backpack PCs like the MSI VR One are just one route towards wireless virtual reality and house-scale VR.

Wireless connectivity might also take a back seat to an increase in VR resolution. So what’s preferable? A house-scale VR experience in the 2,160 x 1,200 resolution we have today or a next-gen room-scale experience in 4K?

Virtual human teleportation

There’s also scope for VR to become more immersive. Forrester’s Thomas Husson predicts that “VR will be enhanced by sensory devices that increase the immersive and realistic nature of virtual experiences and transition the users from passive participant to live actor. Think of it as ‘human teleportation’.”

So might we be happier with haptic vests that allow us to feel damage, plastic guns that act as virtual weapons and VR gloves that let us touch our surroundings? Then there’s the Ambiotherm system, developed at the National University of Singapore, which features two fans to simulate wind and “a temperature module that attaches to the back of the neck.”

Valve is reportedly working on a trio of VR games and is excited by the format’s potential. As for house-scale VR, it goes into the box with flying cars and home robots, an idea just waiting for the technology to catch up.

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