How do you move in virtual reality?
When you’re wearing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, your natural instinct is to walk or run around as you explore the simulated environment that surrounds you.
The Virtuix Omni is a virtual reality treadmill that’s designed to solve this problem, and I got to try it at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The booth was located right next to the Oculus VR booth, and it’s hard to say which booth drew more people. Crowds would stop to take pictures and videos of the futuristic spectacle of the Virtuix Omni in use, captivated by the testers running in place on the treadmill, waving a plastic gun around with an Oculus Rift strapped to their face.
The Virtuix Omni has been around for a little while now, raising over $US1,000,000 in a Kickstarter campaign last July. Virtuix then went on to raise $US2.7 million in funding just a month ago.
I got to try the very latest and final design of the Virtuix Omni, which is available now for pre-order for $US499 (the price is going to go up when it launches).
Strapping into the Omni is a bit of chore. You have to wear special low-friction shoes that allow you to run in place, with your feet sliding and gliding along the bowl-like surface of the Omni treadmill.
Attached to each foot is an Omni sensor, which is “where the magic happens” according to a Virtuix booth attendant. These sensors track how fast you’re walking and running so your in-game avatar moves at a similar pace.
After the shoes comes the harness, which straps around your waist. There’s also some thigh straps. While you could technically use the Omni without a harness, it allows you to run and lean forward without falling over, and it frees up your hands from trying to keep you balanced, so you can hold a controller, or in this case, a plastic gun.
The last step was to don the Oculus Rift headset. For this demo, we used an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, which isn’t bad, but it’s not nearly as nice as the most recent Crescent Bay prototype.
With the headset covering my vision, the Virtuix team booted up their own demo, which is a speed run where you try your best to shoot down various targets through a maize of rooms. The faster, the better.
Running on the Omni certainly doesn’t feel like actual running. Your feet rarely leave the ground. Instead, it’s more of a continuous sliding, almost like you’re pedaling your feet across a wooden floor in slippery socks.
That being said, it’s still feels like the closest thing to running in virtual reality that I’ve ever experienced, and it’s quite the workout. Once I got the hang of it, I quickly found myself running from room to room, using my head to focus on a target and the gun to activate an iron site for better aim.
Now, the nice thing about the Virtuix Omni is that it plays nicely with all games, since it’s basically just translating your footsteps into a forward, left, or right direction and feeding it into the game, almost like a big gamepad that you can run on. While that’s probably the best way for the Omni to be compatible with a large range of games when the Oculus Rift launches, it also means that movements are far from exact; the movements are merely estimations.
All in all, this final version of the Omni looks and feels almost ready for release. There’s still no ability to move backward or to strafe left or right, but I was told that’s being worked on for the consumer release, which is scheduled for the first half of 2015. Design wise, the construction is far more solid and polished than other past Omni iterations, some of which actually featured a wooden rather than metal frame, and it can also be taken apart for storage, since it does take up a lot of space.
So should VR enthusiasts shell out $US499 on a virtual reality treadmill? Like most VR tech coming out, the best option is still to wait. The Omni is a great workout, so if you’re planning on buying an Oculus Rift and want to lose weight while using it, the Omni is a great choice that will work well enough with games.
But Oculus is still the leader of the pack when it comes to VR, and since they’re targeting a seated experience, it’s safe to say that you won’t be missing out if you decide to save $US499 and just sit on the couch. It might be slightly less immersive, but as of right now, there’s no need to physically move your legs in VR quite yet.
You can pre-order a Virtuix Omni right here.