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Enter the Void: Extreme VR

Reading about The Void deploying a set of experiences for TED attendees reminded me that I was fortunate enough to participate in an early beta experience at The Void back in November (and again in December) and, although I shared my thoughts on Facebook at the time, I forgot to write it up here.

What The Void is creating is impressive, a completely immersive experience that’s on an entirely different level from consumer-grade room-scale VR. There were a couple of brief moments during which I genuinely forgot I was in a simulated environment.

In terms of technology, when I went through they were using Oculus DK2 units as stand-ins, but their proprietary HMD is significantly higher resolution and with a wider field of view. I don’t think they have released detailed specifications (beyond saying that it’s a “2K per eye resolution” and “180 degree FoV”) but the HMD looks to be very impressive.

More important than the HMD tech is that they are creating a physical environment that matches (perfectly) the virtual environment from a tactile perspective– if you reach out and touch a virtual wall it has substance. When you reach out to use the virtual touch screen controls to open a door, it works. The effect is quite compelling, and succeeds in creating an illusion that’s quite convincing.

Their body/motion tracking is spot-on.1 During one experience, while holding a rifle, I was able to accurately aim it using the sights. The virtual gun was exactly in the location and orientation of the plastic toy I was holding.

The moment of maximum presence for me: As I walked near a door in a science fiction environment it slid open, and I felt a rush of cold air from “outside.” I walked through the door and was on narrow walkway on an alien world. It was markedly cooler. I could look up and see the alien sky, and I could look down and see a ~500 foot drop with no guardrail. I stepped toward the edge, and felt the edge with my foot. (I later talked to the attendant… it’s a drop of only a few inches– just enough so you’d feel an edge under your foot, but low enough you weren’t likely to trip and fall if you tried to commit virtual suicide.) In that moment, I was on that alien world, and the little flying sentry pods that were approaching me felt like a real threat. When I succeeded in shooting each one down, I felt relief not simple gaming accomplishment. For that brief moment, it was real to me.

I look forward to trying their proprietary headset when they get it worked out. Higher resolution and higher frame rates will make the experience even more convincing. There were definitely glitches (they had to restart the simulation a few times when the system locked up) but what they have accomplished is clear even in this very early beta form. I think this has potential to be hugely successful when they launch later this year, and since it will be ~3 miles from my house I have a feeling I’m going to spend WAY too much money there.

This is a great reminder to me that we live in the future. It’s worth watching their promotional video. They aren’t overstating it at all– what you see in the video where they are in the lab and battling monsters and giant sci-fi spiders is what they have working today, and the experience really is what they are showing. I hope that the experiences go beyond just gaming and specifically first-person shooters2, the technology has much more potential than that.

Video of someone walking through an earlier version of one of the two experiences

They can simulate a space of unlimited size (techniques like redirected walking, where you think you are walking in a straight line but really it’s a huge circle, and similar techniques) so I hope they are ambitious.

However, im sure the early stuff will be mostly repurposed video game paradigms.

  1. Oh, and zero vestibular discomfort (except for a beta-induced glitch where the system was dropping frames.) Zero motion sickness or dizziness. 

  2. My hope is they are more creative than that. One of the experiences was definitely a first person shooter kind of thing, but the other decidedly was not. (More like being Indiana Jones exploring ruins.) Because of how inexpensive it will be to refit the physical spaces for new experiences, I’m hoping there will be a lot of variety. 

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