What app do I need to use my desktop in VR?
The scene from the movie Minority Report in which Tom Cruise's character, John Anderton, is moving virtual screens around with his hands is imprinted in the minds of techies everywhere. How cool would it be to have a bunch of movable screens surrounding you? You'd be able to enlarge, shrink, and rotate to your heart's content...
Well, that coolness has arrived! Thanks to VR and some savvy developers, you can bring your desktop with you when you escape the real world. Sit in a penthouse and have a swanky LAN party with your pals, or surround yourself in windows as you work at solving crimes (or other equally important business) like Tom Cruise.
There are several apps available that let you take your desktop with you; we expect there to be a whole lot more in the future, but here are the ones we like most right now.
BigScreen, available for free on Steam, lets up to four people bring their screens with them into the virtual world. I can't speak about your personal experience, but LAN parties generally conjure a picture of a cramped, hot room. Gaming PCs give off a lot of heat and are sometimes a pain to transport. Those days are gone!
BigScreen lets you host a small-scale (you and three friends) LAN party from the penthouse of a skyscraper. Sit together — from the comfort of your own VR space — while you game against each other. No screen peeking!
Did one of your friends get ahold of a recently released movie? Watch it together on a theater-sized screen (you can make the screen any size you want, up to a certain enormous point) while you sit in a posh living room. Because of the nature of BigScreen, only one person needs to have the media on their computer, but keep in mind that when it comes to gaming, each person needs a copy of the game to play together.
Move around the penthouse, from the kitchen to the living room to the patio, to find a space you like, or sit together on a couch and watch the lights of the city twinkle below. Your friends appear as disembodied wireframe heads (here's hoping we get full-body scans soon) that project voices in 3D space. Turn your head away or move to another room and you won't be able to hear them as well as if you're sitting there looking at them.
If you want to experience a virtual LAN or posh meeting place for you and your friends, definitely check out this app. BigScreen is in beta development and is compatible with both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
- Free on Steam – Download now
Virtual Desktop essentially lets you live inside your PC. There are a ton of 360-degree desktop environments you can download for free thanks to Steam Workshop integration, and there are also paid desktops you can get from the developer. If you're a creative person, you can even design and implement your own 360-degree desktop environment. Sit under the sea, float around in space, or work from the top of the Empire State Building. Limitations here are based on what you can or cannot think up.
Virtual Desktop's UI is streamlined and very easy to use. Drag and drop most files and they'll begin to play immediately. You won't spend your time fooling around trying to get things to work.
You can use voice commands to launch games and other apps, and if you love listening to music, there's a built-in music visualizer — thanks to MilkDrop — that will melt your brain. Put on some Pink Floyd or Beatles and see what they were seeing when they wrote their music.
Make your screen as big or as small as you want, and curve it to an angle that's suitable for your vision. Text remains legible no matter how you orient your screen and if you have a multi-monitor setup, you'll be able to see each monitor within Virtual Desktop.
For watching standard movies there's a home theater environment that gives you a theater experience without sticky floors and people talking around you. Use any video player you want — the screen snaps up to where it's supposed to be. Watch 3D videos (side-by-side format) inside Virtual Desktop as though you have a 3D TV, and, of course, play all of your games on an enormous screen. Diablo 3 and Rocket League look fantastic; going back to a regular display will be tough.
If you want the feeling of living inside your computer, this is definitely the app. It costs about $15 on Steam; not a bad price, considering what you're getting. It is compatible with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
- $15 on Steam – Download now
SPACE is currently in beta development, but it's already looking great. It lets you open up to six windows (more in final release) within its 360-degree environment, and it lets you configure them in any way you want. There isn't any sort of virtual display limiting where your windows can go. You can have three or four text documents open behind you, and a couple videos in front of you. All you need to do is turn your head to change tasks. This is the Minority Report experience you've been waiting for.
If you're concerned about text size and legibility posing problems while you work, rest assured that the developers also thought of this. No matter the size and configuration of open windows, you'll be able to read text.
You can set any 360-degree picture as the background, so your options are basically limitless. Visit a beach, a city, or another planet. If you're looking for a bit of relaxation after a hard day's work, going to full-screen mode within a browser takes you to theater mode. Sit back and relax while the video of your choice plays on the big screen.
For a virtual desktop experience geared toward productivity, check out SPACE. It's a free download from their website, and they're vying for a Greenlight on Steam. SPACE is compatible with both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
- Free – Download now
SpaceSys is more like an operating system for VR than a projection of your desktop into VR. It is in pre-alpha development (was just greenlit on Steam), so it's hard to say where this thing will go.
The demo video had nine windows open and running smoothly. Some displayed text documents, some were playing video, some were running games, and all were clear. The developers claim there's no limit to the amount of windows you can have open as long as your PC can keep up. They're essentially replacing the standard 2D Windows desktop with a fleshed out 3D environment you can walk, fly, or swim through.
Businesses and collaborators will get a kick out of the ability to share the virtual space with anyone else with a VR headset, and you'll be able to control multiple computers from a single virtual space. Imagine yourself as a team leader or teacher controlling a bunch of employees' or students' computers from one place.
If you want to see what the first iteration of a VR computing platform looks like, you'll definitely want to see what's cooking over at SpaceSys. It is currently only compatible with Windows, but the developers plan on making it work with MacOS and Linux. Likewise, SpaceSys only works with Oculus Rift, but Vive support will be added in the future. A demo is available for download at SpaceSys's website.
- Free demo – Download now
Do you plan on moving your desktop to virtual reality? Have you already moved on from the 2D plane? Which app are you using? Let us know in the comments section below!