Massive leaps in progress have been seen in virtual reality over the past year, highlighted by the launch of two leading, high-end headsets. Out of the box, these headsets have similar potential, aside from one key differentiator – movement.
While Oculus still has its Touch motion controllers in the pipeline, HTC's headset shipped alongside advanced tracking technologies for room-scale movement. This allows players to walk around virtual environments with 1-to-1 tracking, adding yet another layer of immersion to its virtual experiences.
While the ideas behind these tracking abilities improve upon the immersion, real-world limitations hold back the technology's appeal. With entire rooms often being dedicated to a clean virtual space, this hugely limits the platform's accessibility.
This is where Wizdish's ROVR VR gaming treadmill hopes to make strides, by delivering full-body motion in a compact package. With a lightweight and collapsible design, the ROVR's concept creates a product that I personally see fitting into the homes of VR consumers. But how does a VR gaming treadmill hold up with today's titles?
The curved design of the locomotion platform allows your feet to easily slide in any direction.
Late last month we managed to get hands-on with the Wizdish ROVR at EGX 2016 in Birmingham, England. With virtual reality seeing a growing presence at most shows, it seems that consumer interest is also on the rise. With a number of people interested in trying the tech, we managed to get five minutes using the technology alongside Bethesda's latest RPG, Fallout 4.
Equipped with some unnaturally slippery shoes, stepping into the ROVR treadmill doesn't feel natural at first. Gripping onto the supporting containment bar (like an old man with a walking frame), you'll soon find your feet and confidently stand upright on the dish.
The curved design of the locomotion platform allows your feet to easily slide in any direction, with small shuffling movements being made to edge forward. Without any resistance between the shoes and the dish itself, the slick surface also allows for quick rotations.
Aside from the outstanding design, what initially grabbed my interest was the technology behind the ROVR treadmill. Rather than being packed with dozens of sensors, the treadmill is kitted-out with a high-end microphone which picks up vibrations from movement; the microphone is connected to the PC via a 3.5mm jack. Using this technology has the potential to severely bring down the price, undercutting a number of other solutions that have emerged in recent months.
Without a reliance on expensive sensors, this also adds to the device's potential longevity. With most of today's VR solutions having costly initial asking prices, reducing the rate of failure of the hardware adds yet another reason for consumers to invest.
The technology's future largely depends on support from developers.
While Fallout 4 is coming to virtual reality at some point next year, our demo took advantage of the standard version of the game that shipped last year. With treadmill inputs mapped to the 'W' key, the demo we experienced didn't provide a flawless translation between real-world movements and those in-game. This is mostly due to the pressure needed to activate the W key, and the distance moved up its activation.
After speaking to others who tried the treadmill, it became apparent that Wizdish's second demo on a Gear VR provided more accurate tracking. If true, it's clear that the technology's future largely depends on support from developers.
As of right now, the first version of the Wizdish ROVR treadmill is available for £499, which is aimed at early adopters and developers. The firm has already confirmed that a successor to the treadmill is in the works, which is expected to improve the overall design and accessibility of the product.
From what I experienced during my demonstration period, the ROVR treadmill has the potential to be a must-have accessory for VR enthusiasts. A challenge now lies ahead for Wizdish; they must further optimize the technology and they must receive support from a wide range of developers. Whether or not this takes off among consumers, it's great to see these companies creating a precedent for virtual reality's future.