Room-scale VR is coming to the Rift with some strings attached


— 11:45 AM on December 1, 2016

Oculus may have had a commanding lead in VR technology when the most recent push for goggling in started a few years ago, but Valve and HTC have achieved remarkable success in their own right with the Vive, its tracked hand controllers, and Lighthouse system for "room-scale" VR experiences. The soon-to-be-released Touch controllers may give Oculus owners a hand with more direct VR interactions, and the support documents for those controllers give us our first look at what room-scale experiences will look like through the Rift's lenses. 

Oculus' default setup for Touch cameras appears to be side-by-side, three to six feet apart, in front of the area where the controllers will be used. That configuration apparently won't allow a full 360 degrees of rotation, though—the line-of-sight to the controllers could be blocked by the user's body. To get around that issue, Oculus is proposing a pair of "experimental" configurations that permit full 360-degree tracking and room-scale experiences.

The first method for 360-degree operation involves placing the pair of Oculus cameras in a diagonally-opposed configuration ranging from six to 10 feet apart. That approach will give users a roughly five-foot-square play area (1.5 by 1.5 meters). Because of its experimental nature, Oculus' guide walks users through the numerous error messages they'll receive when they attempt to set up the hardware this way, and it warns that the configuration may not work with some play spaces or PCs.

The second experimental method involves adding a third camera to the pair one will have on hand after buying a Rift and the Touch controllers. That $80 add-on augments the tracking capabilities of the existing sensors  to allow for a play area as large as 8.2' (or 2.5m) square. Oculus further recommends that users have a minimum play area of seven feet by five feet in order to jump into room-scale experiences.

For comparison, the maximum diagonal distance between sensors for the Vive is five meters. That translates into an area of approximately 11.5' x 11.5' (3.5m x 3.5m). These all may sound like large spaces, but in our experience, even a maxed-out Vive play space is just enough room to really enjoy walking around in room-scale VR. You want as much room as you can possibly dedicate to the experience. With that in mind, the relatively smaller spaces that Oculus is tracking for room-scale Touch use seem potentially limiting.

For now, it seems like those with a hankering for room-scale experiences and room to spare will still get the most enjoyment out of the Vive, especially considering the fact that the system has had room-scale support from day one. Oculus' "experimental" room-scale support may turn out to be a hit with the Touch controllers' finger-tracking, but the experience seems less fully-baked than we might have expected. We'll have to see just how well the fully-operational Rift compares to the Vive when the Touch controllers start shipping soon.

 
   
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