Best of CES: The Virtuix Omni Virtual Reality Gaming Treadmill

 

In 2013 Virtuix launched one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in Houston’s history: they raised over $1 million for their one-of-a-kind, stand-up virtual reality controller designed to work in tandem with the Oculus Rift to create the next level of VR gaming.

This week at CES they debuted the final product with the aim to ship units this quarter.

“Our goal is to take virtual reality out of the chair,” says CEO, Jan Goetgeluk. “We are aiming for a fully immersive experience. We want the player to be that soldier on the battlefield, that gladiator in the arena.”

This reporter had a chance to demo an early version of the Omni in Houston last year. It works like this: a player dons special, motion-sensing shoes and steps into a standing unit that can be easily assembled or disassembled for storage. Next, a player straps themselves in at the waist using the adjustable stem. From there it’s just a matter of donning your Oculus Rift goggles and selecting your game.

The Omni tracks movement by having a player walk and run up the bowl-shaped base. It takes a little getting used to, but most people will have it down within a few minutes. Because it’s a controller and not a system in and of itself it works with virtually any first-person title.

The initial models were wooden, but the full production units contain plastic, aluminum, and steel for better durability. Another new feature is a custom designed interface that works in tandem with the Oculus Rift. Early versions relied on the Microsoft Kinect to coordinate movements between the Omni and the headgear. It was an acceptable system, but it proved somewhat ungainly in practice. Movements weren’t as precise as they could have been, and confusion between what your eyes saw on the screen and what your body told you was happening in the real world could make you feel like you were slightly drunk. The custom system fixes the latency issue so that play is much sharper.

That’s not to say that users might not find themselves a little knocked out by play.

The Omni is what Goetgeluk calls “an agnostic of gaming.”

“It plays any VR-ready title. That’s not to say all of them are optimal. The best titles are first-person games with a slightly slower pacing; if you try blasting through a level at top-speed, making three-foot jumps backwards, you’re going to feel a little disorientated.”

In other words being thrown into a virtual world with superpowers is a lot like what it would be to be thrown into the regular world with superpowers—so take it slow. Though obviously the Omni is custom made for the first-person shooter market, there are a ton of less conventional games just begging the player to join.

For example, imagine dropping into the gritty world of Thief as you creep behind thuggish soldiers relieving them of their loot. Or consider the world of PC horror titles—could any scary movie live up to actually being inside of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs or Slender: The Arrival? The Omni can do it, if you’ve got the backbone and the cash of course.

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