Roomscale Plus

A few months after getting my HTC Vive, I had become really curious about roomscale, and specifically how large it would scale. Like many people, I was limited at home, though still very lucky to have a 3m X 2.2m playspace.

An opportunity arose to use a retail store in London’s Canary Wharf which boasted a number of different sized rooms with a particularly large space near the front.

I decided to run some “Roomscale Plus” experiments but needed some guinea pigs / test subjects so put the word out. Friends, work colleagues, crew from a nearby movie production and several staff from tech companies all replied.

My Vive and PC were carefully boxed up and carefully taken to the store several days before I wanted to start the experiments. I was given keys by the management so I could use the space until the store opened at 10am every day. This meant leaving home at 3am for 4am setup with 3 guests arriving at 4.30am, it was a very long day…

Over 3 weeks I hosted over 30 people, a number of whom had never tried VR 🤯

Most people stuck to The Lab, Space Pirate Trainer, Tiltbrush and early access demos from SteamVR whilst Google Earth was very well received.

An actress from the movie production immediately declared VR was “witchcraft” after trying Dreadhalls against my advice. The DP was fascinated by the Vive and bought one the following week 👍

Workshop space

The first space was a long workshop giving 7 metres width and 3.5 metres front to back. They didn’t care what we did inside the workshop so I just bolted the base stations straight onto the walls…

The PC was mounted on a wheeled mechanics trolley with a 50 metre mains power cable drum and wi-fi receiver on a non conductive mast; this allowed very easy setup anywhere within long reach of a mains socket with the store having wi-fi coverage across the entire site.

Whilst the PC was easy to move, I quickly realized I was limited by the base stations being wall mounted. Looking at the larger spaces across the store, I needed a stable mounting platform for the lighthouse base stations.

Plastic HTC mounting brackets were isolated using soft timber blocks to light but very rigid aluminium alloy extrusions. Finally, heavy workstand bases were borrowed from the workshop, heavy enough for tracking stability but not too heavy to move about as required.

It was also important to lift them higher to maintain the recommended angle for optimum tracking across a much larger space. Each lighthouse tower was fitted with a 50 metre mains power cable drum to maximize ease of setup allowing me to quickly find the best positions in each different room.

Once placed in the workshop, the lighthouse towers allowed maximum width and depth with each tower able to butt right up against walls.

The extra width was amazing for Space Pirate Trainer, but after a few front wall collisions (one head first and another with bloody hand) we realized more space was needed so moved into a storage space next door.

The storage space was partially filled with cardboard boxes full of stock, ideal to stop any painful collisions. As the week progressed the boxes were removed to completely empty the space giving 6.5 width and 5.5 metre depth.

The tether had already made its unwelcome presence known by the first morning in the storage room. It was common for users to get entangled, forcing a pause with loss of immersion.

Since sessions involved 2-3 users and myself, we took it in terms to manage the user’s tether. Very quickly, we learned to anticipate tether tangling and often manoeuvred the tether to lift it free or stop it getting snagged.

After two satisfying weeks, the final week was the most exciting as I moved the setup into the largest room. Absolutely massive, with empty wall mounts for bicycles which were used to hang the sync cable to connect the base stations over long distances.

Lighthouse Towers were installed at either end of the room, the image below shows how tall they were with the base stations way up high looking down at the vast playspace.

The final week was mind-blowing as we pushed the tracking to 6.36m X 6.36m before it greyed out. This gave a tracked area of 40 meters squared, or tracked volume approximately 160 metre cubed within the 4 metre ceiling height.

The room had air conditioning and lighting control which made for an amazing experience in Abbot’s Book dungeon sequences. Tether management was crucial to a smooth session, we also tried tether extensions but had mixed results even with active cables.

At this scale, the user benefited during games and experiences from never seeing the chaperone (it was hidden), being able to freely walk about in valve’s The Lab or HTC’s Viveport was liberating and breathtaking.in terms of presence.

After 3 weeks in the 3 different rooms the Roomscale Plus experiments sadly came to a close.

Overall very interesting, and fascinating to watch people’s reactions in VR – people shouted, screamed, cried, laughed, one even ripped the headset off in horror. The most popular applications? Google’s Tiltbrush and Valve’s The Lab.

One unseen consequence was moving back to my domestic setting, with its limited movement and constant intrusion of the chaperone, as well as tether entanglement.

Having witnessed the magic of the roomscale Plus, it now felt horribly depressing so I took a break after making a graphic with my conclusions.

As if by chance, the motherboard soon failed on my PC, not cost effective to repair requiring a newer motherboard, processor and DDR upgrade. The Vive and the remnants of my PC including the gtx 1070 were sold off, the cash put towards my next PC build. I kept the user manual and a face cushion as souvenirs.

The next time I got to experience the roomscale Plus magic again was at a location based entertainment venue using backpack PCVR, I immediately felt at home, leaving me dreaming of a wireless future!

Thanks for reading. Rob Cole

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