A little over a year ago, we strapped on a Gear VR, sat on a stationary bike and waxed philosophical about a future where virtual reality helps people forget that they're exercising. Apparently we weren't the only ones with the idea, as VirZoom is one of at least two companies demoing VR-based exercise products at CES. We took VirZoom for a spin and the result was the coolest spin class we've ever taken.
There are already ways to distract yourself while exercising: for evidence, look no further than the rows of TVs you'll find above the cardio machines in any given gym. But VR has the potential to not only take that level of distraction to a new level, but also to integrate your effort into the VR world.
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From a distance, VirZoom looks like a typical stationary bike, but step closer and you'll see action buttons and triggers on the handlebars. It connects to all three upcoming (non-mobile) VR platforms, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. Our demo was using a Vive.
All VirZoom games are included in the cost of the bike, and the company tells us it's going to stay that way. The demos we played included auto racing, wild west horse racing and one where you ride a Pegasus into the sky. Make no mistake: these demos aren't full games or remotely on par with something you'd try at the Oculus booth, but the point isn't to make games that stand on their own two feet. It's to gamify your workout and make you forget about your elevated heart rate, rapid breathing and buckets of sweat.
In that sense, the demo was a success. It was the least I've been aware of working out, while working out. And the one thing I'd worry about with this kind of setup, nausea, wasn't an issue. VirZoom says the three headsets' positional tracking (which uses an external sensor to track your upper body movement as you lean forward and to the sides) helps with that. That's also the reason there are no current plans for Gear VR support, as it has no external sensors.
The total cost of the entire setup is going to be pretty high, since you'll need not only a VR headset but also an expensive gaming PC or PS4 to power it, but the company is selling the bike for what sounds like a reasonable US$200. That is limited time pricing, but the company says its regular cost will be $300. And remember, all the games – present and future – are included in that price.
VirZoom says it's working with Valve, Oculus and Sony to get the exercise games into the respective stores, hopefully by the time the consumer headsets launch this year.
It's still early days for this whole virtual reality thing, and the workout equipment space has the potential to evolve this idea through the coming decades – to the point where VR headsets could eventually be par for the course at your local gym (VirZoom wants to eventually go there, but is starting with at-home gamers who will already be buying VR headsets). It was encouraging to see at least one company taking vision to implementation with lots of positives and very few negatives, even at a relatively primitive stage.
If all goes according to plan, VirZoom is set to ship in the first half of 2016. You can pre-order it now from the product page below.
Product page: VirZoomView gallery - 3 images