When considering a virtual reality purchase, is room-scale VR really a major consideration over standing VR? Some recent demos gave us reason to question our previous conclusions.
Since first trying the HTC Vive, we've been raving about how immersive room-scale VR is. (Room-scale VR, as its name suggests, is virtual reality where you're free to walk around a room-sized space rather than being tethered to one spot.)
But after playing a gaggle of unreleased Oculus Rift games this past week, I realized that – when done well – standing VR can be just as immersive and effective. (Standing VR allows for some lateral movement, but unlike room-scale it has you staying in one smaller area.)
I now believe the key is as simple as whether a) you're putting your entire body into it and b) it's a true 360° experience or not.
The Oculus Touch games we saw in 2016 were all designed with 180° tracking in mind: Even if you had a 360° setup, that content only encouraged you to face in one direction (towards the two main sensors). Compared to that setup, room-scale was the more immersive choice.
But the theme of the second wave of Oculus Touch games, coming in 2017, is deeper journeys that have you exploring large worlds – while facing in all directions. None of them require physically walking around an entire room (in-game movement, usually teleporting, handles virtual locomotion), but simply standing in one spot and turning around in 360° made them highly-immersive experiences. Dare I say, my level of virtual "presence" felt every bit as high as in room-scale.
Standing VR also has an obvious practical advantage: Few people have an entire room they can devote to VR, and even large floor space that can be quickly cleared for playtime isn't always an available luxury. Just about anyone, though, can set aside a small rug-sized area for a standing game.
None of this works, though, if you don't add a third sensor to the Oculus Rift/Touch setup. (It's an extra US$59 purchase, as buying Rift and Touch only nets you two sensors for 180° tracking.) The upcoming games we played all let you rotate the in-game camera to make it technically playable in 180°, but that's far from ideal – and an instant illusion breaker.
We'll revisit this after the full versions of these 2017 Oculus games launch. But playing Robo Recall (a free Oculus exclusive that launched this week) with a standing 360° Rift/Touch setup was one of the most immersive, physical and action-packed experiences I've had in VR. It trumped the overall quality of anything I've played on the Vive.
Once you hit that 360° threshold with plenty of physical activity, I now believe it's more about the quality of game than whether you're really walking around or not.
So while the Vive is still the better technical choice for room-scale tracking, the combination of Oculus' leading content library and the surprising immersiveness of well-made 360° standing experiences may be enough to make the Vive's technical advantages more or less a moot point.