Virtual Reality

Virtuix Omni: VR treadmills not yet living up to the promise (hands-on)

Virtuix Omni: VR treadmills no...
Gizmag gets strapped in to test the most popular VR treadmill, the Virtuix Omni
Gizmag gets strapped in to test the most popular VR treadmill, the Virtuix Omni
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Strapping into the Virtuix Omni, via harness
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Strapping into the Virtuix Omni, via harness
Walking around a virtual battlefield, with the Virtuix Omni treadmill
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Walking around a virtual battlefield, with the Virtuix Omni treadmill
Note the slight bowl shape to the treadmill's base – you need to drag your feet down those sides with every step you take
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Note the slight bowl shape to the treadmill's base – you need to drag your feet down those sides with every step you take
The Omni requires special shoes (they feel slippery, like bowling shoes), which are included with the treadmill purchase
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The Omni requires special shoes (they feel slippery, like bowling shoes), which are included with the treadmill purchase
We were able to run in our demo, but it didn't feel natural
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We were able to run in our demo, but it didn't feel natural
Gizmag gets strapped in to test the most popular VR treadmill, the Virtuix Omni
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Gizmag gets strapped in to test the most popular VR treadmill, the Virtuix Omni
The screen shows what we saw inside the (HTC Vive) headset
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The screen shows what we saw inside the (HTC Vive) headset
The Virtuix Omni costs $699
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The Virtuix Omni costs $699
Another look at the special shoes
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Another look at the special shoes

In theory, a treadmill could be be a great way to handle movement in virtual reality. But how does the current reality live up to the theory? Read on, as we recap our feet-on CES demo of the Virtuix Omni VR treadmill.

The Virtuix Omni has been around for a while – its Kickstarter campaign was two and a half years ago – but the VR treadmill is finally shipping now, and has the potential to become relevant this year, with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive set to launch within the next few months.

HTC and Valve are tackling first-person movement in VR from the get-go by letting you walk around a 15 x 15 ft. space in your own home with the Vive. And though Oculus is taking more of a baby-steps approach to this aspect, the Rift will be able to support room-scale VR as well. But both solutions are still limited to the size of your physical space – if you want to run around, say, a virtual battlefield or a large building inside a VR game, developers will have to employ tricks to keep the real you confined to the real room you're playing in (imagine things like standing on a moving platform or being hunkered down in a room-sized bunker where the enemies all come to you).

But treadmills have the potential to let you feel like you're walking indefinitely (i.e. no moving platform tricks), only without needing more than a few feet of real floor space. Again, sounds great in theory.

Walking around a virtual battlefield, with the Virtuix Omni treadmill
Walking around a virtual battlefield, with the Virtuix Omni treadmill

Based on our demo, though, the Virtuix Omni isn't fun enough or natural-feeling enough to live up to that potential.

Our best description of the experience is to imagine that you're moonwalking on the sides of a human-sized serving plate, while wearing slippery bowling shoes. The company says the Omni enables "a smooth gait," but our demo didn't live up to that. It simply didn't feel like taking a step in the real world or even taking a step on a treadmill at the gym.

This is because the sensors inside the base unit and on the shoes require you to drag your feet down the slopes of the treadmill. The forward step feels somewhat natural (it's like walking up on a slight incline), but the need to slide your foot backwards after each step feels odd. I picked up on it quickly, but it never felt completely intuitive (and I'm not sure if I wanted it to).

That's too bad, because the Virtuix Omni is a bold product that may be about as good as a 360-degree VR treadmill can be at the moment. You can turn in all directions, the latency wasn't noticeable and the harness allowed me to quickly change orientation without falling down or out of the Omni.

And PCs will treat the Omni like it's a regular analog controller, making it compatible with most first-person games for the Rift or Vive (and any other PC-based VR that comes along) out of the box.

The Omni requires special shoes (they feel slippery, like bowling shoes), which are included with the treadmill purchase
The Omni requires special shoes (they feel slippery, like bowling shoes), which are included with the treadmill purchase

But without a truly natural walking motion, it's asking customers to get used to an incredibly awkward new way of moving. It expects intuitive human behavior to adapt to the tech, whereas history has shown that the most successful consumer tech products do the opposite.

Even if the Virtuix Omni did allow for perfectly natural motion, there's still the obstacle that it a) costs US$699 and b) requires as much floor space as a piece of gym equipment. That may have made it an extremely niche product even if it had nailed the walking part, but for now it's hard to see this first-generation model going far even with the eager early adopter crowd.

The Virtuix Omni costs $699
The Virtuix Omni costs $699

We'll continue to keep an eye on VR treadmills, though, as the opportunity is still there for a company that can allow for a completely natural gait. Who knows, maybe Virtuix can learn lessons from this model and build a 2nd-gen unit that lives up to that promise. As it stands now, though, the free-roaming Oculus Touch and Vive experiences blow this away.

The Virtuix Omni VR treadmill is available now for $699.

Product page: Virtuix

5 comments
VR_Cat
I honestly don't think it's fair to bash a product like the Omni after only a brief time with it. There is an acquired skill needed to get the full benefit, like riding a bicycle. Example: the first few times I tried riding a bike, I fell off and hurt myself. If I were to review bicycles at that point, I would probably say they'll never catch on as they're inherently flawed, the experience isn't fun and it doesn't feel intuitive or natural - who's going to spend money on and make space for a bicycle that you keep falling off and hurting yourself with? If I wrote another review after I got the hang it though, my feeling would be completely different. Sure, the author didn't fall out because the ring keeps you safe, but his balance probably wasn't as good as someone who's had more experience with it. For instance, you're not supposed to drag your feet backwards when you take a step - when you have confidence in the harness all you have to do is lean forward and your foot will move back without effort. That obviously takes some getting used to but with practice you can sprint, stop and turn rapidly and feel completely comfortable doing so. I didn't feel totally at ease the first few times I rode a bike, but after that it became a lot of fun, and this is surely true of the Omni as well. I've no doubt it's going to be very successful, since there is so much desire for exploration in VR, and yet there is currently no better way to counter the '3xS' problems of first-person movement in VR - Safety, Sim-sickness, and Space-constraints.
FabianLamaestra
"but the need to slide your foot backwards after each step feels odd. I picked up on it quickly, but it never felt completely intuitive" To the author, I was at the booth at CES and I tried out the product which I also have on pre-order. I don't recall the issues that you're describing. In fact my experience was quite positive. Once I had the headset on, walking seems very natural and I felt like it was a good idea and a well executed product. I am wondering if the person who helped you with instructions on how to use the product for the first time may have suggested something that didn't seem natural. Anyway, I can't wait for mine. I'm sure I'll get it in about 4 to 6 months.
Racqia Dvorak
I think this needs to show up in gyms. It would definitely make an impression and, even if it's not fully up to snuff yet, the technology needs this to be developed further, which means money.
Steve Jones
Fair review, it's nice to see things not being over-hyped just because of exciting potential. Even if it's not a completely natural walking experience, this is still a very exciting development. Also, it has the advantage over other games controllers that it promotes physical activity. Of course, compared to other fitness equipment it has the advantage of gamifying your exercise but the disadvantage of much lower intensity. But then, it has the advantage over other pieces of fitness equipment of being much quieter to use (I imagine). This is a huge consideration for those who don't live on their own or who live in a flat/apartment... which is most people.
JBvr
Reviewer either did not actually try it, or is very uncoordinated. It's very natural movement. To say that the "free roaming" oculus and vive solutions "blow it away", is just comical. If you want to stand still and move slowly 5 feet in any direction with someone holding your hand so you don't fall...sure, it's amazing. You literally stand and take baby steps. That's it. The Omni allows you to run in any direction and jump without worrying about injury. Did I mention you could run? Blows it away....lol.