Our industry insider Yinch answers questions on the technical aspects of the Virtual Reality suite. Contact him with your questions at yinchyeap@spacestudiobanbury.org

1. what kit are you using in the VR suite?

We are using the splendid HTC Vive virtual reality system running on some powerful Windows 10 PCs sporting Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics cards.

There are 3 separate VR “stations” in the VR suite which can be used simultaneously – and even collaboratively.

2. why did you choose this VR equipment?

The HTC Vive was the first “room-scale” VR system that encouraged the user to move around. So rather than just a fancy 3D display strapped to your head while you sit, using the Vive is a standing experience. It also comes with tracked hand controllers that let the user manipulate things in the VR space. Although the setup is a bit more complicated than other VR systems, the Vive delivered a smooth, accurate and, ultimately, the most immersive experience for the user.

Many other systems deliver incomplete experiences while still claiming to be VR. Many are not interactive (like panoramic video) or not responsive (like most mobile VR) or not even stereoscopic 3D! Given this background of misleading hype it was important to me that the VR Suite represented the true state of the art.

3. what are the health and safety issues involved in setting up VR?

At first glance, being “blind” to your immediate physical surroundings seems like a great danger to the user. But, in fact, the space represented inside the VR view is so responsive, the user has no problems maintaining balance. The Vive setup instructions recommend that a safe area be cleared around the user, which we have marked out on the floor using tape. A virtual mesh is shown to the user inside the VR headset to keep them within this area.

Sometimes people have strayed out of the area and bumped the controller against the walls and the trailing tether does take some getting used to. It is quite amazing how quickly pupils have adapted to instinctively step over the tether and to turn themselves automatically to prevent tangling.

The greatest danger is actually for the spectators getting swiped by the user when they get to close to the edge of the box and a vigorous game is going on inside the VR. For this reason we always make sure users are supervised and wear the wrist straps.

4. were there any technical issues to overcome?

The Vive system achieves its accuracy by using external IR beacons called lighthouses to triangulate the position of the headset and the controllers. This gives very precise tracking within a fairly large play volume. However, each VR station has to see ONLY its own two lighthouses. With three stations in the room, it became a real challenge to try to isolate each of the play areas from the other play areas.

We didn’t want to resorting to partitioning the room into small walled cubicles. We were looking for a solution that maintained the open feeling of the room, so after many days of experimentation, we finally found a workable arrangement. By hanging short drapes from the ceiling struts, we were able to block the line of sight sufficiently to allow each of the three areas to be isolated from stray neighbouring signals.

5. how is the kit holding up so far?

All the kit is still working perfectly well. The team of student VR champions have been exemplary in maintaining the security and smooth operation of the equipment. Other than needing an occasional cleansing wipe, the headsets have performed admirably, given the hundreds of people that have used them.

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