My Family’s Experiences with the Vive

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to have my parents, my sister, and my brother-in-law visit me for my graduation. During the few days they were visiting, I demoed my Vive to them and they absolutely loved it.

It was a relatively small set of titles that I had them try, but they were good choices as they were all very “demo-able” for a small group:

I had my monitor set up so they could see what the Vive-user was seeing, and I set up a cheap speaker to mirror the audio. Because we wanted to be able to hear each other while in VR, we tended to skip using the earbuds at all (the demos we did didn’t have much necessary audio).

The SteamVR tutorial is a great way to get everyone accustomed to the controls, but it’s a little repetitive to do individually for a group of multiple people. What I ended up doing — which I think worked out well — is to run through the SteamVR tutorial myself while the others can see the screen and my actions. We had to explain a few of the controls along the way as new people tried on the Vive, but it worked out generally well.

Here is a collection of various reactions and insights from watching my family try out these demos:

The Lab:

Definitely the best demo to start people on. Everything is just polished and well-designed in terms of user interaction. Some of my family had a little trouble with the teleport mechanic for a few minutes, but nothing too serious.

The Aperture-Science-style humor definitely fits my family. They were cackling with glee as they mowed down waves of cartoon enemies in Longbow.

It surprised me just how popular the robot dog was with my sister. I think she spent a good 10-15 minutes playing fetch and petting it! And that one giant eyeball is the cutest thing when the dog is enjoying being petted.

Universe Sandbox:

My dad was the main one who tried this. It looked like he got a great sense of awe when looking at scenarios with lots of moving objects (like Saturn and its many moons).

This one still has some UI clunkiness and was harder to use, especially in how the tools are selected or manipulated. The grab/scale movement controls with the grip seemed to work well, though.

Tiltbrush:

This was extremely popular with my family, especially as a conversation topic to ponder the pontential of VR. My dad, who is an artist/illustrator ( you can see his work at http://jonandersenart.com/work/), was just fascinated with the potential of drawing in 3D, especially for architects. He loved how he could draw a building around himself, and then rescale it. As an artist, he spent a lot of time testing out each of the brushes (with lots of undo/redo) to see what he could accomplish in Tiltbrush. It was good that there was the straightedge tool, but we all would like to see more constraint-based tools like a CAD program.

We also did some neat collaborative drawing. For example, my dad would draw some foundations/outlines of a building, then hand it to me to draw some more details on the building. Then I would hand it off to my sister (who is a horticulturist who does landscape/garden work for museums) to create some well-designed gardens surrounding the virtual building.

One thing I thought was funny was how my sister, as soon as she saw she had a “fire” brush, drew a little fire with wooden logs, then sat next to it and “enjoyed the heat.” A direct mirror of that one bit from the Vive trailer.

I noticed that this was one app where my dad chose to walk along the perimeter of the play area when putting on the headset, just to establish the “safe” bounds where he could safely walk. Perhaps it was a result of the “empty landscape” that Tiltbrush has a background? Or perhaps it was more like getting a feel for his 3D “canvas.”

Sadly, this is the only one where I got a (very short) video recording of:

Destinations:

Not much to say about this one except that they thought it was neat. We went to the English churchyard, Mars, Valve HQ, and several other locations. I think what we enjoyed about this one was talking about the process of photogrammetry and the technical details of how one actually captures such scenes.

Google Earth VR:

This was the one that captured the most attention of my family. What I think is interesting is that we had very little interest in visiting “famous” landmarks or new areas around the world. Instead, we all wanted to find and show each other areas we had been to before, to relive old memories. We showed each other where we live(d) and work(d), or travel destinations that some of us had been to before. For example, my dad showed us all the cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa, which was a highlight of his travels to Italy when he was younger.

While the resolution you can get in Google Earth VR is somewhat disappointing at human-scale, it works fine for large, monumental areas. In particular, we spent a lot of time going to mountaintops that we ourselves had ascended (like Grandeur Peak in Utah), and then tracing back down along the trail. Because most of the scenery was so far from where we were “standing,” we could still get some wonderful views of the Salt Lake Valley that resembled what we remembered such views looking like.

One feature that Google Earth VR needs is a way to search for locations by typing in with the virtual keyboard. However, part of the fun was in slowly navigating and trying to find a place by visual landmark. We also had some troubles with a slow internet connection, so the app really needs more pre-caching ability.

Conclusion:

Overall, what indicated how much my family was into the Vive was how it became a thing that we ended up doing at some point every day they were visiting. I had initially thought it would be something that would make a fun evening on the first day and then we would just do other things in town. But we made time every day for VR and had a blast.

I don’t think anyone had any issues with motion sickness, and we only had one time where a controller hit a wall (with not much force, as the user was just attempting to point at something). We initially had had someone holding the cable for whomever was using the Vive, but we quickly found that it wasn’t necessary and that everyone could get themselves untangled when needed. The Vive is a very solid VR system and it’s reinforced just how important and valuable room-scale and hand-tracking are in VR.

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