When I first saw the action packed movie Ready Player One, I got so excited about VR (virtual reality) that I wished I could be a character in the movie. Everything seemed so realistic, and in a dystopian real world that was in shambles, it was no wonder the characters “lived” in the virtual world instead. It was a paradise. As amazing as it seemed, it wasn’t outside of my reach, except I had never tried VR besides a Google Cardboard headset I was given as a gift when I interviewed at Google HQ back in 2015. That headset was fun, but it was more of a test run, and the novelty wore off after a few tries.
Then a friend of mine recommended I try the Oculus Go headset.
She knew I was a techie, but yet I was skeptical at first because I still hadn’t tried a VR headset that gave me the user experience I had dreamed about since childhood. But my friend Ava shared a few videos on Facebook that looked pretty decent, and the price tag was certainly affordable (only $199!). It was Christmas of 2018, and I always treat myself to something at the end of the year, and I hadn’t bought anything. So I bought the Oculus Go. Boy am I glad I did.
First off, the user experience is pretty phenomenal.
The promise of VR to us mere mortals has always been the chance to live in an alternate world without the problems of the real world. But it has to be realistic enough to make you want to unplug from the real world, and jump into a virtual one. The Oculus Go does that. The user experience from the beginning setup to the first moments in the dashboard are pretty intuitive and seamless. The UI (user interface) is pretty easy to get a hang of, although I have to admit using the joystick to point and click on everything can be a bit tedious. Eventually you get the hang of it.
There are plenty of free apps and games to try.
At first I found myself searching through the apps and games and realized you have to pay for them. But then I found a nifty trick: I just searched for “free” in the app on my iPhone and it pulled up all the free apps and games. I downloaded as many that looked cool or interesting to me and the headset installed them automatically when I turned it on. I immediately tried out the shooting game “Dead and Buried” and was blown away. My friend Ava met up with me in my “Oculus Room” shortly after and we hung out together, played a few table top games, watched some videos, and just sat and talked together in VR.
That’s when I realized what VR was all about.
It’s all about events, meeting people, having conversations, and experiencing VR together. I found this out first by scrolling through the Oculus app under “events” and saw a blockchain and cryptocurrency event. After signing up for AltspaceVR and figuring out how to navigate the daunting interface, I finally entered my first event. Now, I do have to admit, it does take a little bit of getting used to navigating Altspace and other apps as well. So be prepared for a learning curve. But once you learn the controls, movements and the weight of the headset on your face, it all becomes second nature to you.
Once I entered the event, I met over 50 people and watched a presentation on a new cryptocurrency. I was able to ask questions, send people friend requests, and chat with some people before heading out to explore other worlds. See, my main gripe with VR at first was that I kept wondering what to actually do in VR. I was expecting to be transported to a new world and interact in a way I never had before. Don’t get me wrong, you do jump into a whole new world. But after you try a few games and apps (albeit how mind-blowing the experience is), you still find yourself alone in the virtual world, just like you might be alone in the real world.
That’s why I was glad to have a friend along for the journey. Ava and I would talk through Facebook Messenger about our experiences and how Oculus Go could improve. We kept telling each other that we wish there was more we could do together. It was too much of a solo experience, and that left us wanting more.
That’s when it happened. We discovered AltspaceVR worlds.
Everything changed. Ava and I jumped from world to world, together. Laughing and talking along the way, and enjoying the detailed worlds people painstakingly built. We flew (yes you can fly!) through a colorful forest, then visited the Jetsons space world, took a portal into Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Magic, stopped through the Matrix, and finally ended up on a distant planet in outer space where we teleported aboard the Starship Enterprise. All the while, Ava and I would stop to talk about our experience.
The best part is hanging out with a friend in VR.
I realized, that every time Ava and I would stop to just talk, we would just laugh and talk about the things we would talk about on the phone. But it’s so much better in VR. Now I can see her laugh, I can see her move, and I can see if she’s paying attention. Sure, video chatting with someone is cool because you talk face to face. But then all you are doing is talking face to face. With VR, you can experience fun and unique things together while seeing a digital avatar of them.
Things got interesting at one point when we stopped in a world to play a game of Cards Against Humanity. Everyone at the virtual card table was laughing at the answers, and we were interacting. It was a world full of strangers, yet we were all playing a game together. It’s kind of like playing a video game together online, but in person and more interactive! I did take a photo of the game, but since you have to first share it to Facebook in order to download it to your phone, I just put my phone in front of the VR lens to take a picture, here’s how it looks:
Which brings me to where Oculus Go can improve immensely
During our journeys, I’d find things that hindered our experience. Ava and I would keep saying, “If only we could do this.” or “Why can’t we do this?” So I started jotting things down on my iPhone and came up with a list of improvements.
- Add a small camera in front of the VR headset and the ability to turn PIP (picture in picture) on in VR. Trust me, when you are playing a game or in the middle of doing something in VR, but need to get a glass of water, navigating your house will result in crashing into a door, or tripping over the dog. So you’ll say – well just take the headset off. Well if you do, it usually turns off the headset and makes you leave where you are, which leaves your friend stranded and thinking you ditched them, when you didn’t. It’s pretty annoying. It would be nice if you could toggle a small PIP screen in your headset to see what’s in the real world while you are in the virtual one.
- There should be an option to take a picture or video anywhere. AltspaceVR has a nifty “selfie” feature, but elsewhere in the Oculus you have to go into the settings and click sharing options, turn on the camera, and then quickly go back to what you were doing within 5 seconds before it automatically takes a photo. It’s a very tedious process. We need a better UX (user experience) here. A button to take a photo or video without having to click on a bunch of menus would be great.
- Speaking of photos and videos, we definitely need the ability to share photos or videos from our gallery with other people. This is annoying. Currently you have to leave what you are doing, go into your photo gallery, share your photos to Facebook (I always share with myself only), then you have to go on your phone or computer to your Facebook profile, click on each photo one by one, download them, and then delete them. You can’t even share all your photos into one album, that’s weird and not user friendly. And what I mean by sharing photos with people is, for example, if I’m in an AltspaceVR world with Ava, I can’t show her the photo I just took. We have to leave, go to my Oculus Room, I have to share the photo on Facebook first, then pull it up on a wall in the room. I should be able to share that photo by projecting it onto any wall anywhere for her to see. Sure I can put the photo anywhere I want in my own AltspaceVR world, but again, there are too many steps just to show a simple photo. Sure, you can plug the headset into your computer via USB, but again, too many steps. I just want to share my content with someone easily within the VR world.
- Why can’t you watch movies with people? Ava and I sit in my Oculus Room and realize there’s not much we can do in there short of playing a few table games, and putting on silly videos or showing photos on the wall. We would love to watch a Netflix movie together or watch something other than Facebook content. It seems like anywhere you can watch content together, it’s Facebook related, and let’s face it, Facebook isn’t known for great content. Netflix is, so is YouTube and other video platforms. I read online you can watch Hulu together, but I don’t have a subscription. You can also download more apps to watch stuff together, but again, why can’t we watch content together in our Oculus rooms? I don’t want to sit in a room by myself and watch Netflix, I can do that in the real world. Please let Ava and I watch movies together more easily.
- Give us rechargeable headset battery packs! Just when things start getting good, that horrible message appears in front of you – Your Power is Low, Plug in Your Headset – Ergh! I end up plugging it in and still using it, even though you’re not supposed to. Then I finally take it off when it gets too hot. Why not have rechargeable battery packs that you can swap whenever you need to, just like video game controllers. Plus it means more money for Oculus, when you have us buying battery packs! Sure, you can plug in those portable USB battery banks, but then there’s a cable and bank attached to your headset. I read online there might be a better way to plug in battery banks to your headset. I’m talking about removing the battery from the headset altogether, and making it swappable – again – like a video game controller. Much more intuitive.
- The handheld joystick is tedious and cramps your hand. In order to navigate the Oculus Go interface and especially Altspace VR you have to use this little joystick with buttons and a touchpad. It’s a bit difficult, doesn’t always work as you intend, and by the time you’re done VR exploration, your hand is cramped. There has to be a better way. Yes you can currently look around in the world with your real head, and there is even the option to teleport in Altspace, but you still have to walk and fly with a touchpad and joystick. I’m sure walking around in your real world house wouldn’t work great, well because you’d hit walls, but there has to be something easier than the joystick.
And here is what can be improved in AltspaceVR
- AltspaceVR should have more closely customizable avatars with the ability to change clothing. I saw too many robots floating around, and I look more like a girl than a guy. So we need more avatar options. And what’s with the missing arms? Give us arms Altspace! 🙂
- You should be able to speak messages instead of having to type them with the pointer. I like that I there is a voice option in the Oculus interface – why not Altspace? This UX makes me not want to send messages in Altspace. you have to point and click each letter one by one to send a message. Why not just enable the microphone like in the Oculus interface? This needs an upgrade.
- You should be able to project what you’re looking at. What I mean by this, is sometimes I see Ava or someone else looking down at their tablet, but I have no idea what they are looking at. Then they might say, “Oh this is cool!” Of course I can’t see it. And they can’t show me what it is. You should be able to show people your tablet, or project what you are looking at in front of you, to share with others. If not it’s a very singular experience, and that’s not what VR is meant to be.
Overall I highly recommend you try Oculus GO VR.
I now look forward to my time in VR after work. Even just hanging out with Ava, talking and laughing is so surreal and fun that it makes it worth the price tag. That’s what I found interesting about VR, is that you don’t even have to do anything to have fun. Just spending time with someone who lives far away in VR has a futuristic appeal to it. Not only that, I find myself sad to unplug and go back into the real world when I’m done using the headset for the night. Like Ava said to me one night when we were in a colorful world, “I mean, just look around. Why would anyone want to leave here?” We both laughed and explored some more.
I hope to see you in AltspaceVR sometime, look for my username to connect – jsherm76
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