Virtual Reality desktops are the future of PCs. Microsoft have announced they will be launching their Windows Holographic operating system in 2017, giving users the opportunity to work entirely in a 3D virtual environment. Apple are also looking into Virtual and Augmented Reality, hiring a team of specialists and patenting projects. Smaller businesses, such as the three discussed below, are jumping on board and are taking completely different approaches. They have created programs that create VR experiences using your current operating system and software.
Virtual Desktop is a straight-forward VR representation of the Windows operating system. All the applications and features available on your desktop are replicated in the virtual one. You can adjust the depth and curvature of your screen, to create a comfortable viewing experience. You have the option to make the desktop ‘screen’ invisible, so your applications appear to be floating. You can change your 3D environment, creating different feeling spaces depending on your intended use. For example, if you wish to watch a movie, you can change the environment to reflect a cinema. You can watch streamed 2D and 3D movies, 360 videos, play games, and virtually anything else you can do on your regular desktop. 2D applications are also supported with this program. If you have dual screens, they will appear side by side in the headset, allowing you to work as you would usually. Virtual Desktop also connects with SteamVR, and therefore you can explore and play a range of content. This program also offers voice recognition, and you can launch programs using this method. This makes it easier to operate, as you aren’t able to see your hands on the mouse/keyboard. This program focuses on having a set screen area though, and applications will run from this screen. If you want to be able to move content around in a 3D space, Windows Holographic and Envelop may be more suitable.
Above: Virtual Desktop cinema room.
Envelop is a program that allows users to move an infinite number of windows and applications around in a 3D space. While offering the same customization options as Virtual Desktop, it also gives you the ability to see your hands through the headset camera. This makes it easier to type (if you are not a touch-typist), and gives a greater sense of reality. It feels more immersive to be able to see your hands. Envelop is also focused on the future of VR in a business sense; offering the ability to create 3D websites, 3D product and data visualizations, and virtual tours of planned buildings. While you are still able to personalize your 3D environment, play games and watch movies, this product has features that would be better suited to benefit businesses in most industries. Including assisting VR game development. Envelop is available for Beta download, and the company will be releasing a developer SDK soon. The only thing missing from Virtual Desktop and Envelop is a social aspect. Neither program allows users to interact with friends/colleagues, or to share their ‘screens’. If you wish to share an experience with others, you may want to look at BigScreen or Engage instead.
Above: Envelop allows you to move applications around in a 3D space.
BigScreen is another virtual desktop solution, and focuses on having a social experience while working on your desktop. You can join up to three other people in a range of virtual spaces and 3D environments, which you can customize. All users in your ‘room’ can see and hear each other’s desktops while there, allowing people to collaborate on projects and socialize online. You can also change the size and position of your screen, giving you the option to watch movies together in your ‘cinema’, or play video games in the classic ‘split-screen’ style. It seems to more geared towards games and movies, rather than work-related applications, as again you are unable to see your hands on the keyboard, and there is also no voice command available. The room size is limited to 4 people and you aren’t able to move around in the space, which would also not be suitable in workplace situations. This is where our Engage program comes in.
Above: BigScreen brings a social aspect to virtual desktops.
Engage is our social educational platform, that has a range of virtual spaces suitable for classes and meetings. These rooms have an interactive whiteboard and a large screen, and users are able to stream in a range of media files to the screen. They can also access interactive 3D objects that can be placed in the room. You are able to have up to 30 people in the same ‘room’, and user avatars are fully customisable. Users manoeuvre their avatar around spaces and interact with objects using hand controllers (in VR) or using a keyboard and mouse (in non-VR PC). Engage allows people without VR to still have the ability to join into VR meetings, making it accessable to everyone. Although this program isn’t technically a virtual desktop, you are able to access and project content from your PC to the screens in-game.
Above: One of the meeting rooms available in Engage.
There are a range of different types of virtual desktops available, and the one suitable for you depends on your needs. All the above programs have features that benefit different people and tasks, however they are also all limited by the headset/computer abilities. The main issue with virtual reality desktops is the current limitation with screen resolution and computing speed. The software is only as good as the hardware allows. But VR technology is progressing quickly, and releasing programs like these pushes these issues to be addressed.
Header Image: A screenshot of Virtual Desktop