Cable Usability in VR


Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, had something very interesting to say about cables recently.

"Cables are going to be a major obstacle in the VR industry for a long time.  Mobile VR will be successful long before PC VR goes wireless." Source

He followed that up with two more caveats:

"It is important to design both hardware and software with those limitations in mind. Real users won't have cable servants." Source
"And I say this as someone who has spent many hours as a cable servant, dancing cables around users to keep them immersed!" Source

Cable Servants?

That's right, cable servants. People who help you through your VR experience like a caddy on the golf course. 

Not everyone can afford to hire this guy to manage their cable. Source: treeangle.co.id (url no longer works)

Not everyone can afford to hire this guy to manage their cable.
Source: treeangle.co.id (url no longer works)

Cable servants work great if you're giving a demonstration or doing game development, but that's not very practical for most people. For this reason- Palmer is right: Mobile VR will probably outsell desktop VR. I would speculate that price will be another factor. Mobile VR (such as google cardboard) has an under $20 point of entry vs. the cost of a good PC and the $300-500 for a consumer grade head mounted display like the HTC Vive of Oculus Rift.

What Are The Usability Concerns?

If you are building content for VR, you've got to consider the cable. Will you be building for standing or sitting? If you're building for standing- does your experience involve moving around on the ground like a fish out of water? Watch this video for an idea of what that might look like:

Maybe experiences that take you all over the floor and over your own cables aren't the best user experience. Let's take a look at 4 use cases for cables.

Case 1: Wireless

This is the absolutely best case scenario. Mobile VR like Google Cardboard and Samsung's Gear VR are completely wire-free, meaning you can build experiences that are standing, sitting, or whatever else you can dream up. The only caveat of course is the head tracking. Without an external head tracker (such as the Vive's lighthouses or the Rift's motion tracker), mobile VR headsets can't pick up all that extra movement data. That said- head tracking in mobile VR can't be too far away. This brings us to...

Case 2: Seated and Wired

Despite the lack of freedom to completely move around, seated and wired is a great experience in VR. The head tracking of the Vive or Rift make for impressive immersion, and because you aren't moving around, there's no risk of getting tripped up over wires. Expect to see a lot of really good seated experiences in VR- racing games, space sims, and adventure games in vehicles. Our very own project Life of Lon will be a seated adventure game that plays out from within a submersible!

Case 3: Small Room Standing and Wired

This could also be considered a hybrid experience as maybe you want to allow standing and sitting within the same experience. The advantage here is giving players more room to move their arms around to interact. This setup would be ideal for experiences that make use of the Vive controllers or the Oculus Touch (when those release). Seated players may not have as much room to move their body around as standing players- so consider a standing experience if you need the room and don't need to move the player much.

Case 4: Large Room Standing and Wired

Ahh the ultimate dream. The holodeck. A fully realized world around the player with full immersive tracking. But what to do about that pesky wire? Until someone invents some kind of crafty way to move it around you as you play your VR games, consider creating experiences that allow some mobility without moving in such a way that will overlap the wire. Stress Level Zero is working on an impressive game called Hover Junkers, and it looks like they've done a fantastic job of making the experience work without any trouble from the wires. Have a look at the gameplay:

Conclusion

Hopefully we've given you one more thing to think about as you refine your VR User Experience. Wires are a consequence of the limitations we have today in VR- but someday they will be a relic of the past! Until then, happy building!

Daniel Allen is the co-founder of Block Interval and co-creator of the in-development VR game Life of Lon. For more information about the project, check out lifeoflon.com or the VR announcement.

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