CES 2014: Virtuix Omni Hands-On

by: John -

As a Kickstarter backer for the Virtuix Omni, I was very excited to finally get a hands on with the unit at this year’s CES. I’ve seen many videos of other people trying the product out and yesterday was finally my chance.

What Virtuix had at the show was a prototype that’s been shown the past few months, but with a new addition. The base now holds 40 capacitive sensors that are used to track the feet of the player. No cameras necessary now and it should make for a simpler setup.

The final shoe design was also at the show and they were pretty light and easy to put on. Just stick your feet in and tighten the laces. A clip holds the laces in place so you don’t have to tie your shoes making it for it to easily be put on and taken off in a relatively short amount of time. On the bottom are pads that are made from the same material as the base so it offers very little friction when walking.

For the prototype, it took a little bit of time to get strapped into the belt. CEO Jan Goetgeluk assured me that this is just a prototype and the final would be a lot less effort to get in and out. I know I wouldn’t want to always have someone else help me get into the safety belt and being able to do it quickly and easily by yourself is essential to the Omni’s success in my opinion. Well, that and of course how it performs.

Stepping into the Omni for the first time, you had to be careful because it is really easy to slip and fall with the shoes on. Jan had me take some time walking with the shoes on the curved base and it did take some practice. You won’t be able to step in right away and feel comfortable walking on the Omni, but like many physical activities such as ice skating or riding a bike, it will take a little bit of time to get the nuance on how to move comfortably.

Once the lap belt was in place however, I was able to walk and run with a lot more confidence. It did take me a little time to trust the belt and know that it won’t let me fall or slip. It’s a little weird feeling at first, but as soon as I put complete trust in the safety belt, I was off and running.

Jan than put the Oculus Rift on my hand, handing me a gun controller, and set me off running in a level of Half-Life 2. The demo didn’t have the aiming as a separate component from where you look so putting the gun up didn’t make any difference. I was told to look at where I want to shoot at and just use the gun as a trigger.

The first few minutes I was so disoriented. Going from sitting down using a mouse and keyboard to actually standing up, walking, and looking at where I want to go and shoot was such a different and unique experience. I was so awkward and for the first few minutes I felt like I was fighting against the Omni when moving. It was after about five minutes where I was really starting to feel like I was in control of my movement with my legs. I definitely wasn’t comfortable trying to look one way and walk another and many times I would stop and turn and then start walking rather than strafing or walk backwards like I would with a keyboard and mouse. But, that should come with practice over time.

Let me say that the Omni combined with the Oculus Rift resulted in a very, very immersive experience. You really felt like you were inside the game world in certain points when everything worked together. I say that because there were a few instance where I wasn’t moving my feet and my character would still be walking forward. I’m chalking this up to it being a beta product and their first showing of the brand new sensors in the base. But, when everything works in tandem, it works extremely well.

After just 10 minutes of playing Half-Life 2, I was sweating and feeling like I had a nice little workout. This is a viable exercising tool in my eye. To be able to have complete freedom of movement in a game using the Omni is such a delight and I can see why many people are excited about the prospects of using this with an Oculus Rift and a Stem system.

I’m very happy with the money I put into the Kickstarter and I’m even more anxious to get an Omni in my house now. If the team at Virtuix tightens up some of the control and makes it easy to get in and out of the belt for the final product, they have a real winner. Yes, it’s expensive and it can be considered a niche product, but for those really wanting a VR type experience, the Omni looks to be a great first step in that direction.

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