Field Trip : The VR & AR World Tour User Experience

I am very interested in the virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) industry. The only true way to understand how it all works is to actually put on the headset and experience it for your self. However as someone who’s transitioning to the UI and UX field, I’m already seeing some flaws. From a user experience standpoint, there is much more work needed in demoing the experience companies want me to see and feel. So far I’ve experience different levels of eye strain, neck pain, headaches, poor audio, sound bleed, and disorientation. However I’m glad to say I’ve not gotten motion sickness (yet).

I thought I’d use this time to highlight the systems I’ve used and my general experience with them, and where I saw them.

PlayStation VR

Before it’s initial launch in October of 2016, I was fortunate to try a hands on demo at the Toronto FanExpo Canada during the summer. At that time from the choices I had to sample was the demo called Playroom VR. If you’re familiar with the Astrobots that came with PlayStation Camera, they make an appearance in the PlayRoom VR. Instead of being an Astrobot, I was the enemy, taking on the roll of a monster wrecking havok on a city. I would call this game really Godzilla Simulator. As an avid gamer I would have picked up the PSVR by now. However the issues that stopped me at the time was cost and time. Lately now, the PSVR you’re able to find at a cheaper price, and a vast library of games to purchase from the PlayStation Store.

In terms of the headset itself, very comfortable on the head, and on the eyes (especially if you wear glasses). Different areas of adjustment for a nice fit. In terms of screen visual UI I was always started my demo inside the game, versus on the PlayStation TV menu. In terms of movement I have only tried the Dualshock 4 controller, not the Move. Lately I’ve seen during the summer PlayStation conducting shopping mall visits to set up kiosks (at least 8 game terminals). Games offered to try range from Job Simulator, DriveClub VR, and Farpoint.

HTC Vive

My 1st experience with the HTC Vive was this summer at my local public library. I’ve known the HTC Vive was the best performance running headset of VR technology. However the software I was trying out the app maybe wasn’t the best to showcase it’s full potential. The game Job Simulator is a fairly simple game to interact with a normal Dualshock 4 controller. Now I’m using touch wands to mimic my pointing and clicking at well as my navigation. Even when I’m standing there were times where I almost tripped because I felt the need to move to get my actions going. Instead I was forced to stand stationary and keep to head movements. The headset felt somewhat heavier versus PSVR. I want to try Vive again with a paint app like Tilt Brush.

Oculus Rift

I recently attended the AR / VR Mixed Reality Summit hosted at the Ted Rodgers School of Management at Ryerson University by TorontoStarts. I got to experience Oculus using an virtual art museum experience. It was an interesting mix of what was presented to the user. The problem most VR experiences I’ve had is the start and transition in these experiences. The user is forced to do these teleports, or a sudden blinding flood of colour into your vision. It can be very jarring and if experienced multiple times, you can get a headache or feel nauseous. As far as the Oculus headset went, the weight on the head was heavy and the lenses on the eyes were uncomfortable pinching on my glasses.


Samsung GearVR

I recently went to an art exhibit hosted in Toronto by the tourism board of Las Vegas. The exhibition featured on of my favourite designers Jame White aka Signalnoise. I love his 80s retro neon inspired illustration work. He posted recently he was collaborating with Las Vegas to create his unique spin of experiencing the Las Vegas sunset strip in VR; I wanted to check it out.

You are experiencing 6 different takes on Las Vegas in VR by 6 different artists. In the past I’ve experienced the panorama images on an iPhone using Google Cardboard. This was the 1st time I was using full VR app on a Samsung Galaxy 9 mobile phone. First thing the staff told me was to take off my glasses. Every VR experience I had prior I was able to keep my glasses on. So instantly the experience was very blurry for my vision and it required some fine tuning and focus adjustments. It took a while to adjust because it’s one thing to focus standing still, VR expects you to move your head, so I was dealing with motion blur a lot. The issue with navigation was I had to use the side controls on the headset. I was not given any kind of hand remote. This was a bit cumbersome as I couldn’t see what I was pressing on the side of my head. I had the risk of potentially powering down the GearVR because the controls were close to the ON switch. Getting back to VR experience I was thankfully sitting down in a swivel chair. However this was a little problematic with some VR experiences. The reason being I was rotating my head in one direction, while my body was twisting in another direction. There was no way to do a hard reset to line up everything in a default position. Another thing I had noticed is a lot of VR experiences rely on the “roller coaster movement” or “on rail” system of navigating. Where simply you are on a set path and moving with no control of speed, stopping, or going  backwards. The only thing you can move is your head motion tracking. I had problems were the VR experience was actually starting behind me, and I missed about half of the visuals. All because I was facing elsewhere. The sound issues were noticeable as the headphones were not noise canceling. Not to mention the VR exhibit space was an open lot off King Street West, in Toronto. So you can imagine the sounds of the street playing an impact in the experience. Overall it was good, however I left the session with some brief disorientation. I was probably wearing the GearVR for almost 10 minutes. Unfortunately I missed meeting James in person. However I got a nice hat and signed poster as a keepsake.

Microsoft Hololens

During the AR / VR Mixed Reality Summit, Microsoft Canada was there on hands to demonstrate the augmented reality device known as Hololens. My only knowledge of Hololens was during an E3 press conference where Microsoft was showing the game possibilities with Minecraft.

In terms of comfort on the head it was not as weighted down compared to the VR helmets. As for the sound, I wasn’t wearing headphones the sound was coming from spatial speakers positioned on the ring of the Hololens by the ear. I wasn’t able to adjust the sound, and the background chatter from the lineup and elsewhere in the auditorium. In terms of controlling this is where things got interesting. I only needed to use my right index finger to point, and to click OK, do a pinch with my index and touch.

For some reason it took quite a bit of tries to get it started. I was pinching in thin air for a good minute or so. The demonstration application was a male human body anatomy. Projected through the vision of my Hololens was this giant skeleton on a flat 40 foot wall of the auditorium. It was amazing watching how this skeleton would scale in size and and be am to zoom into finer details. Of course the problem sunk in my neck I was looking upward for so long it was straining my neck. It was not the most ideal spot to be doing a demonstration.

Overall I can see why people in the tech industries are betting big on augmented reality versus the power of virtual reality. Reasons being a mobile phone is powerful enough to power entry level AR solutions. Where as virtual reality requires a large scale PC running graphic heavy specifications. Creating the contact is not that hard and I have some of the software to get started. Both have their promise, I even heard about the next phase called Extended Reality (XR). I haven’t tried that as of yet, but I look forward to the day.