Architecture

Getting Started with VR for Your Architecture & Design Team in 2020

Austin Baker
July 6, 2020
|
6
MIN READ

Virtual reality is no longer out of reach, something we might use fifty years from now when we’re all driving around in flying cars. VR technology is already being used today by forward-thinking architects and designers who are saving money, winning more clients, and working smarter in their remote collaboration. 

Using VR as an immersive design collaboration tool has been proven to:

  • Improve communication and collaboration
  • Shorten design review cycles
  • Speed up decision making
  • Win more projects and get more clients
  • Eliminate travel and reduce in-person meetings
  • Decrease design meeting time and costs
  • Minimize rework/design revisions
  • Catch critical issues before construction
  • Replace static presentations, such as Powerpoint

As exciting as all of these possibilities are, getting started with VR in your design team can seem overwhelming. Every team’s work style and environment is different, and consequently, their VR needs may vary. As the traditional office model evolves towards remote/dispersed collaboration in 2020, VR workflows are also shifting towards independent use.

While it may seem daunting, figuring out the best VR setup for your team isn’t as difficult as you might think. This guide will help you understand exactly what you need to start saving time and money by collaborating in VR.

Getting Started with VR in 2020: What You Actually Need

As a VR newbie, you’re likely starting from scratch, and you’ll need to figure out the must-haves to purchase immediately for your design team—and the nice-to-haves that can wait.

Before diving into recommendations, it’s helpful to know common VR terms you’ll see when reviewing the technology and features provided by these devices. 

Common VR Terminology

Tracking: Within VR headsets, there are two different types of tracking: inside-out and outside-in. With outside-in, the VR headset and the controllers are being tracked by an external device, sometimes called base stations or “lighthouses”. This allows for more accurate room-scale tracking with millimeter accuracy. With inside-out tracking, the VR headset and controllers are tracked through sensors or cameras on the headset itself. 

Inside-out vs Outside-in tracking. Image Source: DelightVR

Field of View: The field of view (FOV) defines how much of the user’s view is covered by the display and optics of a given headset. Humans have a field of view of around 200 degrees. 

Resolution: The higher the resolution of a VR headset, the more real the image will appear. Higher resolution makes it easier to see detail and read text.

Comparing common VR Headset resolutions. Image Source: MRTV

Screen-door effect: Many VR headsets have what is called a screen-door effect, which is a visual artifact that results from viewing a digital display at close range. The fine lines between individual pixels become visible to the viewer, giving the illusion of viewing content through a screen door. Newer headsets like the HP Reverb are starting to reduce this effect.

Tethered vs. Standalone: There are two main classes of VR headsets — those that are tethered to a PC, and those that have a built-in processor and don’t require a PC to run (standalone headsets).

Tethered VR headsets (ex. Oculus Rift S) must be hooked up with wires to a PC in order to work. These headsets are ideal for people, such as Revit users, who use powerful Windows PCs. Since tethered VR headsets offload all the heavy processing to their connected PC, they can handle larger models with much better performance.  

Standalone VR headsets (ex. Oculus Quest) are completely wireless, and do not need to be hooked up to a powerful PC in order to work. They are excellent for travel, and are typically more affordable than tethered VR headsets. However, since they run on mobile chipsets, they are best suited for smaller, optimized models and presentations. Standalone VR headsets are newer, and still need time to evolve and gain the same capabilities as their tethered predecessors.

2020 VR Headset Recommendations 

All VR headsets are not created equal. The best solution depends on your team layout, budget, and intended usage.

View our full comparison chart here.

It may be tough to predict the likelihood of consistently working in an office in 2020. For those that are planning to have more permanent VR rooms or conference setups, we recommend you stick with high-end, outside-in tracking headsets like the Valve Index or HTC VIVE Pro. These provide the highest performance with most accurate tracking for reliable design reviews. The tethered Oculus Rift S and HP Reverb also allow for powerful editing and reviewing heavy models, at the tradeoff of slightly less accurate inside-out tracking.

If you have a powerful PC, Oculus Quest presents the best of both worlds; combining a portable, lightweight headset you can use anywhere, with the optional power of a tethered headset if you use a link cable. Many distributed teams are opting for the convenience and affordability of the Quest.

(Pro-tip: if your team plans on sharing headsets, make sure to invest in a box of VR cleaning wipes)

Using the Oculus Quest for untethered collaboration.

Space

You don’t need a large space when you’re working with virtual reality. As many of us are working from home in 2020, sitting at one desk works just fine for VR.  A swivel chair tends to be more comfortable for seated VR as it allows for full 360° rotation. This type of chair is also helpful if someone on your team has motion sickness.

VR at a single desk. Image Source: Vive

If you want the full, room-scale VR experience to move freely, it’s a good idea to set up a dedicated space in a separate office, conference room, or bedroom for WFH space. We recommend a minimum 6’x6’ “playspace” for a full, comfortable range of movement. Some teams also like to set up their virtual reality spaces along a group of desks, such as a pod.

Full-room VR. Image source: Vive

VR-Ready Computer (for tethered headsets)


If you've opted for a tethered headset, you'll need a high-end PC to power it. Unfortunately, Macs are pretty far behind in this game, and we don't recommend or support macOS for VR. It’s worth investing in the best possible graphics card to handle heavy models and rapidly design in VR. We recommend at least an NVIDIA GTX 1070 equivalent or greater. Click here to learn about the minimum requirements needed to run The Wild. If you're a Revit user, chances are good that your existing PC is powerful enough to support VR.

Most VR-ready computers are marketed as “gaming” computers, and you can purchase a good one under $2000 if you’re savvy. A few we’d recommend checking out are a Dell Alienware laptop, Alienware Aurora, an HP Z Desktop, a Razer Blade, Asus, MSI, or an HP ZBook

Desktop PCs have historically provided better performance at a lower cost, in addition to being easier to repair or upgrade. However, if portability is a priority, gaming laptops are continually minimizing their footprint while becoming more powerful. Read this article to learn more about the pros and cons to consider when deciding between a VR-ready desktop and a laptop.

Internet

Most cloud-based VR software requires a decent internet connection for collaboration. For some solo experiences, you do not need to worry about your connection.

For The Wild, you will need a dependable connection to run our application on the internet or through an installer. You can even tether off your phone. The Wild uses less data than streaming a video. We recommend a minimum of 20Mbps upload and download speed for the best experience. You can check your internet speed at www.speedtest.net.

Presentation Tools

One of the most exciting uses of VR is creating mind-blowing presentations. There’s several ways you can share your creative visions with clients and collaborators.

Screenshare in a Video Call

Using video communication tools like Zoom, you can easily screenshare the desktop view of VR applications like The Wild. This is the quickest way to immersively share models with large groups of people that don’t have access to VR.

Screen-sharing The Wild in a Zoom Call

Send a Video

You can capture professional recordings of your spatial designs on a PC using tools like OBS (Open Broadcast Software.) When using The Wild, you can switch to a third-person view or immersive smoothed first-person and capture a walkthrough of your model for quick, asynchronous sharing. (Pro-tip: using an Xbox controller in The Wild in desktop mode allows for impressively smooth fly-throughs.)

Using OBS to record desktop mode in The Wild

Invite Viewers

You can invite clients or collaborators with or without VR to natively view your model with you in real-time! The Wild allows unlimited viewers to any model in desktop mode (or VR) through a simple 1-click invite. Viewers will be able to navigate around and leave voice-to-text comments for asynchronous communication.

Inviting a collaborator to a space in The Wild


We are truly living in an exciting time for design. We have the power to supercharge how we think, create, experience, and share our ideas. Now that you have the tools you need to get started with VR at your office, you and your team are ready to collaborate in new ways that will unleash your creativity.

Feel free to reach out if you have questions about your VR setup. If you’re interested in trying out The Wild for smarter remote collaboration, you can get started here.