A Designer's Guide to Getting Started with VR in the Studio

VR Headset VIVE

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 designers who know deep down there is a better way to create and collaborate.

As exciting as all of these possibilities are, getting started with VR in your studio can seem daunting. After you find the ideal virtual reality design solution, you go back to your team and gear up for your first project. Then, you stop. Because you realize you have absolutely no idea what gear you actually need to buy.

Every design studio is set up differently. You could have your headset at your desk, in a conference room, or at a pod of desks. How you set this up depends on your studio configuration and how many team members will be participating and designing in VR.

Figuring out the best VR setup for your studio isn’t as difficult as you might think. This guide will help you understand exactly what you need for your space.

Design Team Challenges When Getting Started with VR

Before you can determine the best setup for your design team, it’s important to grasp the challenges that everyone faces when VR comes into the mix.

When you’re getting started with virtual reality software, selecting the right headset is key. Each comes with a lot of hardware pieces packaged in a nice box, but there is more to it than that. You may need to drill holes in the wall to position the tracking lighthouses to face each other, so you can detect movement. Compared to unboxing a smartphone, it’s a much bigger, more complicated setup.

And that's just the hardware part. On the software front, both your computer and the GPU (graphics processing unit) inside that computer need to be high-end. Ultimately, the biggest challenge you will face when getting started in VR is the compatibility between hardware and software. This is a multi-step process with considerable complexity. But don’t worry—we can help you get through it.

Getting Started with VR: What You Actually Need

It’s all in the setup when you’re getting started with designing and collaborating in a virtual reality environment at your studio. Prioritizing expenses is always smart when you’re working within budget constraints. As a VR newbie, you’re likely starting from scratch, and you’ll need to figure out the must-haves to purchase immediately—and the nice-to-haves that can wait.

To help you prioritize, we’ve laid out some tools and setup recommendations that will move you and your team forward with confidence. Here’s what you actually need:

Space

You don’t need a large space when you’re designing in virtual reality. Some designers prefer sitting when they are in creative mode. If this is your preference, and it’s just you, set up everything at your work desk. A swivel chair tends to be more comfortable since you can move around (and this type of chair is helpful if someone on your team has motion sickness).

If you want the full, room-scale VR experience, where you move freely, having a dedicated space in a separate office or conference room is a good idea. Some teams also like to set up a virtual reality space along a group of desks, such as a pod.

VR-Ready Computer

We mentioned the importance of having a high-end computer already. Having the best possible graphics card will help you design in VR rapidly and accurately. Don’t just buy any Windows computer—buy a powerful one.

You can purchase a good one between $1,000-$2000 if you’re savvy. A few we’d recommend checking out are a Dell Alienware 15 Laptop, an HP Z240 Tower Workstation, a Razer Blade, or an HP ZBook.

VR Headset

You have a lot of options. All VR headsets are not created equal, and some do not work well with certain types of software. At The Wild, we recommend designers stick with high-end, room-scale headsets like HTC VIVE, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Odyssey. You will want to invest in a stack of VR cleaning wipes, especially if you plan to share a headset with co-workers.

VR Motion Tracking

VR requires tracking the motion and position of the user. The headset needs to know where it is in physical space, so it can render the image at the correct position and angle. Also, the controllers that you hold in your hands need to be tracked, so they can be positioned and visualized. There are three predominant forms of tracking that we will cover here.

Lighthouses are small boxes that hang in the corners of your room. They throw out a sequence of IR light into the room that is tracked by the headset and controllers. Fancy math breaks down the difference in timing, as the light sweeps across the room to determine how everything is positioned. The HTC VIVE uses this tracking system. The lighthouse base stations are included when you buy the headset. They are great for tracking a large area with accuracy or tracking multiple people sitting close together, like in a seating pod or a large conference room.

The Oculus Rift uses small sensors that sit on a desk to track the headset and controllers. They are actually cameras that plug into the computer and are looking at the user to position the devices. They are great for a desk setup with two sensors on the table, but the room-scale setup with three sensors can be awkward with cabling. There is also the disadvantage that the tracking doesn’t scale well to multiple simultaneous users. We recommend the Oculus Rift for people working at a solo desk setup or a conference room setup, where you can route the cabling into the walls.

For Windows Mixed Reality, the Samsung Odyssey has inside-out tracking on the unit, so you don't need any external cameras. Inside-out tracking is able to view your surrounding environment from the position of the headset and infer its position by tracking key features in the room and seeing how they move in time. Inside-out tracking is convenient in that it doesn’t require external devices, but it doesn’t work well in rooms or at angles where there isn’t a lot of visual noise for the camera to track features on. For instance, standing close to a solid white wall is not going to work with inside-out tracking. Also, your controllers are only going to be positioned virtually when the camera on your headset can see them (if your hands are in front of you). This can be tricky for designers because, when working with your hands, you don’t always hold them directly in front of you. You expect to move something way over to the side and drop it. If tracking of the controller is lost, it can be surprising.

As you can see, there are strengths and weaknesses to the different setups, and your choice will depend on your configuration. Overall, we recommend choosing the best option for you and then spending time to get your space configured, so the tracking can be as stable as possible.

Cords

Everything comes in the box with your VR headset. Some graphic cards will require adapters to work with different headsets, but typically, there is no need to purchase additional cords. But we do recommend considering your cord management, things can get tangled up.

Internet

A decent internet connection for whichever software you’re using to design and collaborate in virtual reality is almost always necessary. For some solo experiences, such as designing alone or playing games, 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. We don't require a crazy high-bandwidth connection to run The Wild—it actually uses less data than streaming a video.

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 studio, you and your design 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. And if you’re interested in taking The Wild for a spin, you can sign up right here.