Envelop, the virtual reality desktop platform for Windows, has launched as a public beta for anyone with a Vive or Rift to enjoy.

After announcing a $5.5 million Series A investment at the beginning of 2016, followed by a closed beta at the beginning of July, Envelop has now launched as an open beta for anyone to use their HTC Vive or Oculus Rift to turn their Windows computer into a VR desktop environment.

Envelop essentially takes your standard Windows desktop and blows it up into a sphere around you, allowing you to drag your usual windows and programs anywhere around you—as if you had a giant wrap-around monitor. In concept, it’s pretty much exactly what comes to mind for anyone envisioning the future of VR desktop computing.

One particularly cool feature of Envelop is the ability to use a webcam to pipe a live view of your keyboard into the virtual desktop environment, making a huge dent in the can’t-see-my-keyboard-while-wearing-a-headset problem. Users can also change the visuals of the surrounding environment on the fly with the click of a button.

In the future, Envelop VR’s SDK will allow developers to extend existing applications out into the Envelop virtual environment, enabling a wide range of uses like on-the-fly data visualization, 3D product views, or even virtual real-estate tours loaded from a web listing.

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  • Myrddin Emrys

    Can you clarify haw it differs from the current market leader, Virtual Desktop? Even though it’s not a review, contrasting a new product to existing solutions helps clarify its position in the market, even if you don’t say how well it succeeds.

    For example, an article about a new electric car might contrast the expected price or range versus a Tesla.

    • Sean Hall

      Well, Virtual Desktop just provides you with a virtual space within which you see you desktop as a single large screen floating in space.

      “Envelop essentially takes your standard Windows desktop and blows it up into a sphere around you, allowing you to drag your usual windows and programs anywhere around you—as if you had a giant wrap-around monitor. ”

      This one appears to provide a completely unique experience to what we are used to, while Virtual Desktop is still providing something based on a single screen positioned in front of you.

      • Foo

        Yeah, Virtual Desktop makes no sense. You can see your existing screen in VR, but that’s it.

        You can have a second screen in VR, as long as you have a second monitor. It’s the most idiotic limitation I’ve ever heard of.

        • PianoMan

          That’s why I stopped using Virtual Desktop pretty quickly. It’s only good for gaming. As far as anything else, it’s next to pointless.

          • Mark Lapasa

            I find it plays 360 mp4s really well. And Netflix, OMG IMAX

        • OhYeah!

          Virtual Desktop is awesome at what it does. It is great for allowing you to use any non vr content on a huge vr screen. It’s also great at playing 360 and 180 degree video. They also have a Music Visualizer backdrop that is pretty awesome. If this new tool actually works that is great but Virtual Desktop still has its place.

  • Get Schwifty!

    Hmmmm… I often work for weeks at a time from home (IT consultant) and I will definitely give this a shot today and see how it goes. Not to mention see if gaming with it feels any different from Virtual Desktop. Given the loss of resolution, I still have trouble seeing the real value of VR desktops for productivity or gaming unless you are a VR developer. When at least 1440p levels of resolution are possible I think this kind of application makes sense, but today…. I’m just seeing the same things at a lower res but larger…. how is this fundamentally a better experience just because i can see it through my Rift? I guess looking at the demo the increased overall work space is the draw, but the thought of hitting a spreadsheet or working on a report at such low resolutions seems difficult.

  • Mark Seymour

    Two things.
    1) You need to be shit hot at touch typing when you can’t see your keyboard :)
    2) VR headset just don’t have the resolution to make this practical for hours of use.

    on the plus side the development is strong, so when the hardware catches up the usable versions should be awesome.

    • Ian DeMartino

      Obviously, you didn’t read the article.

      • Nigerian Wizard

        He isn’t wrong about extended hours of use though. Having just a few pounds on your nose starts feeling heavy after a while.

      • ElJefe

        You can see your actual physical keyboard in VR if you want to set up the webcam. Best of both worlds.

      • Mark Seymour

        Well… That serves me right for scan reading. Point 2 still remains :)

  • David Mulder

    Now lets just up the resolution of our headsets by one generation and we can start ditching our multi monitor setups :D Although… I have just gotten used to a 3,200 x 1,800 (at 125% so that’s effectively 2560 x 1440)… getting a similar angular resolution on HMD’s is going to take awhile. But at least the Full HD angular resolution should be doable.

  • beestee

    Just in time to try out NMS!

  • kalqlate

    Bravo to everyone behind Envelop. While I appreciate and applaud their efforts, it’s hard to imagine that Microsoft won’t eventually release their own VR/AR Windows environment. That said, AR is where a virtual desktop will really shine. Unfortunately, I see an extremely short lifetime for Envelop. Hate to say it, but those who invested in this aren’t thinking clearly.

    • mrtexasfreedom

      Might they be piling up patents and prior art that could be lucrative when Microsoft might finally want to release your predicted VR/AR Windows environment?

      • kalqlate

        Sure, they MIGHT, but I’m afraid the might that Microsoft has beat them to the punch by a number of years on tens to hundreds of related patents is a mighty bit more probable than the might you cite. :D

        It’s great that the Envelop VR folks have worked hard at producing their own SDK. However, all of their work is for not…

        Perhaps you’re not aware of it, but Microsoft recently opened up Windows Holographic (the Windows 10 component that powers the AR/VR environment of HoloLens) to operate with AR and VR devices from other vendors, including Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z36mFbZPhrs

        Windows Holographic is intended to do a WHOLE LOT more, but placing a flat application window around you in a Windows Holographic environment is only one or two lines of code. Nothing special… not anymore.

        You see, the Envelop people were working under the assumption that Microsoft WOULD NOT open Windows Holographic to platforms other than HoloLens. They had no idea that Windows Holographic would eventually run on VR devices. They spent all of their time DUPLICATING what now is already built in to Windows and freely available on pretty much any VR and AR device that chooses to support it.

        So, if you’re a developer, which platform would you develop for? The one from a new, small company where support and longevity is questionable, or the one most likely to succeed at spreading Windows to all devices and who is clearly in it for the long, long haul?

        With Windows Holographic available to run on any AR and VR device, desktop environments in VR will eventually come a dime-a-dozen. Envelop VR did their own thing. That’s great. But what probably took them considerable time and effort to achieve, I could probably build in a couple of hours with Windows Holographic.

        For the above reasons, whoever invested in this company was poorly advised.

      • kalqlate

        More on a collaboration between Microsoft and Intel currently called Project Alloy, which is an open source, untethered VR headset driven by Windows Holographic: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602189/intel-and-microsoft-are-teaming-up-to-make-virtual-reality-ubiquitous.

        Significant and pertinent to the discussion here is the following statement from the article:

        “You’ll be able to interact with your familiar Windows apps as well as these 3-D apps at same time,” said Myerson.

        Clearly, this announcement makes the prospects for Envelop VR dire. The functionality they bring will come for free in all future versions of Windows. I’m all for innovation, but the writing was already on the wall for a VR/AR desktop a couple of years ago when Microsoft announced HaloLens and Windows Holographic. There’s no way I would’ve gone done a product development path where it was clearly evident that Microsoft was already frolicking down that path.

        The potential impact of Project Alloy on the VR industry cannot be overstated. I argued back at the time of Facebook’s purchase of Oculus that Zuckerberg would be hard pressed to make his 2 billion dollars back as other players enter the VR fray. With the entry of Project Alloy, the backing and drive of Intel and Microsoft, and support from all PC/notebook/monitor manufacturers (particularly monitor manufacturers for whom AR and VR headsets is a direct competitor) who have VR headset dreams, it has the potential to cause the cost of entry to high-quality VR to drop precipitously, making the prospects for the Rift to ever becoming a super-selling, mainstream product extremely doubtful.

    • beestee

      Visualizing 3d data in the desktop environment, that would take quite a bit of development no matter the approach. I think they will be just fine taking the approach that they are, they might just have to refocus and adapt in another year or two.

  • sambuev

    Nono no, Vive is toooooooo blurryy image.

  • Black Pirate

    why not make keyboard with same technology as HTC controller/base. Turns the position/location in VR mode. No different feeling then picking up your controller with HMD on.
    Duhh, all joysticks and mouse should be equipped that way. Or even your furniture. Heck put it on your dog or cat. That be a cool add-on. No more accidental kicking our poor creatures. Just saying the obvious. Using camera of HMD to see keyboard? simply dumm!

    If you asked me, the technology that enables physical objects to be transformed to VR world in real time is more valuable then HMD its self.

    Imagine picking up your self phone while your headset is on and seeing what actually is on the phone. Now that be cool! You combine HTC technology with Google Stream and vola the future is here..

    Just give me gloves that work same way so I can see my hands typing non physical keyboard. That way I can spread my monitors around the room while I walk and think and do what I do.