Supported Platforms: Steam (Vive, Rift, Widnows VR), Oculus (Rift)
Planned for 2018: Oculus Go, Gear VR, Daydream, and PSVR

Unlike Virtual Desktop, which has been a ‘full’ release since March 2016, Bigscreen is still in beta, and it’s free. While both apps enjoy regular updates, Bigscreen has inevitably appeared less ‘finished’, but is also considerably more ambitious. It functions similarly to Virtual Desktop in representing your monitor’s resolution, but offers much more besides, as it is built from the ground up to support multi-user connectivity.

It features customisable avatars with animating hands and mouths, and the ability to host social rooms for up to four users. This allows each participant to see each other’s desktops, and anyone can stream their desktop (along with audio) to the main screen in the room for everyone to view together, enabling virtual meetings, movie viewing, and LAN parties. A ‘Big Room’ mode allows 10+ players in a single room, but works a little differently when it comes to screen sharing.

Image courtesy Bigscreen

Compared to Oculus Desktop and Virtual DesktopBigscreen’s screen image looks rather soft, even at maximum quality settings. The effect is quite pleasant for moving images, but it isn’t the best for text. It has support for 3D movie formats, but doesn’t offer a spherical video player.

Over the past year, it received many updates, including an avatar creator tool, a 3D drawing marker, and a massive cinema room. It used to lag behind Virtual Desktop in terms of gaming performance (when using it to display a non-VR game), but multiple performance improvements to Bigscreen has closed the gap.

Windows Cliff House

Supported Platforms: Windows “Mixed Reality” VR

The ‘Windows Cliff House’ is the default ‘home’ environment you’ll get dropped into when donning any Windows VR headset. The space acts as both a launcher into immersive applications, but also as a 3D interface for your desktop. When you press the Start button you’ll see a floating Start menu listing all of your UWP apps, any of which can be popped into a window which becomes a floating screen in in the virtual environment.

Unlike other virtual desktop offerings, the Windows Cliff House allows you to create a completely customized 3D desktop environment by placing application windows in physical locations within your virtual home. So for instance, you could choose to have a ‘media room’ where you put media applications like a video and photo player, and a ‘web room’ for browser windows with all of your social content—then you actually navigate between the two by moving your avatar around the environment, rather than clicking buttons. It sounds strange, or maybe even unnecessary on paper, but there’s something very natural and intuitive about ‘physically’ organizing various modes of desktop computing in this way.

Windows are easily arranged and resized with motion controller support, and usually snap into logical places (like against walls). You can point your teleporting cursor at a window and be helpfully teleported into an ideal viewing distance for that window, based on the window’s size and position.

Captured by Road to VR

Microsoft has built the Windows Cliff House right into the Windows operating system, which brings a number of benefits, including deep integration with Cortana for voice control, allowing you to do things like launch applications, close windows, and make selections with just your voice. The Windows Cliff House also employs a floating keyboard with helpful features like word prediction.

For true desktop-like usage, you can use your keyboard and mouse rather than the Windows motion controllers. This of course makes typing much more practical, and Microsoft has done a pretty good job of allowing you to use your 2D mouse to interact with the 3D environment for things like moving and modifying windows, and using the applications therein. One annoyance for now is that when using keyboard and mouse it’s more difficult to locomote around the environment due to some wonky controls (hold right click to initiate teleportation, rotate the mouse wheel to change direction).

– – — – –

When it comes to true, desktop-class productivity using a virtual reality desktop, the hardware limitations of the first generation of headsets remains a hurdle. In the majority of 3D environments, particularly when gaming, the feeling of presence quickly overrides most qualms about image quality. But when I’m simply sitting at the desktop trying to get stuff done (no matter which app I was using), my awareness of the resolution limitation rarely moved to the back of my mind. And there’s only so much that supersampling and other anti-aliasing solutions can do.

Text is the main culprit, which is far removed from the fidelity we take for granted on high pixel density displays on our mobile devices, and even on our desktop monitors, which have a much greater pixel density per degree than the VR displays that are placed so close to our eyes and then stretched out across a wide field of view. This is somewhat alleviated by the freedom of window placement; you can bring elements up close for perfect text readability, or push them so far away that (in some cases) it looks like a distant, twinkling star. Playing around with the extremes is novel, but there is only a limited range of depth that has any practical use, and it’s tedious to have to bring elements so close all the time.

True productivity in a virtual reality desktop certainly has a long way to go, but we’re glad to see four worthwhile options already out there and continuing to improve.

Update (1/3/18): We’ve fully revamped this article after taking a fresh look at the ecosystem of virtual reality desktops now available to VR headsets. The prior version of this article included the VR desktop apps Envelop and Multiscreens—while Envelop’s technology was impressive—as was its millions of dollars of funding—sadly the company ceased operations in early 2017. Multiscreens offered some of Envelop’s functionality in a rather less-polished package, and while it is still available to purchase on Steam, it hasn’t received an update for over a year and may never leave its Early Access state.

Additional reporting by Ben Lang

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.
  • DiGiCT Ltd

    It is still too early for those kind of applications.
    It requires much better resolution in VR as most thing you do on a computer will not look better in this way.
    For example 3d design and photoshop will not work, also large excel files are terrible to look at in VR.
    Watching movies and games is fine but also lacking quality unless you make it huge screen.

    All our design we do on 4k screens and each design computer uses 3 of them.
    Then next to that there is no way to use wacom equipment in VR.
    Is an disinformation showing pictures like PS and 3d max, its realy not how it is,
    The truth is that it is very limited and it will take years before we reach that kind of quality in VR.

    • Perhaps but it’s great for playing games, watching films and general Desktop usage.

    • OgreTactics

      It’s not too early, it’s necessary. It will work great for media/game/3D playback at first, but it’ll be complete when Virtual Headsets are advanced (high-resolution) enough so that we can READ clearly and without eyestrain well and long enough to actually work in VR.

    • Current HMD’s dont have the resolution for fully replacing our desktop monitors, but I really like using Tridef to play Diablo 3 on a massive 90fps low persistence virtual 3D monitor. All the spell effects, debris, corpses, etc. flying around looks awesome :)

      • CazCore

        what software do you use to play D3?

        • idwfrin

          “I really like using Tridef to play Diablo 3” they use the software Tridef

        • Oh I use Tridef and Virtual Desktop. Super late reply I know haha XD

      • Adrian Meredith

        ooh I never thought of that! might give it a go

    • Get Schwifty!

      I agree completely. These applications are useful only for general non-detailed use. It’s bad enough trying to read text with today’s headsets with games designed for VR, but it’s nigh pointless for true desktop work. Should work be done now on the apps? Sure why not, but there will be little adoption except in special cases though until the resolution goes waaay up. These being useful enough to effectively displace monitors is more than a few years away. I’ve tried a couple non-VR games this way, and was not impressed in the least. Video where resolution doesn’t matter all that much is about the only real application to me so far.

      Now what _could_ change the situation until much higher res HMDs are available would be a new VR-friendly built in desktop as part of the O/S. Again, I can’t see doing real document processing on for instance, but for general browsing, email etc. with a full 360 degree surrounding desktop I could see some use for.

  • LegoKnockingShop

    Good article Dominic, nice one.

  • DiGiCT Ltd

    Update to this article : there is a new HMD for this purpose, which would look better and solve some of those issues.
    Beware I would not recommended it for gaming though !

    It is a 4k HMD so it has already higher resolution and 110 degree FOV

    Although some people still have issues with it as it seems not fully polished but on the other hand it is a 4k screen.

    It sells for only around 1500 rmb, and I only can recommended it for playing around and hoping they solve the minor issues it still has.

    • VR Zone BKK

      In addition to this, the PIMAXVR HMD is Steam VR capable and the higher resolution seems not to be a major issue if you own a powerfull rig (meant powerfull GC).

      For the Vive 1080p res, there are seperate middle applications that can already tweak Super Sampling in games with no customized settings which works just fine and improves the quality res greatly.

      • DiGiCT Ltd

        I’m using a 1070 gtx OC version and it does indeed improve quality.
        But ti does not improve the screenres trought the lenses.

        You cant compare it like that IMO as what it does is render the image in higher res and then downscale it to the res your hmd has.

        Thats way different as having a higher res screen.

        What you mention is indeed making more smooth looking graphics but it does not solve the issues when you are working with static desktop software like.e.g. excel or PDF, those static object with data if you focus on it you will see the pixels getting anoying your vision.
        This issue does not happen with objects in motion, at least less.

        • VR Zone BKK

          Yes I do concur, only the screen res will improve the visual quality of the letters thus we need small pixels size indeed.

          I was looking at some gaming reviews last week of the PIMAX and for the €300.- price tag, I will probably give it a try. I also own a descent rig, 1080oc / 5960x I’m pretty sure I can obtain something pretty cool out of it, with virtual desktop as well.

          But I’m more concerned about the treadmills yet, I could noticed that Virtuix Omni price increased to 1k and now are only available for b2b. Sadly no news from Cyberith, their virtualizer price ended at 1.5k last time I see some news about it. I can’t wait…

          • DiGiCT Ltd

            Well upping the price certainly has to do with trying to sell to business for arcade places.
            Although the omni has one bad issue, it needs their expensive shoes on it and you dont want to wear shoes many other wear already ;-)
            I see more furure in larger scale tracking via more lighthouses in a huge area.
            I did some dev play around with the RIP motion with let you hop to move, for me personally its the best system for unlimited “walk” in VR.
            I choose not to do too much of those kind of game designs yet.
            Our 2 titles in development are using room scale but also can do standing.
            I always been a huge FPS fan though, played since the 1st doom.
            The problem is realy locomotion, even when the game itself is awesome it still does not feel right in VR, no matter what they say.
            Threadmill for sure is nice but it comes with other issues like kneeling and prone for sure. which kinda makes the game useless if you would like to snipe in an army game.

  • SlowBro

    A good use case for this is for road warriors. A bigger laptop display on an airplane, in the hotel, at the coffee shop. (Though you’ll certainly look strange.) Attach a small camera to the top of the laptop screen to display the keyboard, which for many would be essential. A pair of cameras on the outside of the goggles adds real world objects into the VR display (augmented reality) so you’re not totally closed in when working; you can see when someone approaches to talk. If you want :-)

  • Nathan Williams

    Envelop is defunct.

    I don’t find VR a particularly comfortable environment to spend time in, and text is way too grainy for browsing and productivity purposes. The only reason I really want a desktop is so I don’t have to fiddle with taking my headset off to check something, and I don’t see a lot of value in a utility I have to run as a separate, exclusive application. This ought to be built into the VR overlay environment to begin with.

  • Thanks for the updated article. This is what interests me the most.

    A couple of things I would like to know.

    1. If I have an internal 3D Blu Ray player, do any of these apps play back 3D movies just like you would get at a 3D IMAX cinema for example?

    2. What is the text clarity difference between Rift/Vive/Pimax 8K/Samsung Odyssey. Is it enough of a difference to be a definitive purchase if productivity is your main goal?

    3. Is it possible for any of the 3D software packages out there (e.g. Blender) to integrate into a virtual desktop and allow the model view to be visible outside the app window as a full size 3D model that you can walk around and inspect. One that would auto update as you make changes in the app window. Is this something that a virtual desktop could extract (e.g. mesh data) and display? I know we used to be able to reverse engineer games and view the 3D model data outside the game while the game was running so there have been hacks in the past that do something similar.


  • NooYawker

    I like the way oculus dash has apps set up. Pointing and double clicking on app on a virtual desktop is a bit sketchy.
    This is why AR will be huge when it hits the market, you can do everything you see above and not be cut out of your environment.

  • Diego Lopez

    OVRDrop deserves aspot. multi overlay is on beta atm

  • Edward Morgan

    I think the first VR app I bought was actually VR Toolbox, largely on the grounds that it let me break windows out as independent objects instead of just being your desktop inside a headset.

    Now that I have Oculus Desktop, I use VR Toolbox a lot less. Which is really a bit of a compliment to Oculus, as it isn’t simply convenience moving me towards their offering. They’ve done good work.

  • Bigscreen is more a social VR app than a virtual desktop one… anyway, nice comparison

  • Pedro Esperanca

    Do any of these Desktops support eye tracking ?

    Can imagine that with eye tracking I could have screens for full 360 around me and not have to move my neck more than 30 degrees. Also would allow hands to stay on mouse and keyboard.

    If anyone is looking for a dev to join a team doing anything like this I’d love to help!