Preview: Virtuix Omni VR Treadmill Production Model (video)

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I’ve been fortunate to try the Virtuix Omni VR treadmill several times over the course of its development. At every point though, I was testing some variation of the original prototype seen in the company’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign. That is until now—at CES 2015, Virtuix revealed the production version of the Omni, and I got to take it for a stroll (and sprint).


Listen to this story (experimental): 


The concept of the omnidirectional treadmill (let’s call it a VR treadmill for short) has been around for a long time. Most prototypes of such devices were huge, heavy, expensive, and complicated. However, with the recent push toward consumer virtual reality, demand rose for affordable and practical in-home VR treadmills. So devices like the Virtuix Omni, Cyberith Virtualizer, and the Wizdish floated to the top. All three devices make use of a passive walking component which serves to make them cheaper, more reliable, and more practically sized than their active brethren.

At CES 2015, Virtuix revealed the production-ready version of the Omni treadmill. Upgrades from the prior prototype include a safety ring with adjustable height, a more comfortable and ergonomic harness, and IMU-based tracking pods which affix to the user’s shoes (previously the Omni employed capacitive tracking)—and the VR treadmill is now more easily collapsible for stowing away.

virtuix omni hands on production model ces 2015 (1)

The adjustable height of the Omni is probably the biggest improvement over the prototype. Fitting the device properly makes it much more comfortable to use and in my testing felt like it resulted in a more natural gait. Virtuix designed the adjustment abilities of the device smartly so that you can do everything from within the VR treadmill itself. After stepping in and buckling up the harness, you can use your feet to unhook the locks that hold the safety ring in place. With the handles on the sides, you can raise or lower the spring-balanced ring to match your height.

SEE ALSO
Infinadeck VR Treadmill Shows Improvements With Vive Trackers, Launches This Week

See Also: Virtuix Demonstrates Self-adjustment Capabilities of Omni VR Treadmill (video)

Virtuix says that the Omni’s curved surface was designed to simulate a natural stride. I’m not well read in the field of gait analysis by any stretch of the imagination, but in my experience with the production Omni, forward movement feels like a very good analogue to the real deal. Walking and running forward feel very natural, especially once you’ve got the Omni adjusted to the proper height. There’s a bit of a learning curve as you first understand how to ‘run into’ the ring around your waist, but after a few minutes of  walking, I would think that most would be ready to don a VR headset and take a virtual stroll

virtuix omni vr treadmill heigh adjustment ces 2015 (1)Turning in the Omni works, but it doesn’t feel terribly natural, at least not while running. Broad turns are fine, but cutting sharp corners or quickly turning 180 degrees can be an awkward affair. It’s not that it can’t be done well enough, it just won’t feel like you’re used to in the real world. Turning sharply while running ends up feeling like you’re on rollerblades more than shoes, but thanks to the safety ring, you can just kind of deal with it.

At CES 2015, after I got hooked into the Omni, I donned the Oculus Rift DK2 headset (which had a suspended cable so I didn’t get wrapped up) and was handed a Bluetooth gun. The gun functioned as a simple controller for shooting and reloading, but aiming is still done with your head. It’s expected that down the road there will be experiences that allow independent head movement and weapon aiming (something I’m really looking forward to), but at this point, it’s a BYOMC (bring your own motion controller {and supported game}) deal.

SEE ALSO
Hands-on: Infinadeck's Latest Prototype is the Most Natural Feeling VR Treadmill Yet

The experience I played using the Omni was a first-party demo title which had me sprinting around and speed shooting targets as I moved from one room to the next. The goal was to hit all the targets and complete the course as fast as possible. One of the things that most excites me about VR treadmills like the Omni is the ability to bring physicality to gaming. By the end of my first run, I was compelled to try again to beat my time. Not only did I pull it off, but I had a lot of fun working up a good sweat.

virtual reality at ces 2015 whirlwind tourThe speed shooting demo does a decent job of designing for the Omni’s strengths, with long rooms to sprint through and little need to turn completely around on a dime. At first I would run into a room and stop in place to shoot targets, but as I got the hang of it, I begun to run-and-gun, which was really fun when pulled off successfully—after using the Omni people may finally realize the absurdity of an FPS character running at 20 MPH while pulling off headshots with a sniper rifle!

The newly IMU-based foot tracking (achieved with wireless sensor pods that clip onto the Omni’s special shoes) made the virtual walking feel more responsive than at any point in the Omni’s past. At CES the company was demonstrating analogue speed for the first time (the faster you run in real life, the faster you move virtually), which really motivated me to get my move on when I was trying to beat my previous record. The delay between moving in real life and in the game felt ok, but stopping was a more sluggish affair. Occasionally I would overshoot a target that popped up right as I was about to pass. Currently, with no ability to walk backward, that meant I had to turn completely around, walk a few steps, then turn around again to reface the target.

SEE ALSO
Update: KatVR Scraps 'Mini' VR Treadmill Kickstarter, Sets Price at $3000

When I brought up that delay between stopping in real life and stopping in the game, Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk pointed out the meaty antennas the company had installed in an effort to best pick up the signal from the IMU pods (indeed, CES is a nightmare scenario for wireless technologies). Interference may have contributed to the delay I felt, so I’m reserving judgement there until I have a chance to test in a more controlled scenario.

Backward walking functionality should come in time, and I can only imagine that Virtuix will continue tweaking the foot tracking software.

Jumping was also not something I tried as the speed shooting demo didn’t have any gaps to leap across, though I am very curious to find out how well it will work.

Undoubtedly, the Omni is going to work best with games that are custom made for it. The speed shooting demo I tried was definitely fun on the surface, but it’ll be interesting to see if developers can dream up games that offer depth and genuine replayability for more than just exercise—though something as simple as a version of Temple Run, where you really have to run (and jump!), would probably be a blast on the Omni.

Virtuix currently offers the Omni for pre-order for $499, but says the price is due to go up to go up. “The final Omni design is meant to be stunning and impressive. The final production cost, however, has increased compared to our initial estimates. As a result, we will increase our selling price on February 1, 2015, to $699,” the company shared in a recent update to their Kickstarter campaign. They expect to ship the first Omni units this quarter.

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  • OculusRiftRocks

    hmm, now I’m not sure If I should buy it, only have today and tomorow to decide before the price increase, if I don’t buy in the next two days I would hold off a year for the ODT industry to get better and hopefully back to this price point.

    I think overall the tracking will not be good, and to use stem instead, but thanks for the information about hard turning, that was not mentioned in another review I read which was on reddit.

    • leoburton

      I’m in the same boat as you ORR, but I decided ‘what the hell’. I’m getting it. At $450 seems like a reasonable gamble, even though its a lot of money for new/unproven tech. Can always try to sell it quickly on ebay if you don’t like it.

      I’m sure there will be sensor upgrades or add-ons (for decoupled). But i think the base unit will be good for a while yet.

      Did you see the Chinese knock-off MUEV360? http://muev360.com
      Makes the movement on the Omni look amazing by comparison. The steps look very strained. Its a cross between Virtualizer and Omni. (I like the narrow support ring though). Its $470 for now.

      So yes, there will be competition with the C.Virtualizer (which I nearly bought on Kickstarter). But the Omni always had my eye, with the better strides.

      So, I say support new VR tech companies. Take a risk, and lets see when OR release the CV1!

      • OculusRiftRocks

        sadly the coupon code does not work anymore, whole thing is about £500 delivered after taking into account all costs, would be £650 post 1st february

        the other option is to wait & buy on eBay in late 2015, I do wonder if it would sell at an upmarket or not, but I find it hard to belive it would sell for more than £400 on eBay, very unlike the oculus rift I do not see people buying the omni at an even higher price used than it is new due to wait time etc.

        i bought the kor-fx off eBay yesterday for £62, half the price it costs new including postage, so it goes to show what price you can get for obscure items like these.

        anyway yeah the muev360 looks decent, you can crouch at least, I’m glad there is some competition.

        • leoburton

          I can’t believe you got a KORFX for £62. Well done. I hope you enjoy it. I still LOVE mine.
          I know this tech is expensive and will probably be in a landfill in 2 years! lol

          • OculusRiftRocks

            sure did

            http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/321648887755?_trksid=p2060778.m2749.l2649&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT

            how do you mean landfill, you think you will throw it out?

            yes really looking forward to trying it with richard burns rally as that has a DK2 mod but there is no vibration support for game controllers, will try many other games as well, in a lot of games you can turn down the game music, so in mirrors edge you wont get that problem I was speaking about when you get music during combat where your chest would go thump thump, just turn down the in game music if that option is available.

  • Tony Spaniels

    Hi Ben,

    Quick question, when you say this..

    “Not only did I pull it off, but I had a lot of fun working up a good sweat.”

    Im wondering…when you worked up said sweat, how did that affect the dk2 screen? Was there any issue with fogging?

    • Ben Lang

      I’ve had issues with fog on the DK2 during simple sitting experiences in my home — when I tested the Virtuix, I had no issue at all. Fogging is really a matter of humidity and temperature, so it can vary plenty.

  • leoburton

    @Ben Lang
    Thanks for the review. Helped me decide to keep my pre-order!

  • Thiago Braga

    +1 to the “Listen to this story” feature.

    • Another +1, I don’t mind reading, but if I get an option to listen instead I take it :) And it was good quality reading too ;) Cheers!

    • Paul James

      Thanks for the feedback on the audio version. Whilst we can’t promise this for every article, we’ll do our best to use it where possible and see how it goes.

  • Alkapwn

    Sweet review Ben! I like the experimental audio read as well! Makes it a lot easier to keep up with the latest VR news while at work. It’s nice not having to figure out context from a robotic voice.

    One question about the walking backwards. Is it that they just can’t tell which direction you’re facing? Would this be solved by something like the STEM?

    • OculusRiftRocks

      the older model when the tracking was done on the omni base had backwards walking and strafing.

      with the tracking pods I do not see how they are going to be able to do that now.

      • Tony Spaniels

        Why not? I dont see the implication of motion trackers preventing this?

        • OculusRiftRocks

          Because accelerometers just aren’t that great, how would you tell if you started walking backwards instead of forwards with accelerometers? I think it will just be a basic ‘the accelerometer is moving’ type thing.

          and also if they could do it they would show it at CES, its more likely that they can’t do it, and there is no tweak that will turn accelerometers into something like a high end tracking system like the stem/prioVR.

          there is a reason the wii remote cannot do what the razer hydra can do i.e. track in real time 3D space, otherwise people would not use the hydra and instead use a wii remote.

          also there is already a start/stop delay issue, if they tried to do backpedalling it would make things worse as sometimes th character would move backwards when you are walking forwards.

    • Ben Lang

      It sounded more to me like walking backwards was simply a feature they didn’t implement yet, just like decoupled head movement and motion.

      • brantlew

        My guess is that it’s tricky to pull-off backwards walk detection reliably enough for a public demonstration. Or at least it’s tricky without adding a bit of latency to the detection. The last thing you want in a public demo are a couple of false positives that send people in the opposite direction! Sticking to a simplified walk/no-walk algorithm gives the most responsive and error-free experience.

  • sponge101

    First, Let me echo what others have said about how well balanced, and objective this preview is — thanks Ben.

    About the $50 coupon code, I can confirm what others have said that neither the code I mentioned in a previous post, nor any other code, is working. Sorry if you’re buying it now. You still have two days before the 40% price hike so at least you’re getting a decent deal if you decide to buy the Omni now.

    @OculusRiftRocks — Glad to hear you got a good deal on the Kor-Fx. I hope you experiment with it and enjoy it like leoburton and myself.

    @leoburton — Nice to hear you’re sticking with the Omni for now. We early adopters are definitely facing the most risks so let’s hope for the best but prepare for the worst — meaning the Ebay option like you mentioned. With respect to MUEV360, first I’ve heard of it but there’s not a lot of running is all I’ll say about it.

    @Ben — I know that this article is more of a technical preview about the Omni, but can you describe how you felt? Did you have fun and/or did you feel completely immersed in that world during the play time? Do you want to go back into that world right now (in other words, do you miss it)? I know your play time was brief, but can you describe the emotional experience itself? Thanks.

    • Ben Lang

      As I mentioned, the forward running felt really good. I definitely had fun racing around the course and trying to accurately shoot the targets. It was a little awkward aiming with the head instead of the gun, which is why I say I’m excited for decoupled aiming look and aiming.

      I don’t miss the world of the speed shooting demo, but I doubt that has anything to do with the Omni and everything to do simply with the fact that it was a fairly basic demo, not really a “world” — ie: no characters, no plot, etc. I think I know the feeling you’re talking about though, I’ve often recalled my time in HL2VR and thought to myself “I can’t wait to go back to that world.”

      Emotionally, there wasn’t much to be invested in; I was pretty much only trying to beat my time and land accurate shots. It would be interesting to see what it’s like to walk around a living, breathing world (like, say, Skyrim) using the Omni, but it’s not something I’ve experienced yet.

      • sponge101

        Thanks for sharing your experience.

      • Trabbi_pG

        Thanks for the Review Ben, but there is one question nobody has answered so far. Does the omni enhances the experience enough to justifiy buying one? (Just in terms of playabilities , not necessarily if there are enough supported games) I assume it’s hard to tell if things like decoupled headmovement isn’t integrated in their demo yet, but would you prefer playing HLVR with the omni once it has support?

    • leoburton

      @sponge101
      Thanks. I must say I am bit nervous as the CV1 is still vapourware at this point. Are you still getting it?

      But my friends say I’ve got to put up or shut up, and I’ve been going on about omnitreadmills for about 2 years now.

      Even started building one, very similar to the MUEV360 (without the linear bearings) but thought I would wait for Omni.

      I managed to get it with discount thank god. Waiting to see what shipping costs are going to be to UK. That could be deal breaker. You can still cancel preorder at that time, if its too much.

      • sponge101

        Am I getting the CV1?! It’s taking all of my rational brain-power not to buy the development kit 2 right now! But seriously, I can understand yours and others concerns about the CV1. Oculus’ CEO stated in around November of last year that the CV1 is “months” away and not “years”. Moreover, Oculus has stated that they would be “disappointed” if CV1 is not released before 2016. My guess is we’ll hear an official announcement at around GDC or E3. But if you need more convincing, you might want to look at this recent interview in which the issue of vapourware is asked: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACA1UL63W9I

        Good luck with your D.I.Y. Omni. Here’s something interesting I heard: Apparently those Kickstater backers who only bought the base of the Omni are receiving the full Omni version, support structure and everything. Apparently, it’s because of safety concerns. Man, those guys are lucky to get such a deep discount.

        As for shipping cost, according to the Omni FAQ/shipping site, the cost to ship to England is around $100-$200 (excludes import duties and VAT). My shipping is domestic but the cost is still
        substantial. I knew this when I placed the order so i’ll just live with whatever the final cost is. For me, total VR immersion is worth it.

        P.S. I spray painted my sharpshooter gun black and it was pretty cool. It does add to the coolness factor so you might want to do the same with your Cabela gun.

        • leoburton

          Sorry, I meant ‘are you still getting an omni?’ I see you are.

          LOL I know what you mean. Forcing myself not to get DK2, (or even DK1 on ebay), so I built a DIY HMD with basic head tracking and tridef, and it works for now. But only 1200×800 ebay screen for £40, and Colorcross headset hybrid. (That has issues as well)

          Yes, I may spray my gun black too.

          Part of me feels crazy for pre-ordering this thing. ORR echoed all of my concerns with short comings. I don’t want it to end up nearly as a coat rack!

          But not sure I could build anything better than Omni for smooth walking.

          • sponge101

            I can understand how you must be feeling. The only difference in my case is I know I can’t build a D.I.Y. Omni; I lack the skill, time, and patience.

            I guess you have basically three options right now: first is cancel the Omni order or stay the course, second is buy a competitor (virtulizer or whatever shows up in the months ahead), or build a D.I.Y.

            For me the decision to buy the Omni was made months ago (subconsciously, of course) after downloading and analyzing all the demo videos. I want that experience no matter the cost and the day I clicked the “buy” button on the Omni site was one of the most rewarding day of my life. I knew that the Omni was a long-term investment — something I will use on a daily basis not only for immersion, but fun exercise as well.

            With all that being said, it sounds like your’re having serious doubts about the purchase (buyer remorse). My recommendation is to do a cost-benefit analysis to decide if the Omni is right for you right now. Good luck.

          • OculusRiftRocks

            @sponge101

            I thought that too but take a look at my link for an easy DIY omni build

            https://imgur.com/t/oculus_rift/hH6Nh

            it seems pretty easy to me, if anything you could take it to a blacksmith and he could follow the guide and likely make one for you for about £100 (this is complete guess).

            I really want one built for me with smaller dimensions, the omni is totally overkill for me and I think walking w/ no harness has much better benefits fast turning, arms by side etc.

            but you can also consider just standing up walking on the spot as an alternative, it doesnt feel like walking but you get socks, quiet operation, easy turning, crouching + many more things the omni does not allow.

            what harness size did you order leoburton, never know maybe I will be buying that off you on eBay if my DIY one doesn’t work out!

          • sponge101

            That looks great. It looks even better in the video. Here’s the link for anyone who hasn’t seen it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI8WjaXX1tk

            There’s definitely something to be said for the sense of accomplishment/pride one feels for creating something of this size and function. I built a computer table years ago and I can remember the sense of accomplishment to this day! So I can only phantom what this project will mean to you.

            Once you finish the build, please share your experience.

          • leoburton

            @sponge
            Your 100% right. A little amount of buyers remorse, but got until it ships in April to cancel at any time, if I change my mind. I might take my DIY version a bit further forward to see what can be achieved.

            I was also conceded about tracking in my DIY omni. Looked at STEM but at that costs, I may as well use Virtuix’s PODs, plus future upgrades. I was looking at wiimotes.

            @ORR
            The one in that link does take about the same space as the Omni. Try to emulate the MUEV360, just use fenceposts instead. I was looking into as much pre-fab items as possible to frankenstein a rig.

            This guy (rescuegamer) build a good rig, and uses wiimotes. He scares the crap out of himself in Alien Isolation/rift. Very funny:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uWz4FcXdvA

          • OculusRiftRocks

            yes I know his is 48″ in diameter but I would follow his plan and just half the measurements.

            I have seen that other one as well, seems okay.

            both pods and wiimotes will be bad, stem is only £200, probably better to use stem on the spot with no treadmill, than use the omni with its pod tracking.

            the tracking is actually more important than the treadmill.

      • OculusRiftRocks

        I plan on building my own mini-omni based on the following guide (I didn’t buy the virtuix omni in the end)

        https://imgur.com/t/oculus_rift/hH6Nh

        plan to make it 25″, with no harness ,and for walking only, so no running, I’m 5′ 5″ so my stride is not so long while walking.

        problem with the omni is it’s build for guys up to 6 5 while running, it just makes the unit oversized and overly heavy duty in it’s materials at least for me.

        other general issues I have with omni, mostly based on speculation and mini previews.

        -it doesn’t feel like walking, more rollerblading
        -takes up a lot of space,
        – not easy to store away, dispite what they say, you literally need to hide it under a double bed, hardly easy to store, and how would you move it from under then out of the bed, are there built in casters? nope.
        – need shoes, and special shoes at that, I much prefer socks.
        – can’t crouch
        – can’t jump with ease? this is a total guess btw,
        – makes some noise
        – an eye sore, doesn’t match with furniture, maybe if it was pine it would help
        – can’t have arms relaxed at the sides or in pocket, imagine taking a stroll through skyrim with your arms out like a guerilla for hours.
        -not good for quick turning.
        – weighs a lot.

        however my 25″ mini omni would have the following things

        + easy quick turning due to no harness
        + Can use socks as you use carpet sliders over socks, you can maybe weave or stick on carpet slider material into sock
        + a compact ’coffee table’ size, as appose to double bed size.
        + looks good, even when fully assembled.
        + quiet due to socks on carpet surface.
        + can crouch
        + can have arms relaxed at the sides or in pocket, imagine taking a stroll through skyrim with arms by your side naturally.
        + easy jumping
        + can get it to blend in by matching your carpet design.
        -it doesn’t feel like walking, more rollerblading

        • leoburton

          Good luck with the build! It is rewarding to try and do it yourself. Theres quite a few DIY designs out there. (Believe me, with my OCD web browsing)

          Lots of guys using wiimotes and FreePie/Glovepie to tracking leg motion.

          One thing I found though, without a tether around your waist of some kind, once the HMD is on your head, and you’re carrying a gun controller and running, its all to easy to slip, and bungee cords won’t catch you. It happened to me.

          This is a great option for a support ring, and it looks like Meuv360 had the same idea:
          http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/24-inch-Aluminum-Lazy-Susan-swivel-plate-round-turntable-bearings/1403534_2037983645.html

          • OculusRiftRocks

            yes that’s why I’m sticking to walking only, saw a video of the wizdish and he had no harness and it seemed fine, he was doing a slow walk so it at least prooves it, to bad it failed it was only £150 and UK/London based.

            yeah I ain’t doing the accelerometer thing, it will be bad, look up STOMPZ videos, that is pretty much the best you will get, both legs moving = W, Left foot only moving =A etc, it’s not that great.

            the stem is what I would get, about £200 for the base with 2 stem packs, look for their videos you can see full feet tracking 1:1, it looks practically perfect.

          • leoburton

            I didn’t like the Wizdish. It looked a bit awkward for motion, sawing your legs back and forth. And it was very noisy!

            Yes, STEM is a good tracking solution. I guess I’m also investing in Virtuix for future upgrades etc..

          • OculusRiftRocks

            yes I didn’t like it either, however it does show you can slow walk on an ODT without needing a harness.

  • OculusRiftRocks

    can anyone shed some light on import tax for UK omni buyers

    using this site I get around £100 of import tax to pay.

    http://www.dutycalculator.com/

    although maybe someone knows a better idea of what import tax would be?

  • proyb

    Awesome change for omni except, I realize not being able to walk backward could be due to the IMU tracking pod.

    Anyway, Virtualizer made awesome improvement with latency and compatibility.