Hands-On: ‘Envelop VR’ And How It Differs From ‘Virtual Desktop’ and ‘BigScreen’

by Ian Hamilton • July 7th, 2016

Since late last year I’ve been hearing about Envelop VR and its plan for a Windows “VR shell”. It would allow you to operate all the apps on your PC from within VR. Software like Virtual Desktop, BigScreen and even the SteamVR interface itself, mirrors what’s shown on the display outside of VR. Understanding exactly how Envelop VR (which closed a $5.5 million funding round at the start of the year) differs from those other solutions has been difficult…until now.

Virtual Desktop and BigScreen are very closely tied to your physical display(s) right now. You should be able to buy dummy plugs, aka “headless ghosts“, that fit into your computer to trick it into seeing additional displays. This gives you extra screens in VR to size and arrange in the space around you. Envelop, though, breaks each individual window on the screen into something that can be individually sized and placed within your virtual environment.

I got the recently launched beta installed on my PC and gave it a try. The difference between Envelop and the other apps was apparent within seconds. There was one monitor attached to my machine that really only fits one or two windows at a time before becoming overcrowded, but in VR I saw these windows floating in spots to my left and right. In Virtual Desktop and BigScreen I could’ve only resized or moved the whole monitor, but in Envelop I can put a couple individual windows to my sides to focus on a single window directly in front of me.

It’s clear there’s still a lot of work to do with Envelop, but with its recent funding the startup should have the cash to do a lot more. Chrome displays a black screen by default in the current beta, for example. It can be fixed pretty easily and bugs like that are to be expected with a testing release, but the Web browser is one of the most important apps to adapt to VR as it’s where many people do a bulk of their multitasking. Envelop and other apps not only need to really solidly manage a bunch of Windows apps at the same time, they also need to handle lots of Web browsing windows too.

We’ll be watching Envelop closely as the software improves, along with Virtual Desktop and BigScreen. These apps all offer functionality either missing, or vastly improved, upon the default features of Oculus and SteamVR. As these apps evolve it’s likely that great features in one of them, like BigScreen‘s multiplayer functionality or Envelop‘s individual windows, will eventually come to the others. It’s just a question of priorities. More companies are going to be getting into the VR market over the next few years too and they’ll all likely need software like Envelop, Virtual Desktop and BigScreen to make future headsets more useful.

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  • Smokey_the_Bear

    I also have the Beta, but came away pretty disappointed. Like you said, the fact that Chrome doesn’t load was a big let down, the keyboard button on the bottom of the screen…or should I say floating window, did nothing at all. I couldn’t play VR videos either, as it has no player to handle it.
    All in all, this is in Alpha…they clearly jumped the gun on releasing it, it is not ready for public beta consumption. I hope they improve it quickly, cause it’s currently worthless to me.

    • Ryth

      I take it you didnt bother to read the release notes that mention the chrome black screen and how to easily fix it.

      • MrWyzurd

        Hi there! Right now you sound like a smug jerk on the interenet hiding behind the veil of anonimity. Another way to make your point in which all members of the conversation come away positive (and UploadVRs blog also looks like a positive place) would be –

        “Check the latest release notes, the Chrome issue has a fix! It’s pretty easy to do. See you in VR!”

        Remember, only YOU can stop the internet from being a shit hole of toxicity!

        • Ryth

          Wow whatever prick

          • MrWyzurd

            You sound like you’re fun at birthday parties!

          • Cliff McGrady

            Dude I love you lolol