There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of the Virtuix Omni at this year’s International CES. Ever since the company premiered on Kickstarter, there has been a portion of the VR community who have questioned its potential for success. There are a number of reasons for this, it’s large, weighing in at about 160lbs, with a footprint of 47”x42”x27” meaning that if you don’t have a room dedicated to it, one might run into issues with space. Secondly, many have pointed out that you need to hang the Rift cables from the ceiling, to prevent you from tripping all over yourself. Both of these are issues that make this device not one that is suited for the mass gaming market… and that is totally ok.
The Omni is a fantastic device. It is smooth and accurate, as well as entertaining, but Jan – the CEO of Virtiux, himself admits “it’s not for everybody.” Where it does fit, however, is as a “home exercise device,” a product category that is obviously quite successful. So, changing one’s perspective on the use cases for this product, it can be easy to see why the Omni could help revolutionize the way we run at home.
Currently, the Omni is available for pre-order for $499, which is 55% cheaper than the cost of your average treadmill. Combine that with your Oculus and the cost is pretty comparable, and is certainly cheaper than your higher end treadmill models, which run closer to $1500. Meaning the Omni/Rift combo will run about 2/3rds of the cost of a well appointed treadmill, as well as coming with a number of additional benefits. It’s quite the trip being able to run and gun in a virtual world while actually running. Running through the demo for five minutes or so, I worked up a bit of a sweat and needed to towel off. I found that I was so immersed in the experience that I didn’t even notice I was working out until I took off the Rift. For people who love to run distances, this could be a big boon. Watching SportsCenter in a home gym can only entertain you for so long, a game gives you constant stimulation, which really enhances the exercise experience and pushes you to keep going.
Beyond gamifying the running experience, the Omni actually improves the running experience physically as well; especially when compared to a traditional treadmill. I say this for a couple of reasons, first traditional treadmills have you running with the belt, this provides an additional amount of force that isn’t present in a traditional running setting. This is why when you run on a treadmill you might be able to run faster than you can when you go for a run around the block, especially at distances over two miles.
Second, traditional treadmills can often lead to joint pain, especially in those who do not exercise on them often (which can lead to people exercising less because they then associate that pain with exercise and seek to avoid it). According to Livestrong.com, this is because “exercising on treadmills offers different approaches to joint biomechanics than walking or running on a track, issues with joint pain from treadmills are frequently encountered by both first-time and long-time users of treadmills.” Simply put, you run differently on a treadmill than you do on a track or sidewalk and it stresses your muscles and joints. With the Omni, there is very low resistance, the surface is extremely slick, especially with the specialty shoes for the system. This presents one with a slight learning curve, as I found out when I about ate shit trying to get in for the first time, but once I got the hang of it I found running in the device to be quite comfortable. It almost feels like running on air when you are in the Rift, the feeling is very hard to grasp at the start; that being said it was something I felt I could continue to run in for much longer than I would run on a traditional treadmill.
A third advantage the treadmill has is the new sensors, which are attached to the laces of the shoes, allowing for your motions to be tracked even while you are not touching the surface of the device. This opens the door for potential light plyometrics to be added into one’s workout within the device. And with as much wearable fitness tech as I saw on the show floor at CES, it will be interesting to see if any integration with that sort of technology becomes a part of the Omni’s plan.
This all being said, there still is a problem that remains in that the Rift has a tendency to get a bit gross with sweat and can occasionally fog up. This however seems like a solvable problem. We have seen covers like Eric Greenbaum’s About Face and the fogging issue is not too different than a fogging issue while running with regular glasses. It is an inconvenience but not one that is a game-breaker and is certainly an inconvenience that is more than balanced out by the experience of exercising and gaming simultaneously. Additionally, if you use an anti-fogging spray, similar to the ones used for scuba diving, it can help alleviate any fogging issues within the Rift.
So, rather than thinking of the Omni as an oversized, pricey piece of input hardware for gaming, it is more helpful to view it as a device specifically for the home exercise market, and one that is quite competitive in both price and size. The global treadmill market is a huge one, with over $1.12 billion in sales in 2011. If Omni positions itself in this segment, they could become a big player in the field once consumer VR takes off.