We tried Horizon Workrooms, and lived the future

We tried Horizon Workrooms, and lived the future

We tried Horizon Workrooms

Horizon Workrooms is how the Oculus team envisioned the work of the future, in virtual reality. We tried it, because the presentation conference took place right inside Workrooms, via an Oculus Quest 2, and the experience was ... new. Initially strange, with a bit of discomfort, but it was surprising how, twenty minutes later, everything was perfectly normal. Later we will answer specific questions in order to give all the necessary information to those who want to try this experience, which we will now tell you in more detail.

What is Horizon Workrooms?

Horizon Workrooms (currently in development) is a virtual environment, usable through Oculus Quest 2, which projects us into a conference room as a customizable avatar. Around a table we can interact with the other guests, as if we were physically inside the same room. In short, imagine a classic meeting around a large table, where there is someone who introduces, who asks questions, who listens passively, who takes notes; Workrooms is identical, but in virtual reality.

Workrooms requires a specific configuration of Oculus Quest 2, which as usual is conducted through a tutorial in small steps. You will have to sit at the desk, activate a static area of ​​use (we recommend it), and then identify the desk with a procedure similar to that used to delimit the play area. Identification takes place in seconds thanks to the viewer's cameras that show the surrounding environment and allow us to draw the rectangle that includes the desk top. Then you can also place the virtual whiteboard, where you prefer, which we will talk about later.

The next step is to enable hand tracking, as Workrooms is designed to be used in a natural way, so without a controller but with your hands free. It doesn't mean that you can't use the controllers too, in fact you just need to activate the automatic recognition of the hands and the controllers to allow the Quest 2 to automatically switch between one and the other input system.

As an optional function there is the possibility to identify the keyboard you are using (initially only a Logitech model and the Apple Magic Keyboard are compatible), to “insert” it into virtual reality. So Workroom is, more correctly, a mixed reality environment, that is, a fusion between virtual reality and real objects. When you have set the recognition of the keyboard, it will appear in the virtual reality in the exact position in which it is in reality, so you can also interact with it with the viewer worn. However, it would be of little use to use a keyboard without seeing the notebook / PC / Mac to which it is connected, and that is why the Remote Desktop application comes in handy, which allows you to view your computer screen within VR. In practice you will have to download an application on the PC / Mac, make sure that both the computer and the viewer are connected to the same network, so that the PC screen can be transferred to a virtual computer in Workrooms.

When you have done all these operations you will find yourself in a virtual environment, around a table, with a virtual computer in front of you which is a copy of what is happening on your (physical) PC in real time. You can then work on the computer with the headset on, while interacting with all the other avatars / people in the room.

It's time to interact

In virtual reality you will have control over what you surrounds, so it won't be a passive experience. You can activate or deactivate the computer, activate the microphone to talk to others, change rooms, change places and, above all, converse with others, verbally or otherwise.

Among the features that make Workrooms different (and more powerful) compared to any videoconferencing software, is non-verbal communication. Think about what happens during a live meeting: there are those who nod, those who raise a hand to ask a question, those who respond to a question with a nod of the head or an unequivocal gesture. In short, consent, dissent, interest, curiosity, attention or even disinterest or other emotions and moods are also communicated, and in some cases above all, with body language. Our avatars in workrooms faithfully reproduce these non-verbal expressions, thus taking meetings to the next level.

Who can use Workrooms?

An Oculus Quest 2 is required to access Workrooms, which now offers simultaneous management of up to 16 people. But it is also possible to invite those who do not have a Quest 2 to workrooms, interacting as in a normal videoconference, therefore with voice and video, in case they have a webcam. The videoconference will take place via browser, so any computer (PC or Mac) will suffice.

Of course, you might think that even during a videoconference, with the video camera on, it is possible to detect these physical communications, but we assure you that this is not the case, or rather, not what is possible to perceive in a virtual environment, despite our alters are "puppets". A two-dimensional image of a video camera loses some information, while it is not easy to keep under control, at a glance and simultaneously, all the images of the different webcams. It is probably also the simplicity of the Workroom graphics that facilitates this physical understanding of the people who are with us in the virtual room, which also allows us to look the person with whom we are talking in the eye, which happens in a classic videoconference. only if the speaker has the foresight to stop looking at the screen to look at the webcam lens - consequently losing sight of the interlocutors. In short, there is no doubt, to date the experience we have tried is the one closest to a real meeting and better than a normal videoconference.

The vocal component of the interaction is however not left to chance, in fact in Workrooms the audio is three-dimensional. Just as in reality we perceive the direction from which a sound comes, even in the virtual environment we will hear precisely where the voice of the speaker is coming from, and naturally we will turn to that side. If a person we are watching turns their head away, the voice that will be reproduced on the Oculus Quest 2 will be different, just like in reality. All these little tricks are capable of increasing the level of reality with which one interacts.

During the presentation, for example, when asked if anyone had any questions, it came very natural to nod with a finger, just as we have done dozens of times in actual conferences. The interlocutor immediately noticed the sign and gave us the floor. While he was answering the question, we looked around, and saw who was taking notes and nodding in understanding, who listens carefully, and who was more disinterested. We have experienced the same sensations experienced hundreds of times during the conferences we attended, in reality.

Workrooms offers three different room layouts, or rather, table layouts: a round one, perfect for example for brainstorming meetings where the goal is to encourage interaction; a long table, with the participants seated on either side, ideal for meetings where information is mainly to be communicated and where interaction between everyone is not the fundamental objective; and a room for presentations, where the desks are facing a blackboard where there is the main interlocutor who, for example, does training. This last modality is perhaps the most curious one, since during the test we felt like we were attending a university lesson. The virtual whiteboard is a very visually useful tool, as it allows you to fix concepts or useful information during the presentation. To interact with it, simply hold a controller, turn it backwards, and use the bottom of the controller itself as if it were the tip of a marker. Brilliant.

Everything is in beta and can be improved

Currently Workrooms is in beta, and this involves the existence of a few bugs here and there but, above all, many small features that can be improved. During the setup phase, everything didn't go smoothly, and the part that damned us the most was the mirroring function of the computer screen inside the VR. Although the computer and the viewer were on the same network, sometimes the viewer was not detected by the remote viewing application installed on the PC. The resolution of the problem went through the classic steps that are followed when there are no specific error messages, and that is various restarts of the PC, the viewer, disconnection and connection to the wireless network, etc. Even during use, the connection occasionally jumped or slowed down to the point of forcing us to reset. We understand that connectivity is very important to use Workrooms, not in terms of Internet connection speed, but rather in terms of stability and proximity of the devices to the access point. The connections that are established are many, latency is very important, so moving too far from the points of connectivity could cause problems. If in a company with an advanced network infrastructure there will probably be few problems, with home connectivity solutions and interference caused by other networks or even appliances, more attention is recommended if you want to have a good experience. .

Oculus Quest 2's ability to identify hands is now satisfying, but likely to be improved. On several occasions we found ourselves not knowing how to position our hands, and looking at the avatars inside the room, we believe we were not the only ones to experience this difficulty. The reason is that when you move your hands out of the Quest 2's field of view, they disappear, and you'll have to wait a few seconds for them to be spotted again after placing them in front of the viewer. If you want to interact quickly with the virtual world, even just to activate and deactivate the microphone, you must always keep your hands in the field of view of the viewer. This has led us to hold very composed but unnatural positions, such as placing the palms on the desk in front of us; or with our hands in the air, since if we crossed them, the tracking system could no longer distinguish them.

How much does Workrooms cost?

Workrooms is free, but an Oculus Quest 2 is required to access, so there is an admission price for using this technology. It is not an absolute high price, if we consider that Quest 2 is currently the cheapest VR viewer on the market, but we are still talking about a few hundred euros, a price that increases, even considerably, if we multiply the viewers pere the amount of people with you will want to interact with.

The audio and microphones quality, on the other hand, was very convincing, while the mirroring of the PC / Mac screen requires some compromise. You will not be able to bring a 4K resolution desktop into the virtual world, for example, so when you enable mirroring the screen resolution will be lowered (we don't know exactly how much, but it certainly doesn't go beyond Full HD); this results in the reduction of desktop space and therefore limits the ergonomics of use of applications. If you are used to using multiple applications at the same time or using complex software, you will not be able to do it within Workrooms. In this case, the interaction with the computer is sufficient to take notes, reply to a few emails or view a presentation. In this context, the possibility of sharing your screen with all the other participants is interesting.

On balance, Workrooms is already usable today without any particular problems, but the development team has confirmed that it is working on many small improvements, especially related to the latency of interactions.

Is Workrooms really the future?

Workrooms is a whole new way of conceiving videoconferencing but, more generally, collaboration in the company . The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly changed the world of work. It forced everyone to work from home, and although the state of emergency is increasingly diminishing, we will never go back to work as before the pandemic. We at sportsgaming.win, and in the other TechRadar and SpazioGames editorial offices, have also reviewed the way we live our working days. We have gone from an editorial staff that is always in turmoil to a smartworking regime, which continues in recent months and, most likely, will intensify in the future, even if the health emergency were to disappear completely.

We do not know if Workrooms it will become the standard, but it certainly offers a glimpse of what the future might be like today. We will continue to try it and probably try to use it as a tool, both to hold training courses and for meetings, involving both those who own an Oculus Quest 2 and those without one, through the possibility of participating via browser as if it were a normal videoconference. What we would like to suggest is, if you have the opportunity, to try it, because it undoubtedly represents a very special experience.

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