23

I've currently got 4 monitors on my workstation, but I still want more desktop space. Is there a head-tracking VR headset (either augmented reality or such that a keyboard can still be seen/used while wearing) that could be used as a 360-degree (or even 180 degree) monitor? What kind of virtual resolution would I end up with? Is it wireless?

(I realize that it would probably be unpleasant to turn around and use desktop space behind me, but I would at least be able to maximize the use of my field of vision).

  • 3
    Interesting question - I'd like to see an answer! Fair warning: a VR desktop would likely be a little disorienting to work in, at least until VR tech catches up a little bit. – Undo Sep 11 '15 at 4:20
  • @Undo I agree. VR tech is already disorienting from playing games for just an hour or two. Using it for all computer work would really do some damage. However, it does seem like a great thing to look into. – Adam Sep 11 '15 at 6:09
  • Not yet practical, but likely of interest to anyone following this post:here's an oculus-as-a-monitor project: hackaday.com/2014/12/11/… – JohnLBevan Aug 9 '16 at 8:39
  • Can we reopen this now that being close to 2020, we have Higher Res VR gear? – Alex S 2 days ago
15

but I still want more desktop space

Having worked extensively with virtual reality, I will say without any reservation - this really isn't a good idea.

Is there a head-tracking VR headset (either augmented reality or such that a keyboard can still be seen/used while wearing) that could be used as a 360-degree (or even 180 degree) monitor?

Note these are commonly called HMDs and you might have luck further researching these.

A few significant drawbacks with this idea:

  • Pixel density for reading text is poor. The Occulus Rift released next year has a resolution of 1080x1200 (per eye, so effectively that resolution). For most people wanting more than 4 monitors (!) this is going to be infuriatingly small, as you will basically only be able to view a 1080x1200 area at any given time.
  • Design purposes are different. Virtual reality hardware is nearly exclusively designed to render/create 3D environments (ie gaming) - not 2D. This is primarily a problem because most are still designed to do this, not be "monitor extensions."
  • The ergonomics of this would be awful, since you would be rotating your head constantly. If you don't believe this, hold your head at an 45 degree angle for 5 minutes, it will not feel great.
    • ... if it feels ok, add a roughly 1/2 pound (or more) weight on your forehead and repeat. VR HMDs are heavy, which matters more if you use it every day like you intend.
  • Eye strain. Put your face ~1 inch from a computer monitor for an hour (or eight). You know how people talk about taking breaks from a normal computer monitor at several feet away? Imagine ~1 inch for that time...
  • Windows managers/interaction. This is a hard problem and not a "productionized and solved" problem yet. Is it ok if you can't see your mouse/keyboard? Probably.
  • Tracking system. If all that's not bad enough, you need some sort of additional system to identify the orientation of your head, in order to feed data back into your computer, in order to tell the graphics engine what to draw (or what your viewport is if you prefer). This is important because if you are using hardware you likely have to use their custom software - this is incredibly non-trivial to get to work the way you want, in many cases. So if you are going "outside" the designed purpose it is very non trivial (especially since you likely need some sort of specific window manager).

Some more specifics of your questions:

Is it wireless?

Using the Oculus Rift, which can be hacked to do what you describe, it has a total resolution of 1080x1200 for each eye, or 2160x1200. Refresh rate is very important for this sort of thing though, slow refresh rates are very disorienting when your entire world is at a say 5 FPS rate.

To have wireless you are basically streaming better-than-HD video at a veryhigh framerate (probably 20 FPS or higher) or it's incredibly disorienting, especially if/when you move your head and the screen doesn't update immediately. Laggy/slow updates will make you sick or frustrated quickly.

What kind of virtual resolution would I end up with?

If you are willing to write your own windows manager/etc you can probably have whatever virtual resolution you want. This route would not be for the faint of heart :)

still want more desktop space

My last point is about this again.

If you want to use VR/AR for something like this you need to determine whether your primary problems with "only" 4 monitors is visible space (at any given time) or limited tiled space (ie positioning windows on top, in different areas). If you are ok with limiting your visible resolution significantly, for a greater ability to layout windows, then VR/AR in its current form is really not your best bet (given the above disadvantages).

There are also higher resolution HMDs available than the Oculus Rift. But the Oculus Rift has a much larger community of people exploring this idea than other technologies.

My recommendation would overwhelmingly be to get higher resolution monitors and/or more of them if you are looking for an actual, day to day, use case. The VR/HMD route is probably fun and interesting but at this point I highly doubt you would find it useful or beneficial for day to day work.

  • About Eye strain. It is not like that. VR headsets has an additional optics to mimic a correction glasses. I don't know what is effectively the distance but for sure x-times more than 1 inch. – Waldemar Wosiński Jul 20 '17 at 12:36
  • Can we reopen this now that being close to 2020, we have Higher Res VR gear? – Alex S 2 days ago
2

I see that this question was last answered over 4 years ago, so I would like to provide a more optimistic answer that is up-to-date.

Is there a head-tracking VR headset (either augmented reality or such that a keyboard can still be seen/used while wearing) that could be used as a 360-degree (or even 180 degree) monitor?

Augmented Reality headsets are the type of headset that displays an overlay on a transparent screen. VR headsets will obstruct your view to ensure maximum immersion, so they are not ideal for most people to use with typing.

Microsoft's HoloLens is a cutting edge AR headset that may be what you're looking for. However, it's not really a consumer friendly product yet. ($3500 USD!)
With Microsoft behind HoloLens, it has a pretty good chance of becoming a standardized AR experience for Windows. At some point in the future an iteration of the HoloLens may be a viable alternative to traditional computer screens.

A little less expensive is the Magic Leap One at $2295 USD. This system has its own computer built-in, so it is wireless in a sense. It will be interesting to see how this device will be put to use by the companies currently developing for it.

These AR headsets are still in the early adoption phase though, where developers and companies are still experimenting and finding uses for them. They are not intended for consumer use and the software to enable using them with a desktop environment may not be fully functional. (Or even exist yet.)

If you are OK with VR headsets that obstruct your view of the keyboard, you could use basically any VR headset. There is already software like Virtual Desktop for most VR headsets. There is also a VR desktop environment for Linux.

What kind of virtual resolution would I end up with?

That's a tricky thing to answer. The resolution of the headset ultimately determines the sharpness of text or the detail of objects in 3D virtual space, because virtual objects must be rasterized onto the pixels of that display. The "desktop space" you can use is practically unlimited, considering that you would be free to arrange and resize virtual windows however you want. The actual resolution of these virtual windows that you would really be seeing varies, and it would depend on multiple factors:

  • The resolution of the texture mapped to the virtual surface
  • The position & orientation of the virtual surface from your viewpoint
  • The resolution of the HMD

For example:
You could be looking at a virtual screen with 16,000 x 9,000 pixels, scaled to the size of your thumbnail and placed at arms length. Even though there's a very high resolution in the virtual space, it needs to be projected onto your HMD display, and at that distance and size it may be 160x90 pixels on the display. Which would make it impossible to see the detail in that massive texture.

I realize that it would probably be unpleasant to turn around and use desktop space behind me, but I would at least be able to maximize the use of my field of vision

If you did have a 360° panorama of virtual desktop, you could just let the software rotate it instead of turning your head.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.