You’re launching your first VR project. When you work at the enterprise level of a company, you’ve got a major, sometimes nerve-wracking decision ahead of you: Which of the VR headsets do we (safely) buy?
There are a lot of VR headsets out there with a fairly broad range of price points and features. Nearly every major hardware or software company is rushing to market with its latest (or first) offering. With this proliferation, there’s got to be The One that’s perfect for your company, right?
Yes and no. For enterprise applications of VR, the answer isn’t in the physical attributes of the headset (color, comfort, weight, etc.). It’s not even in the price, surprisingly, but rather how well the technology will work in your environment. The difference in price from device to device is a fraction of your investment compared to the price you will pay if the device won’t assimilate to your ecosystem.
VR is a new technology, not just a new training device. Your IT department will certainly look at it that way, with all the security and integrity requirements of any new hardware or software installed at your company. Moreover, the rapid pace of change in this corner of the tech world means the devices are changing overnight. You need a solution that won’t be obsolete and force you to update or replace every year. Still, there is a useful way to narrow down potential headsets and find one that works well for your needs.
My team works with a wide range of projects at enterprise companies and has learned, after tremendous exploration, the hardware parameters that vary most for various applications. It’s easy to get distracted by the new, shiny thrill of VR. Moreover, it’s easy to confuse what is right for home use with what is right for business use. There is a distinct difference. The best device for watching movies and playing games with your family is not the same device you’ll use to deliver training and performance support to employees behind a firewall. Buying one device at the local store then unwrapping it to play games is nothing compared to deploying hundreds or thousands of devices across multiple locations, keeping them in synch, safe, and supported.
Not every VR activation is a company-wide implementation. Sometimes you just need a headset or two for a tradeshow floor, or for a specific activity or experience at a training conference or other event.
For this application, durability and wearability may not matter much, as users won’t be wearing the headset for long stretches and the headset doesn’t need to stand up to months of punishment. Security may not matter at all, if you load your program onto the headset itself and don’t involve your company’s networks or other systems. Cost may be the key factor that determines what works. Cheap and cheerful may rule the day.
Headsets we like: Oculus GO, Mirage Solo, Samsung HMD Odyssey, Lenovo Explorer.
We’re big fans of running a pilot before any major VR initiative. You can learn a lot from a few dozen users and a limited set of content. It also means your headset decision is less risky. You may want to test a couple and make a final decision as you move into the next, full-scale phase of your project. Cost is insignificant, but backend support, security, deployment, security, integration, and did I mention security can make/break the pilot result. Also, wearability is vital, even if you’re launching a limited test of content. If the user doesn’t like wearing the headset or it makes them sick, your pilot will not succeed. You really want to know how people experience your content, so you must create a comfortable environment inside and outside the headset.
Headsets we like: Vive Focus (with Vive Enterprise), Oculus Quest.
The real deal
When you’re investing in thousands of headsets for an enterprise-wide VR rollout, you need a product with the right functional road map and proven technical framework that will last for more than a few months.
Security becomes a major pain point at this stage — hopefully one you’ve worked through thanks to a pilot. Many headsets are designed for consumer use, not enterprise use. Don’t be swayed by one or two news articles promoting the success of one brand of device. Before buying, get the full picture from the appropriate people responsible for security on other company mobile devices, and make sure you’re all on the same page.
You need to know your solution will grow as the industry grows. Is your device manufacturer focused on your industry or another industry?
You need to know your solution can be managed centrally so that you don’t have to load every device by hand and that it will integrate seamlessly with your learning management environment.
Cost is important, of course, but the cost of a failed back-end implementation overshadows the cost of the devices. Also, consider leasing the devices so you can migrate over time.
Wearability is vital. You don’t want a headset to detract from the experience by being horribly uncomfortable to wear for longer periods. You’ll also hear terms — 3DOF and 6DOF — to describe how the headset responds to your movement. This is important. All the 3DOF headsets are moving to 6DOF. That ought to tell you something. 6DOF is far more realistic and less nausea-inducing than 3DOF.
Headset we like: Vive Focus-Plus with Vive Enterprise. (Sadly, Vive is the only headset that currently offers appropriate management software for enterprise applications.)
In the end, VR is a new technology. It’s demonstrated a lot of success in hardcore manufacturing environments, like automotive manufacturers, as a performance support and training medium, but it’s a very new application to training and enterprise support. At the same time, it’s recently become successful as a consumer entertainment device.
Where things gets muddy is when consumer-focused VR hardware tries to penetrate the corporate market without the enterprise management functionality to support it, and when consumer-based video and game developers stretch into the training industry. There are massive pitfalls to both. Successful deployment of an enterprise solution for training and performance support requires devices designed for enterprise use and management and developers deeply experienced in training development. That’s a winning formula.
Simon Kuntz is Managing Director at Regatta VR.