6 Best VR Treadmills to Try in 202016 min read11/04/2020
With the rise of virtual reality, we’ve got the capability of exploring unreal worlds we would never visit otherwise. Within these computer-generated surroundings, VR headsets and controllers have become our eyes and hands. Combined with high-quality graphics and audio, this hardware allows us to experience another reality almost in the way we feel in the real-world environment. Although, there remain certain aspects where immersion could be more realistic.
Typical virtual reality systems enable users to move across digital environments using controllers. Users can press corresponding directional buttons, tilt a joystick or use a teleport based on a particular controller button to explore a virtual world. This approach is hardly similar to the way we move in real life. Moreover, the lack of physical activity while playing a virtual reality game, for example, Half-Life: Alyx, can be harmful to health. To address these issues developers created a VR treadmill. You could see one in the Ready Player One movie directed by Steven Spielberg. How does VR treadmill work? What is the best VR treadmill to play the recent virtual reality game released by Valve? How much do they cost? This review will answer your questions.
What is a VR treadmill?
VR omni-directional treadmill (ODT) is an inherent part of true immersive virtual reality. They are special platforms that enable users to explore a virtual environment by physically moving in different directions (typically 6), such as forward and backward, to the left and right, as well as diagonally, within the gaming area limited by fencing or waist harness connected to the treadmill with hard bars. Some virtual reality treadmills like Infinadeck and Cyberith Virtualizer provide even full movement freedom.
These systems track user movements on the stride using built-in inertial sensors and then send collected data to a computer. Once processed, this data gets transformed into movements within a computer-generated environment. Such a natural approach ensures deep immersion into a virtual world and provides a more realistic experience compared to controller-based moving. Thus, users can walk and run across a virtual environment while actually doing it it in the real world.
Kat Walk Mini
Kat Walk Mini is the smallest and lightest omnidirectional VR treadmill on the market. Its height is 158 cm and base area is 1.76 m² that’s why it fits a typical apartment room. This platform allows users to perform a wide variety of actions safely and smoothly because of its rotating seat and special safety belt. Thus, the VR treadmill supports and balances gamers when moving as well as to adapt to enable them safely crouch or get down to pick up virtual objects within a computer-generated environment.
Developers properly optimized the platform mechanical structure to ensure optimal rotational inertia. As a result, you can effortlessly turn around and easily stop whenever you want to. Kat Walk Mini is suitable for users with the height from 140 cm to 195 cm and weights up to 130 kg. The company designed the VR treadmill to be an independent universal controller that’s why it’s compatible with popular virtual reality head-mounted displays (HMD) like HTC Vive, Playstation VR, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality.
HTC Vive Cosmos
“The Kat Walk Mini VR Treadmill is the smallest, lightest, most functional, and least expensive on the market. Using this machine creates a more immersive gaming experience making you become the character“.Customer Support of Twisted Reality
To track user movements, Kat Walk Mini relies on the contactless sensor technology instead of using a pair of sensors placed on the gamer’s feet. The advanced motion mapping algorithm uses the input from sensors in combination with HMD tracking data to determine the exact location and speed of each foot and enable decoupled head and body movement. The whole process takes less than 20 milliseconds to compete. These built-in sensors are powered directly by the machine.
To protect user knees, Kat Walk Mini relies on a shock absorbing base-plate. To ensure enough level of activity for VR experiences involving driving, the vendor is also currently developing a special retractable seat that will allow longer play sessions. In addition, the company provides a publicly available software development kit (SDK) that enables game developers to easily integrate their games and VR apps in Kat Walk Mini. Its price in the U.S. is $3,999 which makes it a relatively cheap VR ODT.
Infinadeck developed a VR omni-directional treadmill that greatly enhances virtual reality taking it to the next level. It gives an opportunity to walk and experience a computer-generated environment. You can walk through it in any direction, move around, spin around, and see what’s going on in it. This resembles our real-world life where we physically walk to get from one point to another.
Once stepped on the platform, you would find yourself in a totally different world where you have to quickly learn how to rewalk. This process may take a couple of minutes until you get used to it. You should first step on the platform without a head-mounted display to understand how it feels like. In fact, walking on the platform feels natural, the thing is, however, that your brain isn’t connected to your feet when you don’t see them while wearing an HMD that’s why it may seem uncomfortable for first minutes.
Fortunately, Infinadeck has hard body limiters you can grab on to if you feel sick or panic. These bars also ensure safety by preventing you from falling from the platform when exploring a virtual environment. This is sort of a way of reconnection to the real world. The VR treadmill relies on a set of HTC Vive trackers to determine user position. While two trackers are placed on feet and one tracker is placed on the user’s back with the use of the soft belt. The tracking system allows the treadmill to recognize the difference between crouching, falling, walking, or moving in a specific direction.
Oculus Rift S
The treadmill belt consists of tens of narrow stripes that can move in the direction which is perpendicular to the whole belt movement direction. The speed difference between the movement of the belt and stripes enables a user to smoothly move diagonally. Unlike a running treadmill where you have to manually set the speed, the Infinadeck VR treadmill automatically changes the speed when you go faster or more slowly. It takes less than a second for the system to detect your intention to run versus walk. The maximum speed of this virtual reality treadmill is 8 mph which is totally enough for gaming but unsuitable for morning running.
The VR ODT also can adjust its belt speed to the virtual landscape you’re walking through. For example, when you’re going up across the hill, the system forcibly retards the speed of the belt thus making you walk more slowly in the virtual environment compared to your walk speed in the real world. As a result, you get an illusion that you have to apply more afford to overcome that hill and vice versa when it comes to going down from the hill. This makes Infinadeck one of the best VR treadmills on the market.
Along with Infinadeck, you should use a wireless VR headset like HTC Vive Pro with the wireless adapter. Otherwise, the whole experience isn’t worth it because wires will disturb you or it can even be dangerous with the head-mounted display taken on. Although, you can’t avoid using a wire connecting the HMD and its battery. The main unexpected drawback of Infinadeck is its safety system. If you pick up virtual objects by bowing when too close to the hard limiting circle, you can suddenly hit the bar with your head which can lead to serious trauma.
Infinadeck offers its own SDK for third-party VR developers to allow them to easily adjust their experiences to the treadmill. According to Benjamin Freeman, CEO of Infinadeck, the company mostly focuses on VR gaming centers rather usual player to have this product in their living room. They also create partnerships with medical companies to expand VR treadmill use cases from gaming to healthcare. Unfortunately, he doesn’t disclose the price.
“We believe there is a lot of potential for physical therapy, stroke recovery (we’re learning how to walk after a part of a body has been paralyzed), corporate training, and firefighter training… We’re really excited about this. This is a groundbreaking technology, this is something that we can make the world a better place“.Benjamin Freeman, CEO at Infinadeck
VR treadmills will suddenly become a part of the interior virtual reality enthusiasts’ living rooms. Although, they currently are quite expensive. When it comes to Virtuix Omni, the VR treadmill price is $7,500. Virtuix launched its first-generation VR treadmill project on Kickstarter on June 4, 2013. The company reached a goal of $150,000 in only 3.5 hours. During the whole crowdfunding campaign, Virtuix raised $1.1 million in total.
Their VR treadmill works as a game controller which enables users to explore digital 3D environments while physically walking or running in any direction. Unlike Infinadeck, the VR ODT by Virtuix doesn’t have a moving belt. Instead, it has a slick static surface that allows you to walk while wearing special low friction shoes that can easily slide across the platform surface. To track your position and speed, the system uses inertial sensors, with a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, placed on these shoes. Then it sends collected data to a computer which further transforms it into the game movements.
It takes from 5 to 10 minutes to get used to moving in a virtual world using Virtuix Omni. During this adaptation, you may feel uncomfortable since it may seem like you’re about to slip and fall. Fortunately, Virtuix Omni has plastic fencing with a comfortable soft belt reliably fixing a body in the static position while allowing body orientation to change. These limiters make falling out of the game area almost impossible and this is why this device is one of the best VR treadmills currently available for the public.
Sony Playstation VR
The fixed height of the body limiting construction form some inconveniences for tall users. If your height is something near 6.5 ft, then you will have to walk and run on the bent legs. Moreover, the Virtuix Omni design makes crouching impossible because of the narrow fencing circle. This also limits the freedom of hand movements which can affect your gaming experience. The main advantage of this VR treadmill is that it has no speed limit. In other words, you can move as fast as you want which will be then reflected in a virtual world.
Virtuix Omni offers two methods of walking within computer-generated environments. The first one refers to running in the same direction as your head orientation. Turn to the direction you want to move in. The second method implies walking in a certain direction depending on your feet orientation which allows you to move in one direction while looking in another one. The latter approach feels more natural and comfortable. Nevertheless, during a gameplay session lasting only 10 minutes, you will feel clear tiredness in your legs. That’s why long gameplay streaming is hardly possible with this VR treadmill.
Virtualizer by Cyberith is the 2nd-generation omnidirectional VR treadmill that enables users to move across virtual spaces. It allows them to walk, jump, crouch, jump and even sit. The full integrated optical sensor system guarantees low latency and wide freedom of movement. This VR ODT allows you to walk in one direction and look in another direction while virtually shooting in the other direction.
Cyberith offers special software that enables developers to emulate a keyboard and mouse in order to use Virtualizer for non-immersive VR games. In addition, the company provides its SDK for third-party developers to adjust the VR treadmill to their virtual reality applications. Software packages for Unreal and Unity engines are already available.
HTC Vive Pro
When it comes to the working principle, Cyberith Virtualizer relies on the same concept as Virtuix Omni. To walk across the rounded platform, users slide with their feet while wearing a special covering on their shoes. On the other side, the treadmill automatically tilts in the way a gamer is walking, thus making exploration of computer-generated environments physically easier. Furthermore, the platform can change its incline in accordance with the virtual relief and direction you walk in.
The device consists of a rounded sensor platform, moving body limiter for fixing a user, arch for connecting a VR headset, and three base pillars. Using sensors installed in these pillars, a system tracks user feed movements and body position in space. Cyberith Virtualizer supports all popular head-mounted displays, for example, HTC Vive Pro. The company also allows using third-party motion trackers. In addition to the basic version, Cyberith offers the Virtualizer Elite 2 kit for about 10,000 EUR that includes HTC Vive and a powerful computer.
SpaceWalkerVR is a monodirectional VR treadmill developed by a Turkey-based company. The device enables gamers to physically walk and run forwards and backward while exploring digital 3D environments. To allow users to go in any direction within a virtual world, SpaceWalkerVR has a rounded platform that can turn in 360 degrees along with a sensor-controlled treadmill belt. Powered by 4 electric motors, this turntable relies on a gyroscope or joystick to automatically turn to the direction of the gamer’s body generating 4x12v for rotation and 2x24v for walking.
The VR treadmill also has a built-in joystick that opens wide horizons for virtual reality app developers. They can create experiences expanding gaming frames and providing benefits in corporate training, sports, or virtual tourism. When it comes to VR games, this joystick makes various actions possible; they include shooting, interacting with virtual objects, selecting items, etc. The device also has pressure sensors that detect users’ footsteps and empower the system to adjust the belt speed to relief and what happens in the computer-generated environment.
In addition, SpaceWalkerVR enables gamers to control the speed of the VR treadmill belt using a control button. To keep them safe, the device has a 3-point seat belt and hard stable safety ring which, however, makes crouching impossible, thus limiting movement freedom. It supports major VR headsets, such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, and even Google Cardboard. With dimensions 133 x 114 x 114 cm, SpaceWalkerVR weighs 120 kg and is $9,800.
Aperium K-01 pod
Aperium created the largest VR treadmill on the market. Its K-01 model is a unidirectional solution rather developed as a niche gaming attraction than for home use. Based on the V-Orient technology, it reorients a digital 3D environment imperceptibly, thus making users feel like walking rightwards, leftwards, and diagonally while physically walking only forwards. Like all of the above-mentioned best VR treadmills, Aperium K-01 can speed up or slow down the belt in accordance with what’s happening within digital surroundings.
Unlike other similar solutions, this VR ODT has a built-in full-ATX computer that generates a video signal and transmits it to a virtual reality head-mounted display like HTC Vive. Instead of safety rings or body limiters, this product has high stop panels with a height of more than 3 ft. Aperium K-01 also has an operator interface and touch screen monitor that enables an operator to configure and launch a VR app. Furthermore, the company provides its own SDK to allow third-party developers to port their Unity-based VR app to the Aperium K-01 pod.
To track user movements and position in space, this virtual reality treadmill uses a tracker mounted on the special belt a gamer should wear and two base stations placed on opposite panels. With the dimensions of 10.5 x 8 ft, Aperium K-01 is hardly a good fit for your living room that’s why the product is focused on commercial use. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t disclose the Aperium K-01 pod price.
Today’s VR treadmills for sale are currently rather rich men’s expensive toys. They are heavy and large which hardly makes them a good fit for home use. Although, these virtual reality devices are available for commercial use as gaming attractions placed in trade malls. Nevertheless, you still can find such an immersive experience in your city and try out how it feels to physically explore unreal environments. Despite the high VR treadmill cost as of 2020, these platforms are only gaming momentum and have great potential to become as widespread as VR headsets.