Virtual and augmented reality playtesting notes

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Some notes on play-testing various VR headsets in early 2017.

Summary of Virtual/Augmented Reality Playtesting

The following findings are based on multiple playtesting sessions with the HTC Vive, PS4 VR, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, Microsoft Hololens, and Oculus Rift.

Calibration / setup

  • Calibration and setup of dedicated VR systems are a huge impediment to usability of all systems, and more-or-less prevents dedicated systems from being suitable for non-technical people, especially those with a need for assistive technology.
  • Only the phone-based systems, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard are relatively easy-to-setup given familiarity with using apps on smartphones.

Headset comfort

  • All headsets are uncomfortable to put on and wear.
  • Tethered headsets make standing or walking potentially hazardous. Even smartphone-based systems can lead to disorientation and potential danger unless seated. Only sitting position seems suitable and safe.
  • None of the headsets, except Microsoft Hololens, seem suitable for someone wearing glasses.


  • Using a headset in tandem with headphones for high quality audio coming from the headset, as is required by HTC Vive, is neither comfortable nor practical.
  • Sound from built-in speakers or a nearby desktop machine is preferable if sound is required.


  • Navigating menus is difficult in all systems, but especially so in PS4 VR. Providing multiple avenues for navigating menus, or removing menus entirely seems necessary.
  • Selections (actions equivalent to “clicking” on a mouse/trackpad) are generally difficult in all systems, but especially so in Microsoft Hololens.


  • While partially or completely blinded by a headset, it is important that any controller buttons be easy to reach. HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR have some buttons that are especially problematic in this regard. Limiting usage to only the most easy-to-find buttons is advisable.
  • While wearing a headset, having a visual image of the controller “on-screen” helps understand the orientation of the buttons on the controller. HTC Vive’s controller is especially problematic in this regard.
  • Switching controllers while wearing a headset is challenging. In PS4 VR, one needs to switch between multiple controllers to boot up and run an app, which makes it virtually unusable without removing the headset.
  • Some controller buttons do not correspond well to the actions they enact. For example, pulling HTC Vive’s trigger is a counter-intuitive for grabbing and lifting a virtual object.

Visual resolution

  • Resolution does not seem to be one of the more important components of the overall quality of the experience.
  • The smartphone-based systems (Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard) have far lower resolution than the dedicated systems.

Movement tracking

  • Smartphone-based systems on their own can only track head movements.
  • Tracking for dedicated systems using lightboxes or camera only works within a defined area that is easy to accidentally reach the edges or leave the area if ambulating.

Relevance for Moving Through Glass

Only the smartphone-based systems, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard, seem appropriate for an audience with movement disorders.

  • Minimal setup
  • No calibration
  • Portability
  • Physically less uncomfortable
  • Built-in speaker
  • Confusing controllers not required
  • Potential for voice activation

Raw notes from playtesting


  • two hand controllers
  • vibrating of hand controllers offers some tactile feedback
  • speed of vibration can be variable
  • menu screens are difficult to navigate/see.. need to see more examples of them
  • pulling trigger to pick things up seems counter-intuitive at first
  • visualization of controller on-screen maybe makes it more complicated to press correct buttons in real life, since you can't see your own hands on-screen
  • pressing top-most button is difficult to locate with thumb ... too far up
  • grabbing with hands is imprecise, since no sensors on fingers
  • perhaps no real motion sickness if world is stable
  • headset is tethered with wires, although wireless version newly available
  • headset can be adjusted to map eyesight
  • lightboxes create "room space", and if you get near edge of space, you see outline of people/objects in the real room
  • pointing and clicking trigger to "teleport" further into the world is counter-intuitive
  • pointing and clicking trigger to "shoot something" is relatively accurate
  • feel a little down or relieved just when taking off
  • audio jack in headset needs to be plugged into headphones, or rely on computer speakers
  • difficult to figure out what objects are actionable vs. what's not
  • sitting down gives more of a sense of stability, and prevents you from reaching the edge of the "room space"


  • one standard controller without tracking, and two extra "ping-pong ball" hand controllers for tracking
  • start-up menu screens are flat, and navigating them is totally confusing
  • environments have a 2d feel to them* two different types of controllers - seems like you need to switch between controllers to navigate startup menus
  • resolution is far lower than VIVE
  • resolution of photo-realistic environments is far lower than simpler CG environments
  • calibration of camera/headset positioning is awfully complicated
  • camera hook barely works
  • seems like having camera high-up is better
  • confusing when you're in first-person view, but someone else is speaking your character's lines
  • too many options, too many buttons... difficult to know what to do.
  • power button on base is impossible to find!
  • you must turn on the headset seperately
  • each of the ping-pong ball controllers must be turned on separately
  • you must first use the main controller to load the game, then you can switch to the ping-pong ball controllers... difficult/impossible to do when you're wearing a headset
  • if we could simplify ping-pong ball controllers to have no buttons, just a lit-up colored camera-tracked ping-pong ball would be far better for our population

Samsung Gear

  • Cheap... except the phone, which is not cheat at all
  • Only works on specific phone
  • turns on as soon as you put on the goggles
  • A pointer dot follows your gaze around
  • Side buttons can be difficult to sense tactile
  • No system to boot/debug/buy... except the phone
  • resolution is lower than dedicated systems, but acceptable
  • no tracking of body movement... only tracks head rotation
  • possibility of integrating with phone camera?
  • possibility of integrating with laptop to track body/hand movement?

Google Cardboard

  • super cheap
  • works on any phone
  • Standard cardboard has only one button, which touches screen via lever
  • Possibility exists to make custom cardboard/plastic housing with more buttons
  • No system to boot/debug/buy... use existing phone
  • You must run the app on the phone before putting it into the box
  • resolution is lower than dedicated systems, and depends on phone used
  • possibility of integrating with phone camera?
  • possibility of integrating with laptop to track body/hand movement?
  • possibility of voice recognition

Microsoft Hololens

  • augmented reality
  • headset is a bit heavy in the front and feels a little clunky
  • difficult to figure out exactly how to position it on your head for proper view
  • A pointer dot follows your gaze around
  • A little buggier than Samsung Gear
  • The 'air tap' and pinch motions are a bit awkward/difficult
  • Responds to voice commands
  • Limited dimensions of the projected image make it very limited what can be achieved visually


  • sorry... forgot already
  • remember being unconvinced about its commercial viability

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