Virtual Reality Becoming Less Expensive, Easier to Use

Virtual Reality Becoming Less Expensive, Easier to Use

Most people are blown away the first time they experience Virtual Reality. They are further blown away when realizing the amount of effort involved in showing a client a simple 3D scene in VR. It’s cumbersome. It’s costly. And, is it even a benefit when the images are so rough? Luckily, there is a new method that is simple, affordable and delivers photo-realistic images.

Oculus GoHistorically, the two most common ways to view VR has been via a smartphone in a poor quality viewer, or with a cumbersome VR headset tethered to a computer. Neither are great tools for visualizing architecture, because they are either too simple or too complex, and don’t deliver very realistic images.

VR headset option using Oculus Rift or HTC Vive offer a fairly impressive experience, but at a higher cost – in time, money and quality. It requires quite a bit of setup, a dedicated experience area and a 3D program (typically Revit) with a VR plug-in. The person viewing the VR must wear an awkward headset with cables running to a fairly high-end computer. All that, and the image quality is mediocre, at best. You get to experience the general feel of a space in 3D while walking around in it, but it is far from realistic and the headset is cumbersome. The technology is getting in the way. Not the best experience.

To fully maximize the VR experience with the Rift or the Vive, a gaming engine is needed – along with a programmer. Not a very cost-effective solution for an architecture firm with a project going through design iterations.

Oculus Go the Way to Go

Virtual Reality has two basic elements: the images you see and the tool used to view them. We’ve honed our rendering skills over nearly two decades, so we know how to create great images. I think the right tool to use for VR is the Oculus Go using pre-rendered images.

The Oculus Go is an all-in-one unit – no phone or computer required. It offers a much higher quality experience than phone-based systems and is far easier to use and setup than the Rift or Vive. At $200 it is inexpensive enough to have several in a conference room or to take several to a client’s office – you can’t do that with the Rift or the Vive.

Most importantly, the 3D experience can be photo-real by using pre-rendered realistic scenes that the viewer can jump between using a simple hand controller. Again, no need for a fancy computer, and no bulky headset tethered to a computer and strapped to your client’s face. The images are fully-rendered, and you predetermine what your client can see and where they go by rendering only spaces you specify.

An additional advantage of prerendering photo-real images is that they can also be viewed on a computer, a conference room TV or even via a website. The mouse controls the field of view rather than moving your head – it’s not 3D but it is still a great additional way to share the experience; more bang for your buck. The other two VR platforms, the phone or the Rift and Vive, don’t allow the same viewing without a headset attached.

There are options to brand the viewing experience; you can place your company logo on the start up screen; there is an option to watch what the viewer is seeing on a computer.

In summary, with a relatively low cost, ease of use, and no bulky headgear – plus great high-quality images (which are a must when trying to impress clients) – all of these factors make Oculus Go the ‘way to go’ for a top-shelf VR experience.


In 2002 Brent Bowen founded bowen studios, an architectural rendering and 3d digital animation firm based in Salt Lake City and serving domestic and international clients. His team has decades of design experience on thousands of rendering projects.

[This article was originally published in the Utah Construction & Design April 2019 issue.]