Alex Zarac, the owner of the ImaginationsVR game center in Allen, demonstrates the setup for his arcade's new Virtuix Omni treadmill that lets players physically walk through virtual worlds.EXPAND
Alex Zarac, the owner of the ImaginationsVR game center in Allen, demonstrates the setup for his arcade's new Virtuix Omni treadmill that lets players physically walk through virtual worlds.
Danny Gallagher

ImaginationsVR Lets Us Take a Virtual Stroll on Its New Virtuix Omni VR Treadmill

Virtual reality technology may be the most immersive form of digital entertainment in the history of gaming, but it still has its limitations.

The most noticeable one is stagnation. VR headsets like the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift and Sony's PlayStation VR offer fluid reactions to a player's movements, but those movements are mostly limited to the player's head, neck and arms. Some games allow you to move your virtual self with the controls, and most just let you warp from space to space across levels, like Nightcrawler from X-Men, if you decide to give up on walking entirely.

The tech company Virtuix released its long-awaited VR treadmill, the Virtuix Omni, in 2016, a device funded through a successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign that was originally designed for home use but switched to consumer use in the growing global VR arcade market. The VR arcade ImaginationsVR in Allen acquired one of these machines for its customers and gave us a test toddle.

The treadmill looks like an assisted standing device with a full waist strap, but that doesn't mean you won't need to do any physical work. It requires a lot of energy and endurance, so if you're a rotund American like me who doesn't get to do a lot of triathlons, you probably won't go the full hour in your VR session. It's still worth taking a spin on it for as long as your muscles will allow because it delivers an interesting new level to the VR experience.

The treadmill works with a special set of plastic shoe covers with friction-less soles that slide across its concave base. The games made exclusively for the treadmill recognize the foot movements and the direction the player is facing as they walk and move accordingly in the game. Now your hands are freer to do more important things, like shoot monsters and bash deadly creatures in the face.

Moving on, the Omni uses the same muscles and fluid motion as regular walking, but it feels much different from the way we're used to walking. You have to slide your feet from front to back to register a step with the inertial sensors in the bottom of the treadmill rather than push off with your stepping leg to propel your body forward or backward.

Once you get going, the movement feels as fluid as traditional walking, even after you've retrained your brain to operate your legs and feet. It can also feel like you did 45 minutes on an elliptical machine even if you just did a few minutes of it.

"It's not like walking in real life," says ImaginationsVR owner Alex Zarac. "It's a big learning curve, but your brain gets used to it."

The Omni only works with the HTC Vive and a select menu of games made for it, such as a fantasy creature shooter called Primordian, a futuristic arena death match Hyperdrome and the tactical urban war game Red October. The treadmill also works with several horror experiences like Affected: The Manor and The Exorcist: Legion VR that let players physically run for their lives from ghosts, killer clowns and hell demons instead of letting a directional pad and their thumb do it for them.

Even if you can't run a 4K or you get easily winded, the Omni offers a unique experience for VR entertainment and possibly even other technological uses, like training or physical fitness. It's worth turning into a ball of sweat and trading your legs for two Jello columns because it feels like the first step into the future.  

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