I have dreamed of working in VR since … when? Since at least when I first heard of Oculus rift. It seemed so natural, and such a useful thing to aim for: simply make everything good enough - resolution high enough, performance high enough, controls good enough - to plain work on your PC using huge virtual monitors. A show of VR advantages both immediate, obvious, and very down to earth.
Because of this, one of the first things I did after getting my Oculus quest was to start looking for VR desktop apps. The correctly named Virtual desktop seemed to be the most popular option, but it sadly had no Mac support (but it is in beta now!). I did find another option the name of which escapes me (it might even have been an early version of Immersed), but to the surprise of no-one my tiny Macbook almost but not quite completely lacked the horsepower to drive the experience. As I recall, the experience was promising in that it actually worked, but it was also much too slow and buggy to be of actual use. It was also clear that the resolution of the quest was a bit too low to provide nicely readable and sharp text.
Fast forward a little over a year, and my hardware situation was markedly different. The Quest has been replaced by a Quest 2: more powerful, higher resolution, and with an extra battery pack to boot. And my beloved but increasingly frail Macbook had been replaced by the laid back and cool powerhouse M1 Mac mini. It was clearly time to look at the options again.
To my delight, Immersed had evolved the software side to keep up with the hardware. I am writing this on my Mac in VR, and while there is still definitely room for improvement, things look and work so nicely that I believe those who say they can work like this all day.
So, how does it all work? Immersed simply (?) installs a driver and control app on your computer, which streams your displays into VR and allows VR controls to interact with your computer GUI. I usually turn that functionality off, though, and stick to using my keyboard and pointing devices as normal.
Displays in VR
The first fun feature is of course the displays suddenly being detached and free to be placed and sized anywhere you like around you. Immersed not only stream your physical displays (and offers to dim the hardware devices while doing so), it also supports adding completely virtual displays (many of them if you pay for the app, one if you do not).
Resolution is still something of a limitation though. When I have placed my main display to be in a nice central position and comfortably readable, it occupies enough of my view that any secondary display needs a pretty large head movement to come into view.
I also wish I had a lot more options when it comes to resolutions and aspect ratios. I asked in Immersed's Discord about this, and they refered me to Mac utilities for getting more resolution options - like Switchresx. I subsequently came across a tweet explaining that the M1 Mac graphics drivers limit your options rather severely. Sad trombone, and perhaps another point in favor of Windows boxes for VR.
So which options do I have? The physical displays are limited to their "real" resolution options, and virtual displays offer options from 1280x720 to 1920x1200. That means no playing with 4K or retina resolutions (not that I know that concept would make sense in VR), but also no playing with ultra-wide displays. I would have loved to try a curved screen 4 or 5K wide, but I guess that stays on the wishlist at least for now.
Considering many people have spent a lot more time than I working in VR, it could well be that the options present right now are actually much better for getting actual stuff done as opposed to just dreaming stuff up. I did find some use for a second display laying table-like below the primary one, so there are a lot of options to explore.
Using your hands or controllers to place stuff and use menus is always delightful, but not always precise. Immersed uses the Quest's hand tracking to great effect, always showing your hands as you type, point, and click, and incorporating a bunch of smart gesture shortcuts. For example, on your left wrist is a Fitbit-like black band. Lift your arm a bit palm-up, and a clock-like round display appears below your wrist with battery level, clock, and session time. Tapping that display with your other hand brings up a quick options menu. Very nice. But my favourite gesture lets you enable or disable hand interactions (both moving and resizing displays, and using them as pointing devices on the displays): you simply press the thumb of each hand to the ring finger for a second. The hands light up and become more solid when in interaction mode, and fade away and dim when not.
Another small bonus: There is no way I can cheat and look at my keyboard while typing in VR. Immersed does offer some cool mapping wher you can try and place a virtual keyboard where your real keyboard is, but they wisely chose to stick to an option somehwat more common than a Kyria. So, I now have to type by feel and proper positioning, and I think it helps a lot. I notice how many keys I can find and reach easily when I pay attention to my positioning, and I appreciate how the shape and size of the keyboard makes it easy to locate many rarely used keys by feel.
The way of the future?
The future, as is so often the case, may not be quite here. It is surprisingly close though. The headset is still a noticeable weight, and it generates some heat. There are batteries to consider, interactions to figure out, and of course the resolution could increase quite a bit. But it is already a unique and enjoyable way to work, and it provides a very nice sense of focus and calm.
In that nice down-to-earth yet cool way, it is easy to see that everything about computer work in VR will only become better as technology improves.
Hopefully AR glasses and the like will take over before too long, letting us all work without physical screens without being quite so shut off from our surroundings. Until they do, though, I will be very happy working in increasingly sharp VR settings.