Top 5 Must-Have VR Experiences

I have spent the past year using the htc Vive to help teachers give students experiences that they cannot possibly have otherwise.  Through this year, I have compiled a list of five of our must-have VR experiences in SteamVR.  (Note: I have not added pricing information as it can change, but check for sales!)  These are in no particular order as they all served their purpose extremely well!

Google Earth VR

romancoliseum

The Roman Coliseum in Google Earth VR

It started out shaky; I’ve got to admit that I hated it at first.  I was not a fan at all.  It made me nauseated and it wasn’t very user-friendly.  With the addition of the search feature and the newly rendered locations, I am in love with Google Earth VR, and so are my students.  We’ve used this in several classes.  We explored the Roman Coliseum, enjoyed a tour of London, and stood at the summit of Mount Everest.  We found and labeled various biomes, went to Pearl Harbor to discuss why this was so important to our military during World War 2, and of course as everyone does, found our school!

theBlu

theblu

This was my very first VR experience and will likely always make my top 5 list.  It would have to be a mighty contender to knock this one out of the top five.  I used this with every science class to discuss different content in each grade level.  With one grade level, we discussed bioluminescence using the experience called Luminous Abyss.  In another, we used the experience Reef Migration to discuss water pollution and migration of animals.  Finally, using Whale Encounter we discussed the magnitude of the oceans and ocean water.  This is also my go-to for the first encounter for others in VR.  It is a quick experience that shows exactly how immersive today’s high-end virtual reality has become.

The Lab

thelab

This experience is brought by Valve, and has so many easter eggs included that it automatically makes my first list of top five.  I spent an entire afternoon just discovering easter eggs!  I have also used several of the experiences within The Lab to explore content from the classroom.  There is a human body scanner, which is fairly impressive to see the heart, brain, and lungs.  The solar system within The Lab is perfect to share inner and outer planets, planetary motion (both revolution and rotation), the asteroid belt, and to discuss size of planets.  Bonus – you can pick up the planets and throw them around like bouncy balls.  There is an adorable robotic puppy in The Lab that my students have loved playing with; he will even fetch!  Finally, and easily my favorite experience in The Lab is the Slingshot!  Imagine… you’re in a cardboard factory with boxes on top of boxes.  Placed between some boxes are loads of TNT explosives (yes, I know – so cool!).  You are given “cores” to calibrate, which just means that you are launching these spherical objects into the factory and the more damage you do, the higher your score.  Your score is given in dollars of damage! It’s great!  Two tremendous parts of this experience – tracer cores and core personalities!  Yep – there are boxes (they look like blue box fans to me) placed in the factory.  Hit one of those, and you can aim your tracer core shot – great for hitting the TNT in the distance!  In ELA, this game is perfect for point-of-view and characterization!  Each core has it’s own personality and talks to you.  They are hilarious, so turn up your volume!

Tilt Brush

tiltbrush

Another goodie from Google is Tilt Brush.  This experience is perfect for students to draw settings of stories, create 3d sculptures, generate nonlinear and linear graphs, and thanks to Jimmy Fallon – Tiltbrush Pictionary is a thing and can easily be done using vocabulary words in class!  This takes a few minutes of practice to learn the controls, but it is well-worth the time and money.

Water Bears VR

waterbears

Do you remember the app called “Where’s My Water?”  You had to dig through dirt to clear the route for water to reach a bathtub for an alligator… please say you remember that.  It was one of my favorites until I got stuck on a level.  Anyhow, this puzzle game is very similar.  You are given pipes and a water source, and these absolutely adorable animated gummy bear looking creatures in a bubble.  The goal is to use the pipes to move the water from the water source to the water bears to free the bears and move on to the next level.  It is super cute!  The levels get progressively harder and there is critical thinking and problem solving that must be used.  My personal favorite thing about the experience is catching the water bears when they are released and listening to their laughter at being released.

Bonus: Vivecraft

vivecraft

Let’s face it.  I can’t just do 5 must-haves.  I’m sorry!  Go get Vivecraft and let your students build and mine on Minecraft IN virtual reality!  They get to experience it through the eyes of Steve/Alex!  How cool is that?  Want to make it even cooler???  The coolest thing my students did this year with Virtual Reality was to create their own splash pads to scale, designing in class, building in Minecraft, then experiencing in Virtual Reality using Vivecraft!  It was pretty epic and the students (and teachers) loved the experience!

Comment with your must-haves from SteamVR!

 

 

Virtual Reality: htc Vive vs Oculus Rift

One of the most frequently asked questions….

Which do you recommend: Vive or Oculus?

I will admit up front that I have a pretty in-depth knowledge of the htc Vive and a pretty limited knowledge of the Oculus Rift.  Which means this post may be totally biased.  However, it’s been asked and I feel the need to share.  Because I know it can be argued, I’d like to point out in advance that there are other options, but right now, these are the front-runners.  I will not address those I haven’t personally tried.

In the beginning, it was Oculus.  I never had the pleasure of wearing the first Oculus, but I hear the motion sickness was something else.  My first experience was the htc Vive.  I was finally able to try out the new Oculus a couple weeks ago.  Here is my verdict.

Headset: Vive

To me, the Vive is sturdier.  I’m using VR in education with 450 students and teachers and I’d like to know my headset isn’t going to break into pieces if a student hits it on accident.  I will say that the Oculus feels nice on because the headset is much lighter & it looks super sleek!  The Vive feels better on my face (using the included face cushion) and allowed less light in when adjusted.  The adjustments on the Vive are smoother and easier to handle than the Oculus.  The Oculus has a very small strip of velcro while the Vive has more substance to it.  I also like the headphones on the Oculus, which are adjustable.  However, the Vive has a port for headphones behind the head, and if the deluxe strap is ordered, it’s a moot point for Oculus.  So for overall headset, I’d have to choose the Vive.

Controllers: Oculus

I love the new Oculus touch controllers.  These were an incredible add to the Oculus headset a few months ago.  These touch controllers feel so natural in your hands, and are easy to maneuver in experiences.  I also love that in the majority of Oculus content, the controllers have the same commands using the controllers.  Another cool feature is that you can give various gestures (like a thumbs up, point, etc) using the touch controllers that you can’t give on the Vive (yet).  With that said, it’s not enough to make it an automatic Oculus win over Vive.  Especially since both have pretty cool haptics.

Room-Scale: Vive

One of the coolest things about the high-end virtual reality equipment is the ability to have a room-scale experience.  This means that you are able to move about the virtual room in the same way that you move around a physical space, with your feet.  Prior to this, it was teleport only through a button on a controller, or the motion of your eyes or head in the headset.  The ability to do room-scale VR is what set Vive apart from their inception.  The idea that you could actually walk around was amazing.  Now Oculus has leveled the field in this respect by offered room-scale using base stations similar to Vive. However, having used both of these room-scale options, I like the Vive best in this regard.  Both the Vive & the Oculus offer their base stations/sensors with the original kit, but while two base stations are sufficient for a good room-scale experience with the Vive, the Oculus really needs three sensors to give you an equal experience.

The Experiences: Tie

I hate when people do that on one of these “which is better” posts, but honestly… I have to here.  I would be very interested to know the opinions of my peers on this.  The limited experiences I have in the Oculus were pretty consistent with what I had experienced in the Vive as far as graphics, response, etc.  I don’t really use Viveport (the Vive platform) nor the Oculus Home (Oculus platform).  If I based the choice on my limited experience in both platforms, I’d have to give it to Vive. The Oculus Home doesn’t allow you to move about, and I desperately want to move to change the radio and look around the patio you’re on, but I can’t (yet).  Instead, I typically use SteamVR and search for VR enabled experiences only.  I look forward to seeing the Home and Viveport evolve though, as there is quite a bit of change coming it seems.

Overall: Vive

So overall, I’d have to tell anyone who asks that I’d recommend the htc Vive over the Oculus Rift – for now.  With the constant changes and the incredible advances in both the look of VR and the experiences offered, there are only awesome things to come in the future of VR in education!

 

 

What’s Inside Our Virtual Reality Lab?

Several people have asked what was placed in the Virtual Reality lab since a recent blog post, Media Makeover.  I thought it would be much easier to create a short blog post relaying this information.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Virtual Reality headset: htc Vive – Included in the box are the headset, two controllers (with power adapters, lanyards and micro-USB cables), two base stations (with power adapters, wall mounting kit & sync cable), 3-in-1 cable, audio cable, ear buds, 2 face cushions, cleaning cloth, link box, power adapter, HDMI cable, USB cable, mounting pad, and various documentation.

Paint:  Sherwin-Williams Dynamic Blue

Lighting: Ikea Holmo Floor Lamps (Set of 3) & Philips Hue Lights Starter Kit

Base Stations: Two base stations come with the htc Vive.  We chose to mount them on tripod stands for portability (although we rarely move the set-up now).  We have a very small piece of masking tape with an “x’ on it to aid in quick set-up if the tripod is bumped or moved.  We also purchased mini ball heads.

Computer: Nearly any VR compatible computer will do.  Be sure your graphics card is ready to handle 1080p quality from the Vive & consider that you may choose to be running the Vive and two exterior screens (monitor & TV).  For exact US specs, check here.

Viveport vs Steam: We typically run Steam for all of our VR experiences.  The new home screen is pretty awesome, and the ability to switch environments and join with others around the world is an incredible improvement.

Futon: We chose the Mainstays Memory Foam Futon in black.  I would recommend any seating with faux leather that is easy to keep clean.

Banners: Lucas Gillispie designed and printed these using creative commons images & an online banner maker called Bannerbuzz

TV: We chose a 40″ HD TV with wall mount for students who were waiting to be able to see what the student in the headset was experiencing.  We found this allows those who can’t put on the headset for various reasons to still take part in the experience.  Virtual Reality is a tool to teach, so we want all students to have the same opportunity as much as possible.

We look forward to the new vive tracker and are interested to see what come from the TPCAST Wireless VR add-on.  Finally, keep an eye on the new Vive standalone VR headset.  Check out current information here.