HTC invited Virtual Perceptions to try out the VIVE Sync, a collaboration platform entering free Beta. It’s not every day that I interview someone in virtual reality. Still, the company kindly invited me to speak to Graham Wheeler, General Manager EMEA at the company, to try it out.
VIVE Sync offers a compelling package. AltspaceVR and ENGAGE both provide similar services, with community options built into both platforms. HTC’s version offers something different; one dedicated for companies working remotely across the world, with tools that service businesses rather than hobbies.
Dressing up in the VIVE Sync
I quickly made an avatar before the interview. The platform offers a range of options for hair, suits, shirts, colour, and height (standing and sitting). After going through the options, I’ve found that it was diverse enough for most people. The diversity of options let me express myself adequately, though it doesn’t reach VRChat levels of customisability. Then again, I am unsure how many workers would want their avatars to be anime characters or miniatures riding tanks.
Entering a room was slick. Users can either type a small number or scan a QR code to fill the form automatically. The headset could be used at a computer, so it makes sense that it presents an option to use AR codes while people are already sat down, making the process as seamless as possible. It’s a neat feature that I hope more companies use.
Once filled, I popped into a new room.
Interacting with other avatars in virtual reality
I beamed into an open area, a city on the horizon and a simple circle in the middle. “Hello!” Mr Wheeler called, waving at me.
“Hello,” I responded, looking at my hands. I had elbows; not remarkable for most people, but interesting for other VR users.
I pressed a button and a tablet opened up, with a few options:
- A drawing tool, which draws lines and shapes similar to Tilt Brush;
- A presentation tool, to put slides and videos on a massive screen;
- A picture tool, to snap some quick shots;
- A mute button, useful to silence the sound of me accidentally hitting walls and tables;
- A private notes tool, to save thoughts during a meeting.
I accidentally teleported to the other side of the room, then fiddled with the options. At the same time, Mr Wheeler talked through the options via a massive screen. The sense of scale was enormous, but what struck me was the ease of turning away from the screen and facing him as he was talking. It genuinely felt like I was in a meeting, only at a grander scale.
Mr Wheeler echoed the same thoughts. “One of my favourite things is to pull up a big screen and scroll through the slides as we sit around a table. It’s immersive to go through slides, then turn to the person in question to continue conversations.”
Full features of the VIVE Sync
At launch, the VIVE Sync comes with:
- OneDrive Support, which lets people share PowerPoint, PDFs, videos, and images on the meeting room’s big screen;
- 3D Model Review, which allows people to view models. In my case, I saw a car;
- Custom avatars before popping into a meeting;
- Personal notes, taken down via speech-to-text (thank goodness);
- 3D drawings that can be done on models or whiteboards;
- Summon tables or auditoriums depending on meeting numbers;
- Participation via a PC without VR;
- Compatible with all VIVE devices.
Immersed in a meeting
That sense of immersion followed us to a table too. I felt myself following the same habits that I do in a regular meeting; not quite making eye contact, making notes on the table, and looking around the room absentmindedly. My common ticks followed me in virtual reality.
I recalled speaking to a few researchers about how much of our body we use when having a conversation. Not just our words, but our eyes, hands, and general bearing. All of these transferred to VIVE Sync, as we waved our hands to emphasise points. Some other perks include ruffling virtual hair, or shaking hands while ending a meeting.
Not all of it is perfect. A part of me wished I could teleport files onto the table, which people could read as they watch the giant screen. I was able to read files from a tablet but wished I could read on a table as well.
Teams collaborating during a pandemic
It’s not lost on anyone that HTC announced the VIVE Sync during a global pandemic. As the distance between teams elongate, there is plenty of business potential for companies to offer services. Zoom is a clear winner, with Facebook rolling out new services that service the uptick in demand.
So, did COVID-19 impact developments across the industry? “No, actually,” Mr Wheeler responded. “We’ve found that the situation has accelerated the need for collaboration tools, and while using the tools they work effectively as a team.”
Is there a business case to use VIVE Sync? I can see it. Zoom meetings can be tiring, focusing on a face for so long. Virtual meetings offer a sense of space which ease participants, with a more natural feel to how a session should go. Nothing will beat meeting in person, but VIVE Sync is still a step above Zoom, or the impersonal nature of Slack.
HTC also thinks it is the future of collaboration. “Unlike any other tool or medium, VR has the ability to connect and engage remote teams and employees as if they were together in the same physical room,” said David Sapienza, AVP Content Development & Production, HTC VIVE. “Vive Sync enables colleagues and partners across the world to interact in a shared virtual space, increasing productivity, collaboration and team chemistry. The future of work is rapidly becoming more global and more remote and VR is the solution needed to succeed in this new reality.”
Is he right? Time will tell. But initial impressions are very positive. We will see more and more competitors enter the market, and walled gardens are rising around the VR ecosystem. The winners will be services that offer great value, ease of access, and an array of useful tools. The VIVE Sync is a great start.