VR headsets have always been a niche product catered to VR gamers and industry specific applications. It once came into the spotlight following the metaverse gold rush, but their appeal waned as Silicon Valley hopped on the bandwagon for the next shiny toy on the block: AI.
However, Apple’s recent announcement of their own augmented reality headset has reignited interest in the VR space, particularly using them for productivity and day to day computing, such as running virtual desktop environments.
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What is a Virtual Desktop?
To put it simply, a virtual desktop is an interface for desktop environments (think using Windows) beyond the limits of the screen, which is where VR headsets come into play. Instead of looking at a screen, your virtual surroundings will become the main interface for your PC.
The most common virtual desktop application for VR headsets is called…. Virtual Desktop (how original, we know), which supports the most common VR headsets in the market today.
To explore the viability of Virtual Desktop, we used our trusty PICO 4 VR headset for this review. Virtual Desktop currently supports the PICO 4 via wireless connection, however you will need to fulfill the following criteria:
- A VR-ready PC / Mac
- Connect the computer via ethernet to a 5Ghz AC or AX Wi-Fi router (recommended)
The installation process is quite simple and straightforward. For the PICO 4’s case, we can search and install the app on the PICO Store. We also had to install the Streamer app on the computer in order both devices.
In order to get the most stable connection, the developer recommends having the computer, router and the PICO 4 VR headset in the same compound, ideally the same room.
Once both apps are installed, we had to enter our PICO user name on the Streamer app. If you have multiple computerss and laptops at your home, rest assured you can connect up to 4 of them.
How It Works
Instead of connecting the PICO 4 to your PC or Mac, the Virtual Desktop app streams whatever is on the computer to your VR headset, allowing you to access your computer remotely as an app similar to TeamViewer. This allows us to access the PC when we need to without leaving PICO’s own VR environment.
One thing we appreciate about Virtual Desktop on the PICO 4 is that it is highly customisable.
For starters, we could adjust the size, distance, height and curvature of the desktop window. There is also a function allowing the window to follow our head movements.
The app allows us to choose from a variety of environments to display the window, ranging from free floating nebulas to a home theatre which displays the desktop window on a fixed “screen”. So if I want to stream Netflix and pretend that I am inside a theatre hall, I could just choose said environment and hit play (more on this later).
We could use PICO 4’s own controllers to navigate the desktop environment. While the controls are fairly straightforward, you are at the mercy of Windows’ own on screen keyboard. Sometimes it just won’t pop out whenever you select a text box, so we recommend pinning it on to the taskbar for easy access.
As wireless connections are heavily reliant on proximity to the router, we found that it works best when its within the same room. If we were obstructed by walls, we start to notice some latency issues.
Fortunately, we could adjust the streaming codec and turn on auto bitrate, which will automatically adjust the resolution to compensate.
During our review, we encountered some issues:
Virtual Desktop does not have a dedicated multi-display experience. While it allows us to switch monitors via a toggle, I wished I could display two or even three monitors side by side and surround my peripheral vision.
Watching Streaming Platforms
Some streaming platforms and browsers such as Netflix and Microsoft Edge does not allow streaming its content to the VR headset. We managed to find a workaround by using Firefox.
Despite some quirks, we do like the Virtual Desktop experience on our PICO 4 VR headset. It helped me minimise distractions on my surroundings by allowing me to perform my day to day computing without having to be in front of my PC all the time. Granted, the UI could be better but that is more on the limitations on Windows 11.
While it is not ground-breaking by any means, it still offers plenty of utility in a more grounded approach. With enough demand, we might see more development in this space and a more polished user experience instead of requiring users to drop big bucks on an expensive AR headset like the Meta Quest Pro or the upcoming Apple Vision Pro.
For more information about Virtual Desktop, please visit the official website here.
To learn more about the PICO 4 VR headset, do check out the product page here.