As Varjo and MeetinVR team up, can VR provide the human touch videoconferencing lacks?

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Virtual and extended reality headset manufacturer Varjo has announced a partnership with MeetinVR, providers of virtual enterprise collaboration software, to help deliver more realistic experiences.

MeetinVR will release a dedicated version of their application which supports all Varjo’s headsets, from the VR-2, to VR-2 Pro and the XR-1 Developer Edition, as part of the partnership. New buyers of any Varjo headset will receive MeetinVR free for six months for up to five users.

The announcement was made during Varjo’s keynote at the influential AWE event, which naturally has moved online amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Varjo has previously looked to bolster enterprise usability of virtual reality through its product offerings. In October, as this publication reported, the launch of the VR-2 and VR-2 Pro aimed to ‘set a new standard in visual clarity, making it feasible for enterprise usability of VR technology.’

The company added that partnering with MeetinVR would aim to improve the user experience as many companies are adjusting to working remotely.

“Remote working is now becoming our new normal and the need to be able to virtually collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners around the world is business critical,” said Urho Konttori, co-founder and chief product officer at Varjo. “As enterprises adapt to a new work environment, we’re excited to partner with leading industry players, such as MeetinVR, to help build the future of virtual and mixed reality collaboration.”

While the coronavirus pandemic has led to evident struggle across industry and technology sectors, the VR industry has looked to take advantage of its position to bring greater innovation. IDC noted in March that, although short-term decline in hardware shipments was natural, the longer-term outlook will see greater enterprise VR interest.

One area in which Varjo and MeetinVR among others will look to capitalise is around the explosion in videoconferencing for remote meetings. While Zoom et al have done the job so far for communications, is there a greater need for face-to-face contact while the pandemic continues – and can VR supply it?

Consultancy firm Expressworks has been experimenting with conducting meetings in VR – including using MeetinVR – for this very purpose. Jonathan Berry, European practice director, said that the videoconference experience had not always been satisfactory. “We rely on more than words to communicate and many of the cues we are used to picking up on are lost through videoconferencing, as useful as it has been during this time,” he said.

The tests found that, overall, VR was not quite ready for prime time, with the primary concern for employees being motion sickness due to movement lag. Of the specific vendors trialled, AltspaceVR ‘offer[ed] an amazing experience but [not] the professional feel necessary for the corporate world’, while Rumii was ‘great for training and education but [not] versatile enough for large meetings’. MeetinVR was described as ‘the most promising’ solution, pending general availability.

Despite this, Berry was optimistic about future trials. “In our experiment there was a point in between the initial location excitement and the onset of movement lag induced nausea, at which the enormous potential for this technology was clear,” he said. “You are immersed in a virtual world which allows for almost complete concentration and focus.

“The technology isn’t there yet, but it feels close,” Berry added. “Maybe our ‘new normal’ will provide the catalyst needed to encourage the investment required to make this possibility mainstream.”

You can learn more about the Varjo and MeetinVR partnership here.

Photo by Lux Interaction on Unsplash

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