Hands-On with AltspaceVR

Some software releases are offered under obscure labels; a title that represents the expression as opposed to the experience. Within the confines of Redwood City’s premier virtual reality (VR) community space developer that simply isn’t the case. An alternative space for communication and business within VR? AltspaceVR, of course.

AltspaceVR’s software, confusingly given the same name as the company that birthed it, is the first of what will undoubtedly become numerous spaces within VR designed for communication and social interaction, be it work or play. What sets AltspaceVR apart is the versatility of the platform. Being first has it’s advantages, and for AltspaceVR capitalising on that headstart takes the form of adding functionality.

AltspaceVR screenshot

A wide variety of environments have already been touted for AltspaceVR, but VRFocus‘ experience in the Zen Garden offered a perfect example of the kind of approachability each will offer. Simple and clean cut, the Zen Garden represented a calm working environment with a number of office spaces split across to tiers and offering a communal space for more social sharing of activities. While it’s obvious to see how work can be conducted in a virtual environment – sharing of presentations and private meetings held across continents, for example – it’s this social aspect of AltspaceVR that impresses most.

The central feature of the Zen Garden area is a screen which can host any number of file types or HTML assets. Websites can be browsed, videos can be played and users can share notes all within the same space. Simple tools allow for each user to add their own value to the experience and a clever indication shows which user’s androgynous avatar is speaking at any given time (voice chat is real-time and, although VRFocus‘ preview was held over a local area network, recent beta activities have proven the quality remains in a much more open connection).

AltspaceVR screenshot

In addition to providing a virtual environment for professional activities, AltspaceVR can be used as an expanded lobby for online videogames. VRFocus was privy to an experiment using Intel’s RealSense 3D camera for hand-tracking in a virtual volleyball game, but more immediate experiences such as tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) and card games. These are simple activities perhaps, but the scope for growth is simply immeasurable at this point: AltspaceVR have created a welcoming, stable blank space in VR for its users to paint with experience.

Only this week AltspaceVR announced the successful acquisition of further funds to expand the time and accelerate the development of AltspaceVR as a commercial product. While it may seem inherently simple and the market will inevitably be flooded with competitors in the near future, the headstart that AltspaceVR has should not be underestimated. As things stand, AltspaceVR is the definitive social and professional space in VR, and it’s not looking likely that AltspaceVR will be giving away that mantle any time soon.