Up & Running with VR

Since my EduTECH presentation about VR in school libraries (2017), I have received several email enquiries from school library folk who want to know exactly how to get up and running with VR.

Hence this post. It’s silly that I didn’t write it earlier.

To place this post into some kind of visual context, I made the following short clip of some Year 8 Science students using the VR set-up I put into our school library. Hopefully it will inspire you.

And now…. here is what you will need.

Computer able to handle VR

There is nooooo point investing in an expensive VR kit, if you don’t have a powerful computer to plug it into! I am not an expert in hardware, so I asked our ICT team to do a custom built for us.

Here are the specifications for that build:

Cost (2017) = $3,150 (before GST)

Monitor

You will also need a monitor. On this monitor, the VR app is displayed while people are using it. If you want to get fancy, consider wall-mounting your screen!

VR kit

I bought a HTC VIVE (about AU$1000) and an Oculus Rift Touch (AU$700). Both are very good, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the HTC VIVE.

If you get a VIVE, you also need to buy the ‘Deluxe Audio Strap’ (about AU$170). You really ‘do’ need it. Otherwise, students will need to bring their own earphones, which is a hassle and doesn’t always end up delivering the best sound quality. Inferior audio really detracts from the immersive experience.

It might also be worth purchasing the following:

  • 1 x spare 3-in1 cable (AU$64.99), incase yours get bent/broken.
  • 1 x spare hand controller (AU$199), because they do get dropped.
  • 6 packs of face cushions (AU$39.99 for a pair). This is for hygiene purposes. The face cushions get pretty gross after a while, because some apps are very physical and cause you to sweat!
  • Baby wipes to clean all parts except the lenses.
  • Microfiber lens cleaning cloths.
  • Large plastic tub with a lid, to store the headset and bits and pieces in.
  • Power board so you can attach multiple plugs.

Apps and games

Where to go to buy apps/games

You will find all the apps you need on Steam and VivePort (the official HTC VIVE platform/shop). Most of the apps that are available in VivePort are also available in Steam, but the opposite is not true. Steam is ‘huge’ and somewhat of an institution among gamers. It is more than an app shop. It is an online community!

How to purchase Apps/games

Wherever possible, I recommend buying your apps/games through Steam, rather than VivePort.

Here are my reasons:

  1. Most of the time, apps/games are cheaper in Steam.
  2. Steam is a well-established platform with a rich culture of online community-based help and reviews.
  3. Steam offers far more options for managing your apps; including custom tagging, specification of which apps/games should be visible in different profile modes, and a very comprehensive process for setting up security.
  4. Steam tells you how many minutes you have spent inside each app/game. This is handy for your statistics!

You need to set up an account with Steam and VivePort before you can purchase their apps/games. Your ICT Team will probably need to open the firewall first, so make sure you get them to help out.

Payment is via credit card, and you will receive digital receipts for all your purchases.

Restricted access for younger students

The apps and games available for VR, are not normally classified. If you work in a P – 12 school, you will need to restrict access to certain apps/games. This can be done easily in Steam by:

  1. Setting up a ‘family mode’
  2. Assigning individual games into or out of this mode.

Family mode can be entered by anyone, but cannot be exited without a secret 4 digit pin.

Other things to consider:

  • Permission forms: (download a template of mine here).
  • Blacklist certain category tags, to prevent apps/games with that tag from appearing in your search results. (But be careful! The tag ‘Horror’, for instance, is often applied to classic ‘who-dunit’ mystery games which are quite charming and not at all violent.)
  • Gore: Anything containing the tag ‘gore’ seems to be something you would want to keep away from children.

Managing your VR Apps

Access them all in one place

Anything you purchase in the VivePort store, becomes available in Steam. Steam can load all your VivePort games for you, along with your Steam games, in the same place. This means you don’t have to keep flicking between platforms to access different apps/games, and consequently teachers will be far more likely to use the resource again.

Selecting apps and games

I currently have a mixture of educational and recreational apps and games.

Outside of class time, students are able to book the VR equipment (which is permanently set up) for 20 min blocks during lunch/recess, and after school. We run two ‘girls only’ days each week. This may be abandoned in the future, once the girls feel comfortable to own the VR as much as the boys do.

At the end of this post, I have placed a list of apps and games that I purchased, which have proven successful. I am sure hundreds more will exist by the time anyone reads this though, so please don’t see this list as definitive!

Setting up the area

For the VIVE, you need a 3M square space, preferably in a corner or somewhere that can be sectioned off. Thoroughfares are a bad idea.

When you purchase your VR kit, it will come with two light sensor boxes (HTC call them “lighthouses”). These need to be positioned up high, on opposing corners of the designated play area. The sensor boxes send out beams that detect the position of the head mounted display unit and hand sensors.

I had the two light box sensors screwed into the ceiling, but if that’s not possible, you can just plonk them ontop of something up high. Tripods are an option.

When you have everything in place, and have plugged the headset in, a set-up wizard will guide you through the process of marking out the designated play zone (you literally draw it in the air, using the hand controllers).

That’s it for now. Let me, and others know how you go! And please feel free to post questions.


App list

Apps and games I have trialled, which worked well.

Anatomy and Physiology

Astronomy

Geography

History

For fun

The Arts/Design/3D Printing

Sport