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How to get started with Virtual Reality in Architecture & Design?

Virtual Reality in Architecture and Design 101

Virtual Reality has come a long way from the days of clumsy hardware installations, long development cycles to prepare 3D models & hard-to-install software on VR headsets. The hardware is wireless, affordable & of great quality today. The software is easily available for download and getting models into VR can be done in a matter of minutes.

This guide is to help you navigate through the most commonly asked questions by Architects in order to get started with Virtual Reality - in 2021. But before we get into how to get started, it may be helpful to quickly understand - “How are Architects using VR"?

How are Architects using VR?

In our own interviews with more than 30 Architecture firms across the world, we found that the primary reason stated by Architects for using Virtual Reality is for client presentations. There is a consensus that clients have a hard time understanding floor plans, 2D walkthroughs of a space not yet built. With Virtual Reality, they get an intuitive understanding of the space, feel more engaged with the design process and help reduce miscommunication errors before the construction stage.

However, it is not the only reason to use VR in the design process. A few Architecture & Design teams find great value in finding issues and improvements in their own designs by quickly reviewing in 3D. This testimonial from Ken Mahood captures the benefits really well:

“Using Virtual Reality not only blows the minds of our clients when we show them their project but also surprises us as designers.”

Which headsets are getting the most traction?

The VR headset landscape has evolved every year since the launch of the original Oculus Rift Consumer Version 1 in 2016. The general shift has been towards making the headsets lighter, wireless, improving resolution and processing power to handle VR experiences. Architects have often had to choose from a wide variety of categories:

  • Wireless headsets

  • PC-tethered headsets

  • Smartphone-based VR

Thankfully, the choices for Architecture & Design are becoming easier to make with the consolidation of the headsets market. Here are our recommendations related to headsets in 2021:

1) Oculus Quest 2: By far, the number one headset used by our users is the Quest 2 launched in October 2020. The reason behind its popularity is the combination of ease of use and affordability. With touch controllers, 1832*1920 pixels per eye resolution ( 50% more than the original Quest ), increased graphics processing power - never before have 3D designs looked better on a standalone VR headset. With the launch of App Labs, the software required to view 3D walkthroughs is now available easily making it an ideal combination of good software and hardware. The cons lie in the fact that using standard headsets requires a Facebook account - which not all business users are comfortable with. To provide an alternative, Facebook has provided an Oculus For Business option, where hardware and software deployments at scale can be managed with the needs of Enterprises in mind. The headsets leading to the Oculus Quest 2 in this category are Oculus Quest ( original ) & Oculus Go - both of which are now phased out by Facebook.

2) PC-tethered headsets: The line of headsets from Oculus that led this segment is phasing out soon making Oculus Quest 2 the focus of its VR hardware offerings. This creates a field for the other important players in the VR hardware space focused on PC-tethered headsets - like the HP Reverb G2 & HTC Vive Pro. The benefits of these headsets obviously lie in the superior performance owing to the PC power at the cost of limiting the mobility provided by the standalone VR options.