Excerpts from a Virtual Reality Researcher

Why a CAVE anymore?

Over recent years, I’ve started receiving questions along the lines of: “with all of the HMD technology available now, why is a CAVE such as this still needed?”.

Valid question – I have a response to this that I feel pretty strongly about, and it’s hard to relate sometimes for those who haven’t been in a CAVE before. (This also serves as motivation to come up with low-cost CAVEs).

The CAVE is a different VR experience in general from HMDs. Lately I’ve been realizing that in comparison to doning HMD X, a CAVE gives a much different sense of immersion. I believe this has to do with a couple of factors.

One, while in a CAVE, the amount you are tethered to physical devices is quite minimal in comparison to a HMD. I almost feel that having to wear a HMD in itself takes me out of the VR experience. Don’t get me wrong, HMDs have improved greatly in their comfort, weight, fit, etc. but when it comes down to it, the moment you still know there’s something physically on your head, this can be enough to take away immersion. In a CAVE, you typically wear 3D movie style glasses, so sure, you have to wear something still, but the feeling is much more natural – particularly if you’re a wearer of glasses normally.

Secondly, the ability to freely navigate around within the 9’5″ x 9’5″ CAVE space, combined with not being tethered, is a further impact on immersion. When I am in the CAVE, and have the door closed, I can start navigating around a scene with the wand and / or walk within the CAVE space, and probably within 15 seconds or less, not know where the door is anymore. That feeling, and the fact that it happens so quickly, is unlike anything I’ve felt within a HMD.

Finally, members here at our lab space have varying thoughts on differences in simulator sickness between CAVEs and HMDs. Often times the feeling is a different between the two devices, i.e. perhaps more nausea in a HMD but less in a CAVE, but maybe more eye strain in a CAVE than a HMD, etc. Unfortunately most of this is anecdotal, but I personally am interested in exploring these differences in a research context sometime in the near future, and what implications these differences may have on the future of VR display technology.

So, for these reasons, we need CAVEs and other immersive projection style VR display systems still.