MY FIRST FEW minutes playing the quirky virtual-reality game “Job Simulator” went by entirely without incident. I’d already strapped on a VR headset that obliterated the real world from view and made me feel as though I was standing in a kitchen of the future. Using the VR controllers I held in each hand, I could reach out to open the virtual refrigerator door, take out a steak and sear it on the virtual stove. I’ve totally got this, I thought.
But then two eggs started rolling away. As I lunged forward to catch them, I attempted to lean on the “counter,” which unfortunately didn’t exist. I ended up falling forward and hitting my head on the very real wall in the non-virtual room.
Virtual reality is the newest and most immersive way to play games, socialize online, watch video and more. But the real-world bump on my noggin made me realize that setting up a space in your home to best experience the technology requires some careful planning. This isn’t like the game consoles of yore, which called for nothing more than an old couch and rickety coffee table. “You can’t just put VR in the corner of a room like a new TV,” said Paul Bettner, co-founder of entertainment company Playful Corp.
Just as Nintendo Co.’s Wii Fit got gamers off overstuffed sofas nearly a decade ago, some of the latest VR applications will have you moving about the room, at times vigorously. “Some of the most enjoyable experiences are a full workout,” Mr. Bettner said.
Sales of high-end VR headsets—the kind that connect to videogame consoles or powerful computers—are expected to be brisk. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates about 1.5 million U.S. consumers will buy one this year. If you’re among them, here are a few tips from VR experts on how to prepare your home for this cutting-edge entertainment.
Make a clean sweep. Flailing blindly about a room puts fragile knickknacks, not to mention your own limbs, at risk. Now’s the time to clear the floor entirely and remove that priceless collection of Japanese Noh masks from the wall. Also consider the higher plane: Low-hanging light fixtures and ceiling fans can easily get whacked when you’re immersed in VR, so choose your play area accordingly, said Alex Schwartz, whose company Owlchemy Labs developed the “Job Simulator” game.
Feel your boundaries. With a VR headset strapped across your eyes, it’s easy to lose your sense of where you are in a room. How can you tell if you’ve inched perilously close to a spiral staircase or picture window? Neville Spiteri, co-founder and chief executive of VR developer Wevr, offered a clever solution that doesn’t require you to periodically peek from behind the goggles: Lay down a rug or mat that has a different texture than the floor of your room. This way, if you play barefoot or with socks on, you’ll be able to feel if you’ve ventured out of a safe zone. Mr. Spiteri prudently suggested leaving a couple of feet of buffer space between the rug and any in-room hazards.
Swivel it, just a little bit. Not all VR experiences are full-body workouts. Many are best enjoyed seated. But you’ll still need to turn frequently to each side to view the entire virtual landscape before you. Anna Rosa Lappalainen, founder of Vizor.io, a website for creating and sharing VR content, suggests dedicating a good swivel chair or bar stool to your set up. This will allow you to turn your whole body, rather than just your neck.
Tether intelligently. At the moment, all consumer VR headsets are tethered to a computer or game console by wires. To avoid getting lassoed by them, VR pioneers often affix a hook to the nearest wall and drape the excess cord over it. A tall, arching floor lamp can also help, said Ms. Lappalainen. Simply remove the lightbulb and shade from the fixture and affix your headset’s cables, she suggested.
Keep out the critters. High-end VR headsets come with powerful headphones or jacks for using your own set. Just keep in mind that these can prevent you from hearing a child or pet enter the room, said Shauna Heller, founder of advisory firm Clay Park VR. She suggests locking doors to avoid trampling small visitors who might wander in.
Make VR a spectator sport. Only one person can wear a VR headset at a time, but that doesn’t mean your virtual sojourn needs to be a lonely one. The major systems can display everything you’re viewing on a TV or monitor. “People can see what’s happening through your eyes, and identify with your successes and struggles,” said Colin Northway, co-founder of Northway Games. “It becomes a communal experience.”
Bonus: Onlookers can warn you if you’re about to bump into that pointy Victorian coatrack.