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How Omnidirectional VR Treadmills Could Change the Way We Game


Virtual Reality gaming offers the best, most immersive experience in gameplay. Instead of looking into a window of the world you’re playing in, VR lets you be inside the game itself.

However, even VR gaming has a limitation—you can’t freely move around in the real world for the game to emulate your movement. That’s because you run the risk of running into walls and objects.

But with the Omnidirectional treadmill, your physical movement is your virtual movement. Let’s look at how this gadget can change gaming as we know it.

What Is an Omnidirectional VR Treadmill?

As the name suggests, this device is a treadmill that travels in all directions. Unlike gym treadmills that can only go forward, omnidirectional VR treadmills (ODT) let you move forward, backward, left, right, or any possible combination thereof.

This device converts your movements on the treadmill into the controller’s actions. It records your direction, speed, and even position (standing or crouching) and sends the data to your gaming PC as corresponding button presses.

This device is basically a full-body controller, which uses your natural movement instead of button presses to execute actions in the virtual world.

How Omnidirectional VR Treadmills Work

Currently, there are two types of omnidirectional VR treadmills: one that uses a sliding mechanism to allow the user to move freely, and another that uses conveyor belts capable of moving in two directions.


The more affordable omnidirectional VR treadmill uses the sliding mechanism because it has fewer moving parts. The user needs to strap themselves into a restraining bar that holds them in place and also detects changes in the direction they’re facing and their position.

The user will either slip on a special pair of shoes designed to slide across the slippery surface or put on shoe covers over their footwear for movement. Since they’re securely strapped to the restraining bar, their feet will slide over the surface of the omnidirectional treadmill, allowing them to walk or run on the machine without falling out of it.

The more premium omnidirectional VR treadmill uses a conveyor belt, similar to what you find on exercise treadmills. However, instead of just moving in one direction, it allows you to move in all directions.

It does this by having many small conveyor belts going left and right attached to one big conveyor belt that lets you move forward and backward. This combination allows you to move in any direction more naturally than just sliding your feet around.

And instead of a restraining bar, this VR treadmill uses a fence to help prevent users from falling off the treadmill. This makes it more comfortable to use since you don’t have to put on a jacket that might be uncomfortable. Furthermore, you can use the fence for support or rest during long VR sessions.

Related: Which Is Best for VR: Mobile vs. Tethered Headsets

Nevertheless, whatever type of omnidirectional VR treadmill you choose, you still have to put motion trackers on your feet so that the controller knows where they’re located.

Immersive Advantage of VR Treadmills

father and son playing VR games

Omnidirectional VR treadmills overcome VR’s biggest issue today—the inability to use your natural movement for walking around in the virtual world. That’s because, without these machines, you run the risk of falling over, hitting objects, and hurting yourself or others around you. Some people try using VR in large, open rooms but still end up hitting a wall.

The other alternative to using VR without an omnidirectional treadmill is just using it while sitting down. Instead of using your physical motion to control your virtual movement, you can use the controller’s buttons. While this is a safer route, it reduces the immersion you get from virtual reality.

Furthermore, the disconnect between what you see (you’re moving in the virtual world) and what you feel (you’re seated) can lead to disorientation, dizziness, and nausea.

Screenshot of Skyrim soldiers in VR
Image Credit: Eliot Carson/Flickr

But with an omnidirectional VR treadmill, you’re not just playing a game or playing a character; you are in the game. When enemies are pursuing you, you don’t just press a button to run away from them—instead, there’s a physical fight or flight response that you enact with your body.

The VR treadmills let you experience virtual reality the way it’s supposed to be. You’re moving physically in the real world so that your character will move in the virtual world. And as you respond to your virtual surrounding, you can let your visceral reactions take over freely, as you know that the device will keep you safe from hitting walls or falling over.

The Big Catch of VR Treadmills

credit cards for payment

While omnidirectional VR treadmills round out the VR experience, it comes with a couple of caveats. The first one is that you need space to use this. If you have a small room or living space, setting up and keeping this machine might not be easy.

That’s because when it arrives, you have to assemble it. And, depending on the model, it takes up space, from around eight up to 20 square feet. Furthermore, it will sit on that space permanently, so you can’t use it for anything else. If you have a large house, this won’t be an issue, but if you have limited room and don’t use the VR treadmill often, it might be more of a hassle than a source of entertainment.

But beyond the space requirement, the biggest issue is the price. As of writing, the cheapest available omnidirectional treadmill costs around a thousand dollars, and the price could go all the way up to $60,000. This doesn’t include the VR headset and the gaming console or PC necessary to run virtual games and software.

Related: The Best Budget VR HeadsetsIf you sum up all the necessary expenses, you could easily spend at least two thousand dollars or more just to have a decent VR experience.

Are Omnidirectional VR Treadmills Worth It?

The biggest question on most people’s minds would be: is it worth it? Unfortunately, there’s no single answer to that, as you have to consider your situation. If you have a lot of time to play VR games and can afford the system, then yes, it absolutely is!

This VR system can transport you to different worlds, allowing you to game while also getting the physical exercise you need. After all, if you play Skyrim VR, you’ll find that traveling across the game’s massive map is physically tiring.

But if you’re a busy person and only occasionally play VR games, it might not be worth it. After all, if you want to physically rest and relax after a tiring day, it just won’t make sense to don a tracking suit and walk another 10 miles across a virtual landscape.

an extreme closeup of the HTC Vive lens
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