Interacting with “flat” screens to get work done, check email, surf social media, shop online, and watch YouTube videos may be a thing of the past if one Seattle-area startup has its way.
Envelop VR today unveiled its first product, Envelop for Windows, an “immersive computing platform” that creates a virtual Windows desktop for using applications with a virtual reality headset.
The technology creates a virtual environment that allow users to interact with infinite monitors inside a 3D space. You can open multiple windows, adjust their sizes, and place them anywhere you’d like.
There is also mixed reality functionality that enables you to see your actual hands and devices like a keyboard or mouse while you interact in a 3D world, which can be custom-designed with various backdrops. The system uses a webcam to enable this mixed-reality functionality.
Envelop’s beta software, which works with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, will launch this Friday, available for download for free via Steam, or at the company’s website. Pricing has yet to be announced for future releases.
The general idea is to help people be more productive and efficient while computing. The platform enables use cases like 3D product and data visualizations. The technology also lets developers work and create content while in their own 3D environment, eliminating the need to switch between 2D and 3D worlds during testing.
“We believe that we are enabling the next wave of computing here at Envelop VR,” said Bob Berry, CEO and co-founder of the Bellevue, Wash.-based company, in a statement. “No other virtual reality software company is actively pursuing such a broad view of what is necessary to bring immersive computing to the masses.”
It is an increasingly competitive market. Early competitors in the space include Virtual Desktop for Rift and Vive, Valve’s Steam Desktop Theater, and the virtual desktop mode in Microsoft’s own HoloLens, which is a Windows 10 device in the form of an augmented reality headset.
For its system, Envelop recommends a Windows 10 operating system and a VR-ready graphics processing unit — i.e. Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or better — for maximum performance.
Envelop also said today that it will soon release a software development kit that lets developers move their legacy applications and websites into the company’s immersive platform.
Tom Furness, a senior scientific advisor for Envelop VR and Seattle’s “grandfather” of virtual reality who runs the University of Washington’s HITLab, had this to say about the company’s technology:
“I look upon Envelop for Windows as the ‘SuperGlue’ of VR and an essential step in exploiting what virtual reality can bring to current users of the Windows platform. If you are going to make a significant investment in a VR headset like the Oculus Rift or HTC VIVE, Envelop will help you get the most out of your technology. You not only have better access to content, but you can use your computer while gaming and doing other tasks… and all this while you are immersed in three dimensional VR….it is magic.”
Angela Gamba, vice president of marketing and communications for Envelop VR, told GeekWire that the immersive platform is “truly is the best way to experience Windows and is a glimpse of what the next wave of computing, after mobile, will be like.”
“With mobile phones, we have our computers at our fingertips,” she said. “With Envelop and immersive computing, we now are actually immersed in the data and information, making it much more comprehensive and easy to understand.”
Gamba also noted that the software is intended to be hardware agnostic; the company plans to support other headsets in the future.
Here’s a short video from Upload VR that gives you an idea of the experience:
Founded in 2012, Envelop has raised $7.5 million to date from investors like GV (Alphabet’s investment arm formerly known as Google Ventures); Madrona Venture Group; and other high-power angels. The company was a finalist for “Startup of the Year” at this year’s GeekWire Awards.