Envelop, an application that offers a Windows desktop environment in VR, has been undergoing closed beta testing for the past few weeks, and apparently things are going well. Starting Friday, August 5, the Envelop beta test will be open to the general public. Envelop VR said that the software will be free for anyone with a VR HMD and a VR-ready PC to try, and you’ll be able to find it on Steam.
The beta incarnation of Envelop is designed to bring your Windows desktop environment into a 360-degree VR environment. You’ll have access to all of your 2D applications, such as web browsers, chat clients, word processing software, and really anything else that you do on your PC with a standard 2D display.
It’s even possible to play traditional PC games within Envelop.
If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Envelop claims to be “the only platform for extending legacy applications into VR,” but that’s not strictly true. Just over a month ago, we gave Space a try. Space promises more or less the same functionality that Envelop does. There’s also Virtual Desktop, which launched at around the same time as the Rift and Vive HMDs. And, of course, there's BigScreen, which is also free and lets you access 2D content, including games, from within a virtual environment.
Envelopdoes have a big advantage over these other options, though. It gives you complete freedom to place your windows wherever you want, and resize them as you see fit. Spacepromises such a feature, but the current iteration is limited to six "displays," and you don’t have the freedom to place them wherever you want. Virtual Desktop lets you resize and reposition your screen within the environment, but the number of virtual screens you have access to is limited by the number of physical screens hooked up to your PC. BigScreen also lets you reposition and resize your virtual screen, but you can have only one display.
Enveloptreats your environment like the Windows desktop, which lets you resize and reposition each window anywhere and to any size. You can open windows in front of you, above you and all around you.
Envelopalso offers a mixed reality feature that makes it easier to access your keyboard and mouse. Unlike the VR game trailers that have been released, the mixed reality option inside Envelopdoesn’t involve green screens. It simply takes advantage of a standard webcam to give you a live view of your peripherals. You have to position the camera to overlook your keyboard and mouse. The software has a designated location where the video feed will show up.
Not Just A Piece Of Software
The open Envelopbeta is a desktop emulation suite, but that’s all that Envelop VR is creating. The company is building a software development kit that will give developers the ability to bring legacy 2D applications and even websites into the immersive environment of virtual reality. Envelop VR’s goal is to make it easy for developers to “VR-ify” their legacy content and simplify the creation of new VR content.
Envelop VR will be on location at the VRLA Summer Expo giving demonstrations of the Envelopsoftware. The free Envelop beta will be available on Steam on August 5, so you can download it and try it at home if you have an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift. Envelopis compatible only with Windows 10, though, so if you didn't take advantage of the free Windows upgrade that just expired, you're out of luck (or need to drop some cash on a new OS).