By Mike Hume
The fitness app seemed perfect for virtual reality. Putting together 3D views of scenic streets and highways from around the world and combining them with a low impact exercise routine, “VZfit”, from VirZoom Inc. held great promise for someone who has been locked away at home. It also appealed to someone who only runs when chased and hates going out in the winter. I am that someone.
The app, which can be used only with the Oculus Quest headset or in conjunction with a stationary bike, uses street photography from Google Maps and allows users to train on California’s Route 1, climb the Alps like the riders of the Tour de la France or even “walk” in the past by revisiting the roads of their youth. The concept is great and, at best, could deliver a premium VR experience. However, the current execution is insufficient, running up against some of VR’s biggest pitfalls.
The shortcomings of “VZfit” are best illustrated by my first “lap” (like the app labels workouts), when I plotted a route from my childhood home in rural southwest Connecticut to ‘at my parents’ old office downtown. As soon as I confirmed the course, I was teleported into some sort of twisted 3D reflection of my youth. The VR-mapped landscape parading past me along the street of my childhood looked vaguely familiar, but its distorted nature made it seem like someone was extracting my memories through some kind of neural plug, transmitting them somewhere through a modem 14.4 and gathered them around me. I feel like this must be what the world is like once you assimilate into the Borg.
The best example of the problem is probably when I was standing right outside my old house and couldn’t see my house. Instead, I saw a fluctuating mass of greenery and cubic and polygonal sidewalks obscuring where my house should have been. I moved one way and the mass of sharp-edged boxes shifted. I still couldn’t see my house. I moved the other way around and encountered the same problem. It was as if Steve from “Minecraft” was building obstacles to prevent me from setting eyes on my old property. You win this round, Steve.
This experience highlights the limits of the application. There’s not much developers can do with Google’s 2D images. And some rides do better than others. The ones highlighted and recommended by the app look much cleaner and sharper, but the user-generated rides (created by me and other app users, which you can access) were consistently distorted. The autonomy to choose your route seems unnecessary when the experience makes you want to remove the helmet.
On the rides I created, the world repeatedly tore apart, then reassembled around me with objects dramatically and unnaturally changing in relative location and scale. The houses are gone, only for part of the building to reappear closer to the road, shrunken or clogged. In areas where two images were clearly put together, canyons often appeared, covered with 2D wallpaper reflecting the world beyond. Some trees lay flat on the ground, spanning horizontally, while others soared upward to almost block the sky.
The rides suggested by the app are much better, although they never really reach the point of fun.
While I haven’t yet tested the app with the attachment to use an exercise bike (the review will be updated when we do), a Washington Post freelance writer had a glowing experience with this device. and the application earlier this year. So, maybe this is where the real beauty of the app lies. But without the bike there isn’t much joy in the experience for me.
Most of the exercises used to move your avatar in the app aren’t fun either. Mimicking the virtual reality trainer that “rolled” on the wheeled platform in front of me, I propelled myself forward performing some weird kind of cross-country skiing motion, crouching down and swinging my arms. back and forth. The trainer’s incessant reminders to “swing your arms, bend your knees!” also grated.
One exercise prompted me to bend my arms with my elbows, like chicken wings, and rotate them as I walked in place. The cross shots felt more normal, but it’s just weird to move like that when you can’t see what your body is doing. Even the default movement – the combined squat / arm-swing movement – is getting older. It’s a great workout, but doing seven miles of squats feels a bit masochistic. Fortunately, you can still move by swinging your arms back and forth, an alternative that I used liberally after my knees started to ache.
It would be better if users could select their favorite moves, but at the moment you can’t. Adding functionality is one of their priorities as they continue development, Virzoom says.
Then came the time to turn – and I swear the real world moved under my feet. The hilly landscape confused me from the start, but it was made worse by the app’s rotation mechanism. To turn, you need to tilt your head left or right. Combined with the disorienting effects of virtual reality and the repeated movements of my body, I had to control myself on several occasions. After doing a 15 minute ride, I battled a touch of motion sickness. (Users can use an option to ride on some sort of rail that doesn’t require turning their heads. If you decide to use the app, I recommend it, but I still felt disoriented when the ride required a turn to 90 degrees.)
Ever since I got the Quest 2, I’ve been a huge fan of “Wander”, the app that converts Google Map Street View data into virtual reality. I checked out Paris, Giza, Dubrovnik and my aforementioned house in Connecticut. In any case, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids, the Mediterranean Sea or my old house inspired me with a certain admiration. They were clear, they were majestic (yes, even my old house). My only gripe was that I had to click around predetermined points on the floor.
What I wanted was to be able to physically move in one way or another. “VZfit” seemed to offer exactly that possibility. For now, that remains only a possibility.
During the winter months of the pandemic, I had used my Quest 2 to help me stay in shape. I used a boxing app (“The Thrill of the Fight”) and an aerobic / boxing training app (“Fit XR”) and found both to be a better alternative for hanging out in the cold. to walk or run. Both provided engaging and playful experiences that paid dividends in pounds sterling. “VZfit”, which also requires a monthly subscription of $ 9.99, will not fit into my VR workout regimen. Hopefully improved map data and some smoothing will provide more appeal with a future update, as the concept has a lot of merit. So far though, my only exercise consistent with “VZfit” is that of futility.
The Washington Post