What a time to be alive! VR is no longer the small, enthusiast-driven, niche hobby that it used to be. You could say that it’s on the verge of becoming IT’s next market bubble. VR related companies are popping up all over the place like mushrooms, each with its own ideas. All of them, alongside the hobbyists, are trying to push the technology forward as fast as they can.
Special thanks to Justin Popa for contributing this article. By day Justin is a web solutions architect and by night he is a VR enthusiast, creating small home projects to push the boundaries of virtual worlds within the comfort of his den. Justin’s main goal is to come up with creative and effective ways to replace the home computer experience with a VR experience in which the desktop is no longer a space on the screen, but all the space around you.
But we’re not there yet. Until the release of consumer hardware, it’s people like us that are continuously redefining the boundaries of what can be achieved with this technology that Palmer Luckey demoed back in 2012.
So let’s talk about how you (yes you, you the one reading) can contribute to this lovely world. Today I’m going to show you how to build your own VR chair for those comfortable seated experiences. My goal here is not to give you the recipe for the ultimate VR chair. All I want is to enable you to build your own bottom resting apparatus to best suit your needs.
The image above is how mine looks, but yours will most likely be different.
1. The Chair
Picking a chair is important, as it is the base of your creation. When picking one you have to look for some specific traits to make it a good base for your design. I recommend looking for one that has the arm rests and support leg(s) made of metal bars, that are fully exposed. These are important as they allow for the attachment of other devices, via the use of clamps. I personally prefer clamps because they don’t require any welding, soldering or drilling.
Yes that is a screw wedged in there. It’s like that because the engineering decision behind it was made at 4 AM. The engineer did not have any piece of plastic lying around to pad the interior of the clamp, making it thicker.
Another thing to look for when choosing a chair, is checking that the backrest is made of wood. Mine is not, so I had to purchase a separate table for the VR helmet arm. Should that not have been the case I would have purchased a small shelf complete with the wall mount and then bolted that to the backrest.
Before going crazy with the gear, you have to think about how all of it is going to reach your computer. This is where the backbone comes in. In computer networks a backbone usually refers to the part of the network infrastructure that connects other smaller networks to each other. In our case the backbone is going to connect our chair equipment to our computer. I suggest you acquire the following (you don’t have to use these parts specifically, they are just guidelines):
- 3m / 10ft USB 3.0 A-male to A-female cable [UK] [US]
- 3m / 10ft HDMI male to female cable [UK] [US]
- 3m / 10ft extension cord [UK] [US]
- Usb hub (at least 4 ports) [UK] [US]
- Gaffer tape / Duct tape [UK][US]
Take the three cables and line them up on the floor, put your foot on one side and then gently (I SAID GENTLY!) pull on the other end with one hand while wrapping duct tape around them every foot or so, making sure to leave a foot of slack on each end so that are easily connectible to your computer.
Congrats, you now have a backbone! Connect the male end to your computer and wall socket and then connect the usb hub to the female end.
Continued on the next page, adding the inputs and mounting the HMD
3. Input Mounts and the Inputs
Two words: VESA mounts. They are excellent for this sort of thing. If you’re looking to attach a joystick the same way I have, you’re just going to need two VESA pole mounts [UK][US] and two sets of Velcro adhesive stripes [UK][US].
First, clamp the VESA mounts on the metal bars of the armrests on each side of the chair and tilt them into position. Get the Velcro bands, peal off the safety paper only on one side of the bands and stick them onto the mounts. Once all Velcro straps are in position, peel off the remaining safety paper and with one precise move, apply your joystick and throttle to each mount. Should you ever want to sell your HOTAS you can, considering there has been no permanent damage done to it.
Some of you may have noticed though that my Flight stick is actually not on a pole VESA mount but on a sort of arm. This is because I wanted the option between side-placed flight stick (like in Elite Dangerous) or central mounted flight stick (like in Star Citizen). To get the same result, or if you want to use a steering wheel setup for a racing game then go the extra mile and buy one of these [UK][US] (or even two, depending on needs). With a good set of allen keys you can take the joints apart and then rebuild the arm into a configuration that allows you to mount your peripherals as you need them.
Finally, for the keyboard on the left hand side of the chair I used a tablet mount that just clamps onto the metallic frame of the armrest. It’s worth mentioning that the tablet holder itself was not very good at holding the keyboard in place so I applied super-glue to the adjustable legs so they are not as… adjustable.
Once you’re done with all the hard work, hook up your peripherals to the usb hub and they are good to go.
4. The HMD
The pièce de résistance of the whole design: the lovely headset dangling in the air from the adjustable arm. It can be easily repositioned at any time and using it feels very satisfying. As you sit down in your new VR chair, you pull down your headset from above onto your face and get transported to another world. The whole experience feels so futuristic it makes you want to cry. Let’s get started.
You are going to need:
- A small table [UK][US] – the sturdier the better
- A microphone arm [UK][US]
- MOAR TAPE [UK][US]
- A cloth strip, or rope, or a piece of string. Something to tie the headset to the microphone arm.
Step 1. Take table, unfold/assemble table, place table behind chair.
Step 2. These arms usually come with a microphone cable built into them, which you don’t need. Using a knife, cut the cable at one end (carefully) and pull it out of the arm system.
Step 3. Attach the arm to the table like so: side opposite of the chair, so that the arm arches over the backrest and onto your head.
Step 4. We are now going to mount the headset to the arm. Using the piece of cloth/rope/string just make a loop between the top head strap of the HMD and the microphone holder of the arm. Give it about half a foot of slack as you don’t want to move the microphone arm every time you move your head in VR. The arm poses enough resistance to break your immersion. Try experimenting with different lengths of slack to see what’s good for you.
Step 5. This is where it gets a little tricky. The way the arm stays in place is by applying tensions through springs to act as counterweights to the microphone, or in our case to the headset. Your mileage may vary, but by default my headset was too light for the default tension configuration, so every time I’d pull my headset down it would swing off my head. What I ended up doing is removing a spring on each arm length (so now it uses 1 instead of two)
That made the top arm to week so I increased the tension on the top spring by moving the holder to the second position. This offered enough counterweight to keep my Oculus in place when using the chair.
Step 6. You’re now left with just hooking up the Oculus. HDMI cable goes into HDMI extension, USB cable goes into USB hub, and the last USB port can be used to connect the IR camera without taking up yet another port on the PC. What I did was I took the two camera cables and twisted them around the backbone so they head back to the PC. As the chair is right next to my desk, I put the camera on the desk, pointed it at the chair and job done.
And the rest is VR history.
I hope you enjoyed reading and I also hope that this article inspired you to push VR forward. Remember that its us the individuals that start off big movements like this one. Until 2012 Palmer Lucky was just another kid playing around with toys he bought out of passion and look at him now. Will you be the next DIY’er to make it big?