Many clients find value in exploring their projects in virtual reality (VR).
The application of VR in the AEC industry empowers clients to explore the areas in the project that are important to them, at their own speed, and in a way more natural than only looking at 2D plans and static renderings. This visualization experience can help to expedite client buy-in of a proposed design solution and instill confidence in the quality and progress of the design team.
Enscape can be your champion in the VR software category when it comes to a high-quality visual experience and ease of navigation.
This post will cover the “must-know” details when it comes to delivering a successful VR experience for your staff, clients, or key stakeholders.
Before we jump in - Enscape would love to know about your current VR workflow and preferences through this quick 6-question survey. Take the survey.
Lake|Flato intern, Byla Shalabi, exploring a project in VR with Enscape
Starting VR in Enscape
When VR hardware has been previously set up on a capable system, and your model is opened in Enscape, a fully immersive VR experience is literally a single click away!
It is possible to go from the VR computer being completely turned off to being in VR in about 15 minutes.
Compare this with the useful but significantly more time-consuming process of making panoramas I wrote about in this blog post: Creating and Using Panoramas at Lake|Flato Architects
Starting VR within Enscape
The process to get into VR only takes these three steps:
1. Open a supported model (Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Archicad, or Vectorworks)
2. Start Enscape
3. Enable VR
In this scenario, it is possible to make changes in the design platform and have them appear within a live VR session.
I was recently helping facilitate a VR session where a client was wearing the Oculus Quest 2 head-mounted display (HMD) and commented on a space he was in. The architect on the project was able to make that change in Revit, and just a few seconds later, the client yelled out, with a big smile on his face, “that is perfect… I love it!”
Using an EXE standalone for VR
To simplify the delivery of a VR experience, consider making an Enscape standalone EXE file. This has many advantages, including:
- No Revit/SketchUp/Rhino, etc. license is required
- No Enscape license is required
- All models (host and linked) are included
- All textures are included
Thus, you can take the EXE on a VR-capable laptop to a client location that may not have connectivity and still deliver a successful VR experience. In fact, Revit/SketchUp/Rhino, etc. or Enscape do not even need to be installed on the VR-capable computer.
When using an Enscape EXE to deliver a VR experience, there are only two simple steps:
1. Start Enscape
2. Enable VR
As seen in the following image, the location to start VR is in a different place when using a standalone EXE file.
Starting VR from an Enscape EXE standalone file
How to create an Enscape EXE standalone
Creating an Enscape standalone EXE is easy. Just click the EXE standalone icon and provide a name and location to save the file. The size of the file can vary, but 300 – 800 MB is standard.
Of course, some corporate IT policies and anti-virus applications can restrict the use of non-signed and brand-new (i.e. creation date) EXE files – work with your IT department to resolve these issues.
Creating an Enscape standalone EXE file
How to teleport in VR with saved views
Within an Enscape standalone EXE, there is an option to have saved views, which facilitate teleporting around the project.
These views can be accessed from within VR or on the VR computer. These are a great way to outline the intended talking points during a client presentation or VR experience. They also make it easier to move between spaces and avoid trying to get a client to ascend up a set of stairs or to another remote part of a project.
To keep things simple for the client, if you give them a verbal cue first, you can click on the starred view on the computer and cause the person in VR to jump to the new location.
This “jump” is accomplished by the HMD fading to black and emerging suddenly in the new location. There is no flying or animating between locations, which would be unsettling to most people.
Here is how you create and use saved/stared views in an Enscape standalone EXE:
In the Enscape View Management pane, edit and star all desired views as shown in the following image.
Starring saved views in Enscape’s View Management pane
Once the standalone EXE is created and opened, a new (transparent) tab appears on the right-hand side of the application window.
Clicking on it expands the tab to show the starred views, as depicted in the following image.
Clicking on one of the preview images jumps you to that location within the Enscape real-time rendered model.
These same starred views can be seen within the VR HMD via the menu associated with the left controller. This allows the person in VR to jump to predetermined locations and then fully explore the model from there.
Starred views appear within the Enscape standalone EXE viewer
The nice thing about having to manually star views is that it filters out all the irrelevant 3D views, which is especially helpful when using Revit, given the fact that there are often many temporary and poorly named 3D views in a project.
Computer hardware for VR
Virtual reality requires a lot of computer horsepower! Revit, SketchUp, and Rhino files can be massive. Unlike games, which are optimized for what you see on the surface, AEC models are much more detailed and therefore require a lot more processing.
While Enscape can get by with middle-of-the-road computer specs for non-VR visualization, you must have above-average specs to deliver a reasonable (i.e. comfortable) VR experience to your clients and design team.
Graphics cards for VR
Graphics cards are one of the most essential hardware components. At a minimum, for onscreen real-time rendering, Enscape recommends NVIDIA GeForce GTX900-series or Quadro M-series or newer GPUs. For VR, they recommend RTX-based GeForce and Quadro cards.
For large complex projects, it is crucial to have a large frame buffer, i.e. GPU memory. At Lake|Flato, we use the NVIDIA RTX A-series cards with 16 GB of dedicated memory. Using a GPU resource monitoring tool, such as GPU-Z, we have seen up to 14 GB of memory in use.
If Enscape runs out of GPU memory, it does not run slowly. Instead, it closes suddenly. So having the proper resources is essential for performance and time that would otherwise be required to remove detail from the model or make it smaller.
The great thing about using RTX-series GPUs by NVIDIA is that Enscape utilizes many of the enhanced onboard features, including AI-based Deep Learning Super Sampling (NVIDIA DLSS).
Here is a post I wrote on that last year: Enscape Leverages NVIDIA DLSS for Improved Performance and Quality.
The following specs are not meant to be the definitive hardware requirements for VR but just an example of what has worked well in my experience, using contemporary components at the time of writing this.
My VR hardware
Personal laptop (#DellInsideCircle):
- 12th Gen Intel(R) Core(TM) i9-12950HX 2.30 GHz
- 128 GB CAMM RAMM
- Windows 11 Enterprise
- NVIDIA RTX A5500 (16 GB GDDR6)
Dedicated VR Desktop Computer:
- 12th Gen Intel(R) Core(TM) i9-12900K 3.20 GH
- 128 GB RAM
- Windows 11 Enterprise
- NVIDIA RTX A5000 (24 GB GDDR6)
Dedicated VR spaces
To facilitate VR, a certain amount of space is required – more is better.
Lake|Flato has three semi-dedicated VR spaces like the one shown below. These spaces may be checked out in Outlook. They each have a dedicated computer and Oculus Quest 2.
This space has the following features:
- A large clear “play area” to the side of the display
- A large display so others can see what the person in VR sees
- Seating in front of the display
- A vented cabinet for the VR computer
- A dedicated WIFI router to facilitate an untethered VR experience (more on wireless VR later)
- Conduit in the wall, between the computer cabinet and the display (for concealed cables)
Scott Needham, Project Designer at Lake|Flato, using a VR space
The VR HMD is calibrated to the floor, so the VR experience is aligned to the height of the person using it. This also means you can grab a chair and sit in VR to get a sense of a perspective from a conference table (see photo below) or at a reception desk or nurses’ station to study sightlines.
Scott Needham, sitting in a chair while in VR
We also 3D-printed HMD and controller holders that are screwed to the inside of the VR computer cabinet, where they are also plugged in to keep them charged.
Although the Oculus Quest 2 is not officially supported yet by Enscape, it is the only VR system Lake|Flato has used with Enscape for over two years.
It is ideal given its inside-out tracking (no external sensors are required), its ability to work tethered (making it Rift compatible – which is why it works with Enscape), and its ability to connect via WIFI and even work with NVIDIA CloudXR in support of streaming full Enscape VR over the internet. Here is a post I wrote on NVIDIA CloudXR: NVIDIA CloudXR for AEC.
Using a simple non-managed WIFI router, for example, a Netgear AC1750, can be connected to a VR-capable desktop/laptop PC. This WIFI router is not connected to the internet. Instead, it is used to communicate wirelessly with the Quest 2 and thus eliminate the cumbersome cable between the PC and the HMD. This gives the person in VR a lot more freedom to move and turn without getting tangled up.
There is not enough space in this post to list all the steps required to use the Quest 2 untethered with Enscape, but here is a high-level overview of the process:
Prerequisites (must be done once):
Oculus Quest 2 setup per Meta instructions (as a standalone device, not connected to a computer)
Connect a dedicated WIFI router to computer
- The computer can be connected to the internet, but the WIFI router does not have to be connected to the internet
- Install the Oculus App on your PC
- Follow Meta steps to set up a Quest 2 using Air Link
- Enable Air Link within settings (if not already done during the setup process)
- Install Steam and Steam VR
Per use setup steps:
- Turn on Quest 2 and define “play area” (Within Quest 2 HMD)
- Quest 2 will remember the same space in the future
- Start the Oculus app on the PC
- Connect HMD to PC (within Quest 2 HMD)
- Connect WIFI to the dedicated WIFI router (use the 5G option)
- Connect listed PC via Air Link
- Notice the Quest is now in Rift mode and has a different UI
- Start Steam VR (on the PC)
- Start Enscape (on the PC. Click to start VR)
- Switch from Oculus to Steam VR to properly enable VR (within the Quest 2 HMD)
- Enscape is currently trying to start via the Oculus software and appears to be stuck, i.e. VR is not working properly
- Click the Oculus button on the controller once or twice to back out to the Rift UI
- Click the Steam VR icon next the the Oculus icon
You are now in full VR in an untethered Oculus Quest 2 headset!
Tip: to minimize re-connection issues when the Quest 2 goes to sleep between users, place a piece of tape over the sensor between the eyes on the HMD to keep it running between users. This will wear down the batter more quickly, but if fully charged, it should last long enough for a single client VR session, 1-2 hours.
Enscape offers "best-in-class" real-time rendering quality and ease of navigation in the AEC market space.
With literally two clicks within Revit or another supported design application, you can be in VR and exploring your model. This technology offers a compelling opportunity for design teams to verify and review the design internally as well as a more natural way for a client or stakeholder to explore and experience the proposed design.
This is clearly not a fad or gimmick as the response from clients, tech and non-tech savvy alike, have already given their high praise.