VR treadmills are the kind of technology that makes you feel like you’re in the future just by existing. I’ve been dreaming of trying one out for a few years now, wondering if they could possibly live up to both the marketing hype and my own expectations. Just looking at one raises expectations with the large armor and blue underglow, and these are huge pieces of unwieldy gear that don’t exactly come cheap.
But let’s face it, there’s not much in VR of any complexity that feels particularly good or lifelike right now, so how good or lifelike can omnidirectional walking and running be? Having been in touch with the Kat VR C2+ for a few weeks now, the answer is that it’s not lifelike at all. But you don’t have to, because it’s something else.
For starters, everything about the Kat VR C2+ treadmill feels larger than life. In my case, it comes in several boxes, split into about four different deliveries, one of which required a palette. It’s huge, and while it’s not difficult to set up, it will take some time, thanks to the bulky parts. There were some frustrations, such as screws having to wear their coating to fit, adding extra time to the process.
I am not an elegant creature and had a lot of bruises from construction with all its heavy parts. On the plus side, seeing the sturdy materials and building it myself gave me the absolute confidence to happily throw myself around once strapped into the harness. Which again is very helpful, especially for someone as inelegant as myself.
Supported Weight: Under 130kg
Supported Height: 1.55-2 meters
footprint: 1.2 meters
Compatible: Pico, Steam VR, Vive, Meta (Nexus module required without PC), PlayStation (requires Pisystem)
Price: $1,499.00 USD
With the Kat VR C2+ in my small living space, its 1.2m footprint transforms into a dedicated VR space that feels bigger than anything I could otherwise reach. You do need some extra room for swinging arms, because unexpectedly hitting a wall that is too close is a painful experience. When I’m locked into it, I’m actually much more confident in my movements than when I was using VR untethered. I know I’m not going to randomly bump my foot on the bench or fall over without support. I still had to worry about not stretching my arms too far and swinging into the nearby TV, but otherwise using the treadmill feels safer than not in some ways.
It also works with countless different VR headsets and configurations. I use it with the Meta Quest 2 link to my PC and have had no problems getting everything to work together. With the treadmill and the Quest I don’t have cables near my body, which is always my preference. There’s also the KatVR Nexus attachment that allows for a direct connection between the treadmill and Meta headsets. It’s still fairly new and not as good as the PC experience. You can’t adjust your Kat settings without exiting games, and it doesn’t feel as smooth. If all you have is a Quest, it’s very cool, but definitely a lesser experience compared to PC.
Once you’re set up and connected via whichever method you choose, you’ll also need to have three separate sensors charged and paired. It’s not hard to set up, but it’s something on top. Fortunately, they all charge from the treadmill itself, so it’s easy enough to manage. From there, buckle up and get ready to feel even dumber than you’ve felt in VR before.
Walking into one of these definitely takes a bit of figuring out, but so far everyone I’ve shown has figured out the basic concept in a matter of minutes as well. It requires special shoes and you only get one pair with the treadmill, so if you have a family with different foot sizes you may need to invest in extras. The shoes have several velcro tabs to create more resistance on the base, and you can take them off when you get more confident. Removing them all will give you the best results, as sliding is a big part of how the treadmill works.
I’ve found different techniques depending on the game and what I want to achieve, but it’s kind of like a run-step with a slide back. This can start to feel very natural if you’re in a free-flowing environment and the base does a lot of the work of sliding you back. How it feels also largely depends on the game, as each game affects how well the treadmill integrates. Usually it’s set via controller replacement bindings, such as setting the walk-to-sticks, and in my trials, some games handle it better than others.
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When games don’t work so well, it feels like your typical somewhat janky VR, sort of like what home VR felt like even just a few years ago. It’s fun and new, but not something you’ll necessarily get enough out of for the effort you put into it. For example, walking and running around in Skyrim VR is quite fun, but it’s also so much work and doesn’t feel like real movement. Especially in the High Fantasy setting of Elder Scrolls, which is only filled with tight corridors and stairs in the first parts.
No Man’s Sky, on the other hand, you can really get lost in the fantasy of it all. The movement is smooth and tracking much better than others, and you’re mostly on nice open planets to explore. Plus, it lends itself much better to the mental image of a spacesuit to be addicted to all the equipment. It’s something I can imagine spending a lot of time just getting lost in exploring worlds.
Using the VR treadmill isn’t hard, but it’s not easy either, and it’s kind of weird for the body to do. Fitness and strength play a role in how much you can do, whether it’s endurance for longer sessions or strength for certain actions. The Kat VR software has a section where it tracks steps and activity levels and all, and while it’s potentially great for fitness, it’s a bit of a barrier to use and worth considering before you drop the cash.
This treadmill also comes with the detachable vehicle hub, which is essentially a fold-down seat that attaches to the main structure. It gets in the way of the Kat VR’s sensor button, which you have to press quite a bit, but otherwise it’s a welcome addition. Fold it down and you’ll have a seat right away, which is super handy for times when you just need a rest.
You can continue to play with the thumbsticks on your controller while seated and in some configurations you can also twist and push with your feet to control the vehicles. It means in the case of games like Skyrim VR and No Man’s Sky that when you get to your mount or vehicle, you don’t have to be on the treadmill all the time and everything feels a bit more natural. But there are still plenty of awkward moments in finding the seat, pressing the sensor button, changing the settings, and all those little extras that detract from the experience.
When it all works and you’re in the moment, walking around a VR world is wild and an utterly liberating feeling for the medium. That little bit of mind trick magic is definitely there, and I’ll try more games to find it. It feels like the Kat VR treadmill is currently more limited by the way movement translates to the games and my own fitness level.
The biggest question I keep asking myself about this device is whether I think it’s “the future of VR,” and I’m still not sure. But if I open that question to ‘a future’ then the answer is certain. I’ve played VR games in large open warehouses and didn’t feel as free or safe in my movements as I do in this machine. For people who are serious about their VR in a physical way, I can’t think of a better way to improve the experience at the moment than with the Kat VR C2.