Holodia Fitness on HTC Vive VR lets you pretend you're anywhere but the gym

If you’re a little bored when you hit the rowing machine at the gym, maybe you’d prefer to feel like you were rowing down a river in the Rockies, or even through an asteroid field in space? That’s what a brand new VR experience for the HTC Vive headset is aiming to do.

At the moment virtual reality experiences feel like they’re mostly divided between active and passive. In active experiences you’re interacting directly with your environment, whether you’re firing lasers at incoming attackers or just picking up everyday objects using a VR controller system. Passive experiences are more like 360-degree videos: you can look around but for the most part you’re there to enjoy the show.

Holodia Fitness, from French company Holodia, is at its heart a passive experience, but by pairing it with a rowing machine it doesn’t feel that way. You’re not steering or controlling your direction: it’s a completely “on-rails” experience. But because your virtual hands are mimicking the rowing movements you’re physically doing, there’s a perception of interactivity.

I tried it for a short rowing session, starting off traversing ice caves in Antarctica before hopping out of that and trying the more exotic locale of a Saturnine asteroid belt.

Naturally in the Antarctic I was in a fairly normal-looking kayak, while around Saturn I was in a high-tech space canoe, complete with gloved hands — if I looked up I could even see the top of my space suit’s helmet. Both times I could always see my rowing stats, like distance and time.

It’s not perfect of course, with the main issue being that VR headsets are already sweaty enough without you wanting to exercise in them. But I’ve always thought that one of the great promises of VR on the individual level was to make mundane tasks feel exciting again. Holodia is a fun first step towards that.

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