Play Non-VR Games With SteamVR Desktop Theater

Are you sold on VR yet? While there are a few upcoming games I think look spectacular – such as Universe Sandbox 2 – not to mention a few that I’ve played and have enjoyed, I’m not completely there yet myself. Valve’s in-development SteamVR Desktop Theatre Mode isn’t quite the golden ticket to bypassing my skepticism, however it does seem pretty interesting. Essentially, it’s a virtual theater that lets you play standard, non-VR games on an enlarged, encompassing display.

While we don’t know what the SteamVR Desktop Theater Mode looks like just yet, Valve have announced plans to show it off using the HTC Vive at some point during the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. It’s in its beta testing phase at the moment, and will let you play games that don’t have VR support on SteamVR-compatible headsets. The Vive is the only device named at this stage, however a press release stated “others” are adaptable too, therefore the Oculus Rift is most likely a safe bet.

It sounds neat, however it’s worth noting that no matter how well, or how comfortably, the SteamVR Desktop Theater manages to display games that aren’t built purposefully for VR, they won’t magically become virtual reality games when played via a VR headset. Then again, assuming it’s not too much strain on the eyes, playing through the entirety of our Steam libraries in shut off virtual environments akin to home cinemas/The Matrix sounds really cool, if a little anti-social. Then again, again, once we’ve splashed out for VR we’ll be skint and housebound anyway. I’m sure our mates will understand.

If, like me, you’re still on the fence with VR, you might want to consult Jeremy’s rundown which explores whether or not your current PC can handle the upgrade. You might also like to visit Alec’s Rift versus Vive post this-a-way.

I’m sure you caught Graham’s post yesterday, however this year’s GDC seems to be focused on virtual reality. You can read all of our GDC 2016 news here as it arrives, which will include more on SteamVR Desktop Theater Mode as soon as it drops. And you can, of course, try the HTC Vive for yourself at this year’s EGX Rezzed.


  1. ChrisGWaine says:

    Is it just games or more like being able to see whatever a normal monitor could show you, including the OS desktop? The latter would seem to have more of a point.

    • Cerzi says:

      That already exists, it’s called Virtual Desktop and it’s fantastic. Even works with multiple monitors. Can change their size, make em curved, suspend them in space, etc.

  2. Behrditz says:

    This mode was available in Steam a while ago before they redid how their steamVR was integrated. It was pretty neat. It felt like sitting in a movie theatre. The screen was still flat, but it felt like a large screen in front of you, so when you turned your head, you could see the sides and everything. It hovered there like a viewscreen in the darkness.
    Theres another program that does this sort of thing. I forget what it was called, but its a paid program that turns most games into some form of 3d with motion tracking.

    • Fiatil says:

      Not sure if this is what you’re referring to, but VorpX does what you’re describing. Apparently, any game you play in the cinema mode that’s on their supported games list will be in stereoscopic 3D too, which sounds kind of neat.

      link to

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      phuzz says:

      There’s a program called Virtual Desktop that does that sort of thing for the Rift.

    • Cerzi says:

      You’re thinking of VorpX. Can turn non-VR games into hacky-VR games (not a big fan, mainly because the UIs tend to break). But can also play games on a virtual screen and still benefit from the 3D, which is kinda cool.

  3. Grizzly says:

    This sounds a lot like what the gents over at Crate and Crowbar (a secret society of PC-Gamer writers hell bent on taking over RPS) talked about: The possibilities of VR lie not just within games, but they would be extremely usefull in creating a virtual workspace which you can easily adapt to your needs. Turn your desk into a massive tablet, that sorta thing.

    Why shell out close to a thousand pounds for a huge thirty inch monitor when you can recreate a 40 inch monitor in VR, which you then can infinitely contract and expand? It sounds very science-fictiony, but so do self driving cars and we actually have those now. Knowing that this exists now does make me a lot more excited about VR tech, simply because my biggest issue with it is that it seems senseless to shell out a lot of money for tech that hardly works on the games I play, but the thought of being able to project a 50 inch space in front of my face to play Automobilista or Total War on does seem rather exciting all of a sudden…

    … If only the upgrade costs don’t ramp up to the level that it costs the equivalent of half a year of high-level education.

    • MrUnimport says:

      For one thing, the fidelity of the virtual display is going to be severely hampered by the fact it’s being piped through a physical HMD of fixed resolution. For another, rendering the same scene to both of your eyeballs is going to be a significant performance hit.

      • Mrice says:

        I dont think you would have to render the game twice. Surely you could render the game once and then display that render inside the virtual environment, like an animated texture or video file. People have been displaying video files in games for years so i know that much is at least possible.

        The only part of the thing that i can see you needing to render twice for VR would be the virtual environment (in this case, a black featureless void apparently, with, i suppose one polygon for the screen) and the video file itself, which, what, a 1080p60ps video stream? Seems very doable to me with modern hardware.

  4. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    This sounds a lot like the feature Oculus Video and Netflix have on the Gear VR — they both let you play back video on a huge virtual screen that encompasses your entire field of vision.

    It’s a neat option for video — though because on Gear VR it’s all driven by a cellphone, the video quality degrades noticeably when you blow it up like that. I’m not sure how well it’d translate to games, though, where your eyes are constantly darting all around the screen looking for little details instead of resting comfortably in the center of the image most of the time.

  5. grundus says:

    I thought about this, sort of, a while ago: imagine playing a not-VR game as if you were using a console in your lounge. The PC Master Race joke would go into overdrive.

  6. Kefren says:

    I’m a bit confused. So this would just be playing games on a pretend big flat screen like you were at the cinema? Weird. I’d hate to play a game on a cinema screen. I am only interested in playing older games with some kind of 3D effect to make it seem like I am in the game, the kind of thing tools like VorpX can do. So I can be in Amnesia, STALKER etc.

    • caff says:

      Having tried VR Theatre, it’s actually one of the best applications of this technology. I’m not sure how well it will translation to desktop use, but I imagine it could be fun to have a huge res desktop that you can spread windows out on and swivel your neck to watch movies on one side, and web browsing on the other.

      However, how well this actually works given first gen VR tech is yet to be seen.

      • Kefren says:

        Probably not for me then – I just do one thing at once. Browse web, or watch a film, or play a game. Most programs only take a second to load so I get no advantage from having them all open at once. Likewise I found a bigger screen wasn’t that great, because I just had to move it further back so I could see it properly. Interesting that everyone uses PCs in different ways.

    • Xzi says:

      VorpX doesn’t feel as great as games made for VR from the ground up, and that’s probably always going to be the case for games ported to VR. A lot of games also have cameras that wouldn’t work well in VR. So this is just giving you a way to play your entire library if you so choose, as well as playing games and movies outside of Steam.

      • Kefren says:

        I accept that it won’t be as good as a game made for VR perhaps, but it would still be more immersive than the same game without the VR headset? That’s all I’m after, increasing the immersion slightly.

        I still don’t actually understand what the theatre bit is, since I can play all my gameso n my monitor already – it just seems to be giving the impression of a bit screen, but you sat further away, which counteracts it somewhat? (Since a big screen up close is just a mess).

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          I guess the benefit of feeling out of your room is desirable to some. Playing games on a big screen on the moon etc could feel very relaxing.

  7. Zenicetus says:

    This would be a neat thing for flight simulators that don’t support VR yet and may not for a while, like X-Plane and the upcoming DTG civilian flight sim. Even if X-Plane did support VR, it would be tough to get 80-90 FPS with the full graphics settings for terrain that we’re used to from a flat screen.

    Ideally, it would need a way to convert the head tracking to something that would be recognized as a Track IR type device in the sim, so we could swivel the viewing angle by moving our head while keeping the big display static in front like we do in Track IR. That would give us a pseudo-VR effect in 2D for flight sims and car racing sims that currently support head tracking, but not full VR.

    • Rindan says:

      Any flight sim that doesn’t support VR in like 4 months needs to crawl into a hole and die.

      Speaking of which, I wish there was a good World War II Pacific theater game that I could play multi-player; especially multi-player co-op. Not some stupid War Thunder PvP arena, but an actual campaign with a buddy.

  8. Pulstar says:

    This whole business is just too much trouble for what it promises. Perhaps if some savvy dude makes a Windows driver for PSV, hitting two birds with one stone (Who wouldn’t want to play Rez in VR!)

  9. SteelPriest says:

    Like your monitor but wish the resolution was way lower? Try this!

  10. Moonracer says:

    I had a VR headset form around 2005 (forget the brand) and it allowed this. Also, Nvidia had a set of VR drivers back then that helped convert 3d games so they had some degree of depth.

    The main issue with most games is how the HUD is rendered. You couldn’t make objects “pop-out” of the screen without the HUD disappearing or doing strange things. So you’d need to set the depth settings so it was more like looking out of a window at a 3D environment. It was still pretty cool, even at the painful 800×400 resolution that headset offered.

    I would hope these newer headsets will offer that functionality at least for older titles.