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Readability of conventional applications within immersive virtual environments

This thesis explores the potential role of virtual reality in allowing users to make full use of the space around them for computing tasks, and the impact such an environment could have when using conventional application software. As computers have become more core to our lives, the number of tasks that we perform on them have increased. Computer systems have evolved their support for multiple tasks through software tooling to aid management and layout of windows, and adoption of large- or multi-display output devices to increase digital work space. While usage of software tooling is mixed among users, a steady trend in adoption of larger and more numerous displays has been observed, suggesting that these adaptations are important to users. These developments may not be sufficient however, as users still encounter issues with layout and identification of task-related windows that impact on their performance. Use of modern, high-quality, mass-market virtual reality devices to replace existing displays has the potential to address the shortcomings of existing solutions. These devices can present large virtual environments in which windows can be laid out, and provide novel interaction techniques for facilitating layout, organisation, and identification of windows. While widespread adoption of such technology might lead to purpose-built applications to replace existing systems; in the short-term finding ways to support existing applications in immersive virtual environments would be helpful. Translating existing tasks and windows into a new virtual environment presents challenges around usability, interaction, and performance, and the impacts of these need to be evaluated. This thesis addresses the impact of an immersive virtual environment when working with existing, familiar applications and interactions. Reading performance is identified as a critical task through observation of users at work, and the users' reading performance is measured in an immersive virtual environment developed for the experiment; and compared to performance on conventional displays. It is shown that with careful setup, reading tasks can be performed at the same level as on conventional displays, and that under less ideal circumstances accuracy of reading can be maintained at the expense of speed. Font attributes identified as potential candidates for improving text legibility are investigated, and the presence of ClearType font smoothing is demonstrated to have beneficial effects on the distance at which text can be read within the presented environment. Finally, informal feedback from users of the developed environment suggests that the use of conventional mouse and keyboard controls translates well into a spherical virtual environment, although not being able to see the devices was of concern.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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