In the AEC industry, extended reality (XR) technology is here to stay.

Today, a wide variety of businesses in our industry are already using XR solutions to engage with customers, train employees, and improve real-time 3D collaboration at immersive levels that were previously impossible. Thanks to these use cases and more, the popularity of this technology is growing at an exponential rate.

Source: Fortune Business Insights Report “Extended Reality Market Size,” 2023.

If you’re looking to deploy XR technology across your AEC organization, review this quick-start guide for efficiently integrating this technology into your organization’s workflow.

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get started, from high-level considerations to tactical details, including:

  • What resources your organization needs to deploy XR
  • Office logistics for XR
  • Which headsets are available for XR and what differentiates them
  • What kind of computer is recommended for tethered XR
  • How to deploy headsets across your team with MDM (multi-device management) tools
  • Options for purchasing XR hardware at scale

But before we take a deep dive, let’s start with a quick walk-through of common XR terminology.

Common XR terminology

Before diving into our guide, it’s helpful to get a sense of common terms you’ll see when reviewing and implementing XR.

Here are some of the top terms you’ll need to know:

  • XR (extended reality) – Consisting of virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and augmented reality (AR), XR is an umbrella term representing a spectrum of tools for visualization, digital overlays, remote collaboration, communication, and more.
  • VR (virtual reality) – A complete digital immersion experience that shuts out the physical world. Using VR headsets such as Meta Quest, users can be transported into a number of real-world and imagined environments.
  • AR (augmented reality) – AR technology overlays digital content onto a physical environment by using the camera on a smartphone or tablet. Some examples of common uses of AR include gaming, retail, and navigation/wayfinding.
  • MR (mixed reality) – Users can engage with both digital content and the surrounding physical environment simultaneously.
  • FoV (field of view) – defines how much of the user’s view is covered by the display and optics of a given headset. Humans have a field of view of around 200 degrees.
  • Resolution – The higher the resolution of a VR headset, the more real the image will appear. Higher resolution makes it easier to see the details of graphics and read text.
  • Screen-door effect – A visual artifact that results from viewing a digital display at a close range, giving the illusion of looking through screen door. Newer headsets are starting to reduce this effect.
  • Tracking – Outside-in vs. Inside-out
    • Outside-in requires extra setup (“lighthouse” devices) but higher accuracy within VR.
    • Inside-out doesn’t require any extra external tech but may be slightly less accurate.
  • Tethered vs. Standalone
    • Tethered requires a powerful Windows PC which can handle larger and more complex models.
    • Standalone requires no tethering/PC but is best for smaller, optimized models and/or presentations.

Logistics for XR at work

Now that you have a sense of common XR terminology, the next step is to decide what kind of XR setup your organization is looking for. When deploying XR in a business setting, there are multiple options for how to approach this. It’s important to choose what kind of setup you’re aiming at before investing in headsets and/or VR-ready computers, as different setups require different tools and budgets.

Some of the most popular options for enterprise XR setups include:

  • A headset at every desk. This option is best for teams that are looking to use XR to its full potential, incorporating immersive design reviews into the daily workflow. Either standalone or tethered headsets might be best, depending on the size and complexity of the models your team is working with. For less data-rich models, standalone headsets for each team member may be sufficient. For higher complexity models, a tethered headset and powerful computer at each desk can be a good choice.
  • Full-room VR experience. This type of setup consists of a shared room or office, often tethered to a powerful PC. This enables teams to run in-person VR with strong immersion, including for in-depth design reviews or even client presentations. We recommend a minimum of 6×6 space for this kind of setup.

Popular XR headsets

Depending on what kind of XR setup you decide to go with, you’ll want to select a headset that’s best for your team. Here’s everything you need to know about the current range of headsets on the market:

  • Meta Quest 2*
  • Meta Quest Pro*
  • Meta Quest 3*
  • HTC Vive Pro 2**
  • Valve Index VR Kit **
  • HP Reverb G2 **
  • Apple Vision Pro (speculative) **

*Workspace XR compatible
**Not compatible with Workshop XR

View comparison chart here.

As you can see, there are a variety of options for XR headsets today. Our current top recommendations are the Meta suite of headsets (Quest 2, Quest Pro, and Quest 3) due to their standalone nature, price point, and high compatibility with enterprise AEC workflows.

Optimizing your setup for tethered XR

If you’ve opted for a tethered headset—maybe for a centrally located XR room in your office or even for a top-tier desk setup—you’ll need a high-end PC to power it. In general, Macs are far behind on XR compatibility; PCs are recommended.

It’s worth investing in the best possible graphics card to handle heavy models in VR. We recommend at least an NVIDIA GTX 1080 equivalent or greater.

Most XR-ready computers are marketed as “gaming” computers. Here’s what our team currently uses for XR:

  • Model: Lenovo P1 5th Gen
  • Screen: 16″
  • Processor: i7-12800H
  • Graphics: RTX 3070 Ti (8 GB)
  • Memory: 64 GB
  • Storage: 2 TB
  • Weight: 3.9 lbs

As another benchmark, here’s what our developers use:

  • Model: Lenovo P16
  • Screen: 16″
  • Processor: i9-12950HX
  • Graphics: RTX 4500 (16 GB)
  • Memory: 64 GB
  • Storage: 4 TB
  • Weight: 6.5 lbs

Desktop PCs have historically provided better performance at a lower cost and are easier to repair or upgrade. However, if portability is a priority, gaming laptops are continually minimizing their footprint while becoming more powerful.

Deploying headsets across your team with MDM

MDM (mobile-device management) setups may be useful for enterprise teams that are looking to deploy a fleet of XR headsets across one or more workplaces.

Here are some of the top options for MDM:

  • Meta Quest for Business enables the use of third-party apps and websites to manage multiple business headsets. Install and setup MDM for your device fleet from Device Manager.
  • ManageXR enables teams to configure devices, distribute content, and customize the user experience for headsets from an enterprise-grade management platform.
  • ArborXR powers bulk device enrollment, device inventory monitoring, and mass configuration.

Purchasing XR headsets at scale

While smaller teams may want to purchase headsets via Meta Quest Store, teams purchasing 10 or more headsets may want to consider purchasing through a bulk hardware supplier.

Our current recommendations for this are:

Embracing the future and unlocking success through XR

XR used to have a reputation as a “nice-to-have” technology, but this view has completely changed as top architecture and engineering firms hold a clear return on investment for its internal and external use. XR has practical benefits that will enhance your company’s bottom line, including:

  • Fewer meetings
  • Faster project approvals and more confident decisions
  • More efficient collaboration
  • More issues caught before construction begins

Still have questions? Reach out to our team to learn more about how you can get your firm started using XR technologies.