Massage chairs are nothing new at CES. Every year they sit there, tempting exhausted flesh vessels to slide into their mechanical embrace.
While I had clocked many a person giving into the sweet oblivion of convention-floor relaxation, I had never seen someone combining it with a VR headset before. As it turns out, it’s a thing and I readily agreed to try it. What ensued was a deluge of eyebrow raises from fellow journalists and friends in the lead up to the demo. A VR massage, eh? Smirk.
I regret to inform you that this was not a sexy massage, although it did go to town on my arse.
This questionable creation is due to a collaboration between massage chair maker OHCO and a VR company called Esqapes.
The latter is a wellness centre based in LA that specialises in VR. It offers 12 different 30-minute ‘Esqape’ experiences – from a beach front resort to a winter cabin.
It offers an immersive sensory experience by including climate control, audio and scents. The resort option might utilise a heat lamp to replicate the warm sun. Or if you’d prefer the cabin, your nose will be filled with the scents of cardamom and baking cookies.
Sadly, due to the size of CES, the climate and scent layers of the experience weren’t available. I had to make do with the headset and headphones.
The chair itself is imposing – bright red and more reminiscent of a body mould than a traditional massage chair. It hugs your limbs securely and adjusts according to your body.
I welcomed the sensation. After days CES-induced mental and physical exhaustion, I just wanted to be held.
I was less enthusiastic about the headset. It felt too heavy for a relaxation experience. I also thought the material of the seal could become hot and uncomfortable after half an hour of use.
While I can’t speak to the latter as I only trialled the experience for ten minutes, it was fine during that time. I also found that the weight and pressure from the headset reduced exponentially once the chair reclined.
In fact, I enjoyed the majority of the physical experience. The chair was not gentle, and that’s exactly how I like it. While it did feel uncomfortable to have my legs and arms clutched in a vice-like grip, I loved it when that much pressure was applied to my back and shoulders.
However, my bliss was interrupted when the rollers in the seat decided it was time to tap that arse. Repeatedly. It was difficult to hold my composure while an army of nodules hurled themselves into my fleshy posterior.
As for the VR experience itself, I was taken through four different scenarios, which included a resort and a waterfall.
Sadly I was distracted by the convention noise that filtered through the ill-fitting headphones as it fought the VR headset for head real estate.
The settings themselves were also not particularly realistic. Rather than using real-life imagery, the company has opted for renders reminiscent of Myst. Yeah, the 1993 one.
Still, I enjoyed the massage chair experience and could see the appeal of taking 30 minutes out of a hectic schedule to escape to somewhere more zen.
You’ll pay for it, though. A single session at Esqapes costs $US35, with memberships costing as much as $US85. This is probably the trickle-down effect of how much the hardware itself costs.
While regular M.8 chairs retail at around $16,000, this model sits around $21,000. Combining this with the entire VR set up experience will set a business back around $36,000.
I’m not sure that VR massage will take off until it becomes more affordable for businesses and customers, but I think the idea is solid.
Despite its limitations, my tired bones relished the experience to the point of almost drifting into slumber.
The author travelled to CES 2020 on a scholarship from the Consumer Technology Association.