Virtual reality headset Oculus Rift meets the Bloomberg terminal

Through the looking glass.
Through the looking glass.
Image: Bloomberg LP
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The trading desk of the future may well exist in virtual space.

Bloomberg LP has built a prototype of its data terminal hooked up to the virtual-reality headset Oculus Rift. The company plans to show off the technology—still a long way from becoming a real product—at the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit, which begins today in Sausalito, California.

Putting on the bulky headset transports you to a world of infinite space and, thus, as many screens flashing financial data as you desire. Screen real estate is not an issue here. Twitchy traders who set themselves up with a dozen or more monitors at their desks in the physical world would envy what’s possible in virtual reality.

The image above has 20 screens, but in a demonstration at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York, I doubled that and more. Here is your slightly queasy reporter experiencing the Bloomberg terminal through Oculus:

Testing a prototype of the Bloomberg terminal on Oculus Rift.

Oculus VR, which was acquired by Facebook in March for about $2 billion, is widely seen as the leader in its field. “At this point, Oculus and its major proponents have all talked about the application of virtual reality in the gaming and entertainment industries,” said Nick Peck, the Bloomberg employee who created the rig. “This is a mockup of how virtual reality can be applied in the workplace.”

Mockup is the right word. The virtual screens aren’t connected to an actual terminal; they are screenshots and videos. And you manipulate the experience with a clunky mouse, though Peck is working to add gesture control with a Leap Motion.

Still, as a proof of concept, it succeeds. Lots of Bloomberg terminal customers obsess over the arrangement of charts, data, alerts, and messages on their displays at work. Peck said, “I really wanted to explore how virtual reality could solve one of the most basic problems we hear about: limited screen real estate.”

Bloomberg is already increasing the size of the twin screens in its standard terminal setup from 17 inches diagonally to 21 and, eventually, 23 inches. The terminal’s software also supports custom arrangements that can become absurdly complex. But you can only fit so many pixels onto a real-life trading floor. With Oculus, the terminal screens—or any screen, really—can expand in any direction without limit.

Moreover, a virtual workspace could be transported home, where terminal setups are typically far less elaborate. Screen arrangements could easily change based on time of day. Colleagues could come together from different parts of the world. Data visualizations could add a third dimension of analysis.

It’s early yet for virtual reality, let alone applications of the technology that could work in a financial firm. But Bloomberg is excited enough about the virtual terminal to have demonstrated it last month at a retreat for senior executives. Bloomberg CEO Dan Doctoroff has donned an Oculus headset to try it.

Bloomberg generates the vast majority of its more than $8 billion in annual revenue from terminal subscriptions, which range from $20,000 to $24,000 per person annually. The company last year weathered a scandal over employees, including Bloomberg journalists, snooping on usage of the terminals by important customers.

But the business remains challenged by new competitors and, more broadly, the internet. It has generally responded to new platforms by accepting them. Most terminal functions are now available on Bloomberg’s iPad app, for instance. In that sense, Oculus is just another platform for the terminal to adopt.

Virtual reality is probably not the future of Bloomberg, but it could be future.

Check out Glass for more on the future of screens