CY­BER RAZER CUT

How does the OSVR Hacker Dev Kit stand up?

EDGE - - KNOWLEDGE OSVR -

While Ocu­lus VR’s Cres­cent Bay pro­to­type is the near-fu­ture of VR, Razer’s $200 Hacker Dev Kit, ship­ping in June, looks very much the present. Putting it on is a lot like wear­ing an Ocu­lus DK2. The 1080p screen is high enough in res­o­lu­tion to be work­able, but the pixel grid is prom­i­nent. Mag­ni­fy­ing lenses sit be­tween your eyes and the dis­play, and re­quire a lit­tle fid­dling to be put into fo­cus. Re­fresh rate, mean­while, isn’t sick­en­ing, but it’s not as smooth as Cres­cent Bay, ei­ther. And there’s no po­si­tional track­ing in space, which Cres­cent Bay has by virtue of an ex­ter­nal cam­era.

Razer has made some smart de­ci­sions in the de­sign of its Dev Kit, though, with lens con­trols al­low­ing users to ad­just their fo­cus eas­ily. And while it wasn’t be­ing de­moed at CES, Razer’s hard­ware will be con­fig­urable and up­grade­able: de­vel­op­ers will be able to swap out the op­tics, the dis­play, or most other com­po­nents to cre­ate a dif­fer­ent head­set. It all fits neatly into Razer’s plan to spur hard­ware-ag­nos­tic devel­op­ment of VR games.

At CES, Razer de­moed the Hacker Dev Kit with a LeapMo­tion cam­era clipped onto the front. The cam­era picks up hand mo­tions and maps them in-game, al­low­ing you to move your real hands around and mime throw­ing fire­balls at a tar­get that floats around a snowy wood­scape. It proves hard to aim and track a mov­ing ob­ject in three­d­i­men­sional space, es­pe­cially given the de­lay be­tween phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal ac­tion. And the demo it­self isn’t a game that would sell any­one on VR (un­less be­ing a goal­keeper in

Kinect Sports sold you on Kinect – in which case, get ready to fall in love). But it does show­case the im­mer­sive po­ten­tial of mo­tion sens­ing in VR. When the tech­nol­ogy im­proves, a game such as Myst could work beau­ti­fully in VR with noth­ing but mo­tion con­trols.

as a bar­rier to en­try may re­sult in only more se­ri­ous de­vel­op­ers con­tribut­ing.

“OSVR is still at a very early stage, although it is us­able right now,” Mitchell says. “The end goal is to make it so sim­ple that de­vel­op­ers would not have to spend much on writ­ing code. We also hope to get con­tri­bu­tions from the com­mu­nity so that when new de­vices come out, we don’t have to be the first to im­ple­ment it. The com­mu­nity can add sup­port [it­self]. We’re not there yet. It’s fair to say we’re at an al­pha stage. But it’s a work­ing al­pha.” OSVR’s end goal of hard­ware-ag­nos­tic VR devel­op­ment point­edly pro­poses there will be an ar­ray of VR hard­ware out­side of Ocu­lus Rift. It as­sumes that the con­sumer Ocu­lus Rift head­set will be a flavour of VR hard­ware rather than a plat­form unto it­self. And yet there is cur­rently no se­ri­ous com­peti­tor for Ocu­lus Rift bar Sony’s Project Mor­pheus, which tar­gets a very dif­fer­ent plat­form. And OSVR likely won’t sup­port Mor­pheus, be­cause it’s re­moved from its sup­ported OSes of Win­dows, Linux and An­droid.

So is OSVR, or some­thing like it, truly in­te­gral to the sur­vival of VR? Or, at least, in­te­gral to the growth and pros­per­ity of VR as a medium?

That might be push­ing it. How­ever, Buck­wald points out that OSVR is a big plus for OEMs (orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers), which will po­ten­tially be able to build VR hard­ware that stands a chance of suc­cess in the mar­ket a few years from now. With­out any OEMs in the pic­ture, the VR hard­ware mar­ket may end up be­ing small, fea­tur­ing just Ocu­lus and Sony along­side a few much smaller com­pa­nies un­able to com­pete on an even foot­ing.

Razer’s re­la­tion­ship to Ocu­lus VR in all this seems strange, too. Ac­cord­ing to Razer, the OSVR SDK al­ready sup­ports Rift DK2, so there’s no real rea­son for de­vel­op­ers to make VR games ex­clu­sively with Ocu­lus APIs when they could de­velop for a broader range of hard­ware and sup­port Rift, too. But ac­cord­ing to Sen­sics CEO Boger in a Red­dit Ask Me Any­thing fo­cused on OSVR, the com­pany didn’t at­tempt to get Ocu­lus on board be­fore the launch. “We did not con­tact Ocu­lus prior to an­nounc­ing OSVR but would wel­come their con­tri­bu­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in it,” Boger said. “We are not anti-Ocu­lus. We are pro-VR, and Ocu­lus has an im­por­tant part to play in the pro-VR move­ment.”

Razer and Sen­sics may not be try­ing to com­pete with Ocu­lus VR di­rectly, but OSVR’s founders aren’t go­ing out of their way to work with Ocu­lus, ei­ther. There’s an­other con­cern, too: when it comes to slightly neb­u­lous projects de­buted at CES, his­tory is not on Razer’s side. At CES 2011, it in­tro­duced Switch Blade, a por­ta­ble gam­ing sys­tem with dy­namic LED keys. It won Best Of CES awards, but was never sold out­side of China. At CES 2014, Razer in­tro­duced Project Christine, a mod­u­lar gam­ing PC sys­tem. It won Best Of CES awards, but shows no signs of ever be­com­ing a real prod­uct. Razer’s Hy­dra mo­tion con­troller, an­other CES dar­ling, is no longer on sale. Razer is, how­ever, us­ing Hy­dra to demon­strate VR, and we may see the con­troller re­turn­ing in some form in the fu­ture.

OSVR, then, should be viewed with some scep­ti­cism. But un­like Switch Blade or Project Christine, which were never likely to be big sell­ers for Razer, OSVR rep­re­sents a gate­way to build a popular VR pe­riph­eral – per­haps even the de facto in­put de­vice for VR gam­ing, which is still a cru­cial un­solved prob­lem.

“On the pe­riph­eral side and the HMD [head-mounted dis­play] side, there’s a ton of dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies be­ing thrown around, and it’s very dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out what is the best tech­nol­ogy for each of those things,” Mitchell says. “Once we roll [OSVR] out and it’s in the mar­ket for a while, we’ll see the com­mu­nity com­ing in and try­ing dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies. That’s when we fig­ure out what’s the best tech­nol­ogy to then bring into the con­sumer space, which is our ul­ti­mate goal… Ul­ti­mately, what we’re in­ter­ested in is mak­ing vir­tual re­al­ity a re­al­ity. [That sounds] cliché and cheesy as hell, but that’s what we want to do. Get it to the con­sumer space, get it ready, and for us, be­cause we’re not en­tirely al­tru­is­tic, [the aim] is to be part of the ecosys­tem on the pe­riph­eral side of things. It’s not cru­cial for us to be in the HMD space.”

Razer’s long­est-last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to vir­tual re­al­ity is most likely to be that in­evitable pe­riph­eral, then: some­thing com­bin­ing Razer’s re­search into VR, its Hy­dra, and more than a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing gam­ing mice. In a way, that would solve a prob­lem much like OSVR aims to. The sooner we fig­ure out the best way to con­trol vir­tual re­al­ity, the sooner de­vel­op­ers can get on with cre­at­ing VR games that use it.

“We are not anti-Ocu­lus. We are pro-VR, and Ocu­lus has an im­por­tant part to play ”

Razer’s Hy­dra, of­fer­ing six de­grees of free­dom, has been dis­con­tin­ued, but the tech is be­ing used to demo VR

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