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Healing The Rift: Razer Aims To Democratise VR

hello facebox my old friend

God only knows where they get the money from, but hardware firm Razer are a reliable source of massively optimistic gaming tech that it’s hard to believe will ever quite take off despite how it appealing it sounds on paper. Hands up who owns a Razer Hydra? Or a Razer Edge Pro? Or is planning on a Project Christine? Well, maybe this one will hit the big time: OSVR, an attempt to essentially make games which support one type of VR headset play nice with any type of VR headset.
While Oculus Rift has a bit of a march on rival virtual reality goggles by dint of having a bank account full of Facebucks, it’s far from the only VR effort out there. VR’s current futures are either one firm having a monopoly or the vote being split between dozens of different headsets, each of which only works with some games. One size fits all middleware is a great idea, presuming it’s possible. (I guess the stereoscopic side of things is, given it’s plastic lenses over an LCD screen whatever you do, but maybe stuff like the Oculus Rift’s motion camera would be more problematic?) And also presuming it doesn’t wind up being something built into NVIDIA and AMD’s drivers, or even a Windows update.

Razer’s Open Source Virtual Reality, aka OSVR, is being billed as “the Android of virtual reality,” though by that it’s referring to supporting a multitude of devices rather than to being an operating system. It’s aimed more at developers than consumers – i.e. you make your game, then OSVR makes sure it supports every headset that OSVR supports. From the consumer end, the theory is your game will do its eyeball-straining mega-3D thing regardless of which facebox you happen to own. It’s a nice idea, if one dependent on multiple headsets becoming commonplace. Sounds like it’ll also support various motion controllers, including the Leap Motion and Razer’s own Hydra.

While OSVR is software, it is accompanied by Razer’s own take on the VR headset, a relatively lo-fi pair of goggles which is roughly comparable to the Oculus DK2. Plan is that it’s open source though, and you can download specs and whatnot to 3D print yourself if you like. According to this Engadget report, Razer are trying to move VR out of its current slow-burn devkit doldrums by encouraging the community to muck around with higher specs and assorted tweaks of their own devising. Sounds a bit like a realm restricted to wealthier tech-types, but I like the idea of a storm of invention rather than simply waiting months to see what Oculus does next.

In the shorter term, you can buy a ready made Razer headset known as the ‘OSVR Hacker Dev Kit’ for a fairly reasonable $200, which is apparently “at cost”. That’s out in June, but you can get the specs and whatnot here.

I’m still all for VR, though the Oculus DK2 was far from the giant leap I’d hoped for. I think 2015 may still be too soon for it to really find its feet, but maybe an attempt like this to create more standards and consistency will help.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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