A look beyond the Rift to virtual reality's less famed hardware
Since it emerged from an online community and onto Kickstarter, Oculus Rift has become the defining VR headset of the current generation. But it isn’t the only option, and in the wake of that infamous and divisive Facebook acquisition, there’s an opportunity for alternative solutions. And as it happens, there are already numerous headsets out there. Here, we round up some of the most interesting, distinct and important.
Currently in its V2 iteration and far from commercial release, the InfinitEye’s key strength is the vast scope of its horizontal field of view. Compared to the Rift’s 90 degree window, InfinitEye offers immense support for peripheral vision with 210 degrees of horizontal field of view. It does so by offering not two, but four images of a given scene: two for each eye. As a result it’s something of a monster in terms of size, but as its creators are keen to point out, the current iteration weighs a fraction less than a Rift.
The Gamfeace is quite different from other VR headsets – otherwise known as head-mounted displays or HMDs. While others need connect with a separate platform such as a console or PC, Gameface is the platform. Based on the Android Jellybean iOS, it’s effectively a head-mounted VR microconsole. Talks are underway to integrate Nvidia’s Tegra K1 chip into the next model, which would mean the Gameface could support Unreal Engine 4 authored games. As it stands, the Mark IV model is pitched as perfect for Unity developers, and also comes with its own Android SDK.
Despite a movie viewing focus, the Glyph has several gaming applications thanks to its HDMI in. It’s noteworthy because it has no internal LED or OLED screens at all. Rather, it projects the image into the player’s eyes, offering vastly superior image quality. It simulates the equivalent of using an 80” HDTV, and also includes built-in noise cancelling headphones. After a barnstorming success on Kickstarter, it is presently available to pre-order.
Oculus Libre (and other homebrew headsets)
It’s easy to forget that the Rift started life as a DIY project; an attempt to build a homemade alternative to commercial offerings. That happened at the Meant to be Seen 3D online community, which has created many other home build projects through collective effort. The Oculus Libre, conceived by a Rift backer keen to get their hands on hardware before release, is one of the most impressive. And it’s creator Rod Furlon has shared a complete guide to building your own unit, linked immediately below.
Image credit: BitCortex and MTBS3D
The Sony VR HMDs
The timing of the Facebook Oculus acquisition was fortuitous for Sony, which had just made public it’s PS4 VR HMD Project Morpheus. While there’s desire for it to be opened up to support platforms beyond PS4, the mainstream market-focused Morpheus is an impressive piece of hardware. And it’s not Sony’s only VR HMD. The long available and hugely expensive Sony HMZ T3, now in it’s third generation, is actually intended mainly for home theatre experiences, but certainly suited as a gaming VR system.
An electronics free, 3D printed, crowd-manufactured, customisable, open source mobile only VR viewer – and not strictly a headset – the Altergaze is certainly innovative. A mobile phone slots in the front, allowing full stereoscopic 3D virtual reality with little cost to the user. Currently on Kickstarter, it’s conceived to engender ‘casual VR gaming’, but the Altergaze is also targeting events, exhibitions, architecture and many other sectors. Currently a Unity script is available for those wanting to introduce Altergaze support into their game, while a UDK parallel is in development.
Like the Altergaze, the Duroviz Dive demands the user slots in a smartphone to a simple headset. The Dive is currently ahead of the Altergaze, in that it is already available to consumers after a production run. And like the Altergaze, it demands games are controlled through the accelerometers and gyroscopes contained within a smartphone. Presently the Dive supports an impressive range of smartphones through a single unit. It promises to negate most of the nausea other VR HMDs often bring on, through a simple, open form factor.
Another VR Kickstarter success, like the AlterGaze and Dive, the VRase takes virtual reality to smartphone, with a fundamentally similar approach. It’s also presented as an AR device, as it lets the inserted phone make use of its camera throughout. Similar, the VRase’s creators are convinced in the system as a way to view films; something it’s immediate competitors emphasise less significantly. The Vrase additionally sports wireless control support.
Okay. The Omni isn’t a VR headset or viewer, but it is a piece of virtual reality hardware. Essentially a multi-directional treadmill to allow those in VR world to walk, run and turn on their feet, the Omni was initially designed so as to be 3D printed; the idea being that those in long duration space exploration missions using it for exercise and escapism could create one without needing to have the hardware take up valuable space on the launch mission. Back down on earth, it’s already been proved as a workable extension to FPSs. Consumers with spacious living rooms can secure one from September. At $499, it even comes with special shoes.
Want to get involved in our VR special all this week? Have something to say about virtual reality and what it means for developers? Email James.Batchelor@intentmedia.co.uk to find out how you can take part.