Virtual reality is a term that is familiar to me. So much so that I remember (only vaguely, I must admit) a conference that I gave at an Italian secondary school in Madrid in the mid-1990s. During the conference, I said that we were on the cusp of unlimited possibilities when it came to using virtual reality in scientific fields.
I didn’t mention anything about virtual reality being accessible to everyone. Because at that time the technology behind VR helmets and gloves used in the medical field to handle, for example, proteins, had not made its way into devices that we could have in our homes.
All I can remember was a pair of fairly heavy glasses that came with a very average game that reproduced environments in 3D. In truth, if after three minutes you didn’t have a pounding headache and feel horribly dizzy, you were probably a fighter pilot or an astronaut. In short, no normal person was able to put up with this simulation of virtual reality.
And I use the word “simulation” because, despite the success of certain virtual worlds (anyone remember Second Life?), it was a watered down version of virtual reality. By this, I mean there was basically no immersion and the interaction with the 3D spaces was dreadful.
Next stop: immersive 3D video games
Twenty years on, technology has now reached a level where it can meet the graphical and computing requirements of virtual reality in the domestic realm, primarily in video games. The ubiquitous phrase “This is the year of virtual reality” is one that has never left—nor will ever leave—my lips. I am extremely cynical about this sort of statement. Despite this, virtual reality was the big draw at CES 2015, held in Las Vegas.
This is not something that I’m going to start shouting about. After all, “This is the year of…” is something that is heard numerous times about products that ultimately come to nothing (such products are typically known as “vaporware”).
That said, there is a lot going on in the world of video games that makes use of virtual reality devices, in particular glasses—although calling them “glasses” is a bit of a stretch, seeing as they don’t resemble the ones that I wear on a daily basis in any way, shape or form.
OSVR: an open source ecosystem
There are several competing devices and we’ve talked about them in the article: Get your game face on! 9 Virtual Reality (VR) headsets compared. One that caught our attention at CES 2015 was Razer’s Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) approach, an open platform for creating video games. Using special devices (for example, the aforementioned glasses), this platform allows us to enjoy virtual worlds where the level of immersion is very successful.
OSVR is a project supported by companies such as Razer, Leap Motion, Sixense, Gearbox Software, Otoy, Sensics, Nod and Untold Games. The most interesting thing about OSVR is a development kit called OSVR Hacker Dev Kit, which costs only $199.99.
Before explaining what OSVR brings to the gaming landscape of virtual reality, let’s take a look at the hardware that is included in the development kit:
- HMD module: A sensor with an integrated accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. Also includes an external USB 3.0 connection for additional accessories and two extra USB 3.0 connections for internal expansion.
- Screen: A 5.5-inch FHD OLED with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels (401 PPI), capable of supporting 60 fps visuals. Screens are interchangeable.
- Optical module: A two-lens system (to avoid eyestrain) with a 100 degree, diagonal field of vision (90º H x 90º V). Independent adjustment of interpupillary distance and diopters for use without glasses (for those people who need them, obviously).
- Mechanical HMD module: A removable face mask cushioned with microfiber foam for additional comfort.
- Belt: Provides additional USB 3.0 connectivity, integrated surround sound codec, ergonomic cable management system and a signal booster.
With regard to the software, video games that have been developed using the graphics engines Unity 3D, Unreal Engine 4, Chrome Engine, Unigine and HeroEngine will all be compatible with OSVR. What’s more, games developed using OSVR will also be compatible with other VR devices, such as Oculus Rift.
Without a doubt, OSVR is a breath of fresh air in the world of virtual reality. It is not controlled by a particular company, works on multiple operating systems (Android, Windows and Linux), and it is based on an open source platform.
I wish OSVR all the best, because it will help to avoid the fragmentation that we are currently experiencing caused by the dozens of virtual reality devices now available. In doing so, developers can program using a wider range of compatible devices, which ensures that their work is more widely available (and profitable).
Now all that’s left is to hope that—as some digital entertainment gurus predict—all homes in the future will feature a virtual reality device. OSVR is a clear step toward this future.