Today, Intel announced an all-new standalone VR headset: Project Alloy. With help from a colleague, CEO Brian Krzanich demoed the device onstage at Intel's Developer Forum in San Francisco. At first glance, it looks to be an ambitious, potentially powerful foray into VR.
The Alloy headset provides an experience that Intel calls "merged reality" – which you can add to augmented reality (AR), mixed reality and holographic computing, as different companies' terms that refer to the same thing. Similar to Microsoft's HoloLens, Intel's Alloy works by mapping your surroundings and adding a virtual reality layer on top. You physically move to interact with the virtual world, but you can still see the real-life objects around you, including people, walls and your own hands.
At first glance, the Alloy headset has a couple of standout features: one, it's mostly standalone, containing its own processor and battery. It doesn't require a connection to a phone or PC while using the headset, though it does apparently require a PC for installing games. Running on the Windows Holographic platform, it will likely be a much more powerful machine compared to smartphone-based mobile VR, but that remains to be seen.
Similarly, Alloy is also wireless. Unlike the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which need to be tethered to PCs, Intel's headset lets you roam snag-free. There are no additional sensors that need to be set up around the room or additional accessories to hold. This is not only a nice perk for when you're immersed in an alternate reality, it also mitigates potential safety hazards.
The camera-driven technology that provides a wireless experience might also be a downside. The Alloy doesn't appear to have any lenses to look through; real-life surroundings are conveyed only via live camera. In our experience up to this point, viewing reality through a live camera provides a weaker experience than looking directly at the world through a lens.
The headset allows for controller-free gesture tracking, a bit like a portable Kinect (and, again, like something we've already seen in HoloLens). This sounds great in theory – ditching the controllers and relying on hand gestures is where AR and VR will ultimately go – but up to this point, the tech hasn't been anywhere near ready for a pinpoint accurate experience. The accuracy of Alloy's gesture tracking will weigh heavily on how effective the product is.
Intel is partnering with Microsoft to optimize Alloy content on the Windows Holographic platform.
Intel will release the Alloy hardware and open APIs for developers starting in 2017.