Now that Palmer Luckey and Oculus VR have made virtual reality a thing, everyone wants a piece of the action. Gizmag went hands-on with one of those attempts, the initial developer kit for Razer's open source virtual reality platform.
After using the excellent Oculus Rift (prototypes) and Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR, our quick demo with the Razer headset was a big pile of "meh." Is it virtual reality? Yep. Is it in any way better than the innovators that it's following? Nope.
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Our demo involved a stationary shooting game, blasting away baddies in a forest, using hand control (courtesy of a Leap Motion sensor strapped to its front). Generally speaking, there wasn't anything unusually immersive about the experience or anything new about the technology that's driving it.
The one thing that does make Razer's take on VR unique is its open-source nature. Dubbed OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality), the platform isn't its own standalone operating system, but instead a standardized interface that developers can use to build apps on top of "any operating system" (including Windows, Android and Linux). It even plays nicely with the Oculus Rift DK2. The underlying theory is that open source inherently accelerates innovation and lowers financial bars of entry, and that OSVR will do that more than other platforms.
Min-Liang Tan, Razer co-founder and CEO, said in a press release that "OSVR brings game developers, gamers and hardware manufacturers together to solve those challenges and make virtual reality gaming a reality for the masses."
Noble enough aspirations, we suppose. But we aren't sure if an open-source standard is really necessary – or a recipe for success – in the burgeoning world of VR. In mobile, the open-sourced and affordable Android rose as an antidote to the closed and restrictive iOS (and the expensive devices that ran it). But the Oculus platform, at least right now, isn't remotely restrictive and the consumer Oculus Rift is likely to fall in the US$200-400 range. How an open-source alternative is needed here is anyone's guess. Perhaps we're looking at a solution desperately seeking a problem (and a seat at a potentially lucrative table).
But if you live and die by open source, then perhaps this will get you geared up to build the next great virtual reality app. Don't let our lack of enthusiasm stop you.
Razer's "OSVR Hacker Dev Kit" starts shipping in June for US$200.
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