VR hardware moving along three separate paths

The virtual reality hardware landscape is changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. But one trend is already clear, with devices falling into one of three categories — PC and console peripherals, self-contained systems, and smartphone-powered headsets.

Here’s an overview of what’s going on with the all the major projects.

PC and console peripherals

These headsets are fully immersive, responsive to head movements and with a wide field of view. They typically connect to personal computers or gaming consoles.

Oculus Rift

dk2-product mediumMade by Oculus VR and recently acquired by Facebook for $2 billion, this is the device that kicked off the current virtual reality hardware race. A second-generation developer kit is available for pre-order for $350, with shipping in August. A date for release of the consumer version has not yet been announced.

The Oculus Rift is designed to work with personal computers, with a combination of built-in sensors and an external camera for head tracking.

Project Morpheus

Project Morpheus mediumSony’s answer to the Oculus Rift was introduced this year at the Game Developers Conference, the worlds largest game industry event for professionals.

A developer version of this headset has been made available to some game developers, but not to the public.

ANTVR

ANTVR mediumThe Beijing-based ANTVR Technology Co., Ltd. is already 90 percent of the way to a successful Kickstarter campaign, with 30 days still left to go.

ANTVR sets itself apart from the other platform with an open-source approach to hardware, a wireless design, and the fact that it comes packaged with a clever controller that can transform into a gun, joystick, or steering wheel.

The headset also has a built-in window that can be opened for a quick peek at your keyboard.

Kickstarter backers can get a beta kit for $270, with delivery currently estimated at September.

Totem

Totem mediumTotem is a device from True Player Gear that adds its own twist — two built-in cameras that allow the user to see the surrounding world without taking off the device.

The company plans a crowdfunding campaign this summer, with an official release of the product by the end of the year. Pricing is expected to be higher than the Oculus Rift because of the additional hardware.

Avegant Glyph

Avegant Glyph mediumAvegant‘s Glyph headset had a successful Kickstarter earlier this year, raising $1.5 million. It is currently available for pre-order for $500 with estimated delivery in the first quarter of 2015.

The Glyph’s main unique feature is its display, where the image is actually projected onto the eyes, resulting in a higher quality and less eye strain. However, it has a smaller field of view — just 45 degrees — than the other devices on this list.

While it has headtracking and can be used for immersive virtual reality games, the company seems to be marketing it as a personal theater for watching movies.

CastAR

Image converted using ifftoany
The CastAR from Seattle-based Technical Illusions is a device designed to be used like augmented reality glasses — for example, to play with 3D objects that seem to appear in front of you, like holograms, on a special reflective surface. They can be converted, with clipons, into regular augmented reality or virtual reality glasses — instead of projecting the virtual image on the special reflective surface, the image is reflected back from the inside of the clip-on.

The company held a successful Kickstarter last fall, raising over $1 million on a $400,000 goal.

Pre orders are $345 for estimated September delivery.

VReye Pro

VReye Pro The VReye Pro from Spain’s Vrelia, promises higher resolution than the Oculus Rift and a wider field of view. Prices and release dates aren’t available yet, but Road to VR reports that it could be out “by the end of the year.”

Smartphone accessories

This family of virtual reality devices is basically a shell into which users slide their smartphones. There’s typically a set of lenses that turn the screen into a full wrap-around virtual view.

App makers just have to create games that use the phone’s built-in accelerometer, and that show the images in the side-by-side view necessary for 3D displays.

These devices tend to be a lot less expensive, because they rely on the computing power in the cellphone you’ve already paid for. The downside is slower responsiveness — but this may change as smartphones improve. Just slide out the old phone and slide in the new one, and your headset instantly has better graphics and performance.

Sulon Cortex

Cortex mediumThe Cortex, from Ontario-based Sulon Technologies, stands out with the promise of an ultra-wide 140 degree field of view. The development kit is available for pre-order now for $499, for shipping at the end of this year.

The steep price is because the device isn’t just a case for a smartphone — there’s a built-in computer that actually scans the environment you’re in and the walls and other obstacles are mapped into the virtual reality, so that you can move around while wearing this device without crashing into anything.

Durovis Dive

durovis-dive mediumThe Durovis Dive is made by Muenster-based Shoogee GmbH & Co. KG and sells for about $77. It’s compatible with a wide array of smartphones, including most recent Android and iOS smartphones. Launch the app, snap the phone into the headset, adjust the lenses, and play the game or movie.

A handful of games are already available in the Google Play and iTunes app stores. For Android devices, there is also a virtual cinema app for the Dive.

vrAse

vrAse medium

The vrAse headset from Scotland-based Eyedak Ltd. had a successful Kickstarter last fall, but still hasn’t shipped the headsets. The last update, in mid May, reported that the company was still working on design improvements.

The price of the device hasn’t been set yet, but the company says it will be higher than the $65 Kickstarter price tag.

Vrizzmo

vrizzmo1The Vrizzimo from Poland-based De JET Works is also not yet available for purchase but the company is promising a development kit in June.

And they have a photo of what the device will look like.

VReye Go

VReye GoAnother head-mounted display from Spain’s Vrelia, is designed to work with existing smartphones.

No specs or prices have been announced but, again, according to Road to VR, it could be out by the end of the year.

VR Viewer

Yay3d VR ViewerThe generically-named VR Viewer from Yay3D is a bargain at just $49 and works with the 2013 Nexus 7 tablets — and also fits the 2012 Nexus 7 and the iPad mini, the company says.

With a 90 degree field of view, it’s close to what the Oculus Rift offers.

It can be used to watch Oculus Rift videos and other 3D movies, and is compatible with the side-by-side VR apps designed for the Durovis Dive, vrAse, and similar devices.

Refugio3D

Refugio3DFor just US$34 — including shipping — this smartphone frame from Refugio3D comes as a kit that you need to assemble yourself. It includes a flat body that folds into shape, lenses, straps, and other parts.

Or, for around $48, you can get it pre-assembled. It’s available in a variety of sizes to fit different smartphone models.

Compatible with all side-by-side videos and apps.

 

VR SmartView

vrSmartView_tThe VR SmartView came out of a startup competition at Sunshine Coast University’s Innovation Centre in Queensland, Australia.

The product is available for preorder for $99.95 — probably in Australian dollars. No shipping date has been announced.

The device is promised to work with devices from Apple, Samsung, HTC, Nokia and other smartphone makers.

Samsung’s rumored device

This smartphone accessory doesn’t even have a name yet, much less a photo, but folks are talking about it.

According to Engadget, it will have its own display, instead of using a snap-in smartphone, and is connected to a Samsung phone or tablet with a cable. According to reports, the device will be announced later this year and will cost less than the Oculus Rift.

Self-contained systems

These devices are stand-alone video game platforms, with computers built right into the headsets. They typically run on the Android operating system. They have all the benefits of a wireless headset, without the extra lag that wireless connections can sometimes add. Plus, you don’t need a computer or gaming console to use them.

GameFace

GameFace mediumThe development kit for the GameFace headset from GameFace Labs isn’t expected out until the end of the year at the earliest, but you can pre-register to get a development kit a month before everyone else.

The price hasn’t been announced yet, either,  but it’s expected to be higher than the Oculus because of the on-board computer.

GameFace apps need to be either custom-written in Unity or ported over from Android. The company says there are already 60 games to choose from, including many popular Android games.

It boasts a 2.5K display, a significant graphics improvement over the latest Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus.

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • Mircea Kitsune

    The only thing that interests me here is: Do all of these devices use a generic architecture? Or do developers have to implement support for each one individually? Computer mice for instance only require one driver… and applications themselves don’t need to code in support for Mircosoft mice, then for Genius mice, then for Logitech mice, and so on. If VR is to work out, it needs a common architecture!

    I’m imagining there are two separate systems involved here: Rendering image to the glasses, and the head tracking. The first should be okay if the Rift and all devices like it are detected and used as video devices… although I’m not sure if rendering stereoscopic image (having a different output to each lens) is something all display drivers and renderers know to do. In regard to head tracking, I still have no idea if it uses a generic mouse-like system, or a proprietary system specific to the Oculus… but if it’s the second that will harm implementation of VR technologies a lot.

    • I believe the headtracking simply maps to the way you turn — and we already have different mechanisms for that — keyboard, mouse, joysticks, etc…

      And I’ve heard some devices specifically promoting Oculus-compatibility, such as ANTVR. But not all are.

      Project Morpheus, for example, is designed as a peripheral for the Sony Playstation, and the Oculus is a peripheral for the PC.

      I’m still confused about why people buy consoles when there’s a perfectly good PC in the house, but my kids have made me buy a few over the years, so I guess there’s something there.

      And phone-based ones will need custom smartphone apps.

      For the rendering, most of the devices I’m looking at use standard HDMI inputs. However, they don’t all use the same kind of lenses. The way the lenses work is that they take an image that’s on a little screen in front of your face, and stretch it out so that it takes up your whole field of view. You can’t take a normal image and do this — it will get distorted. So what they do is the software takes a wide-field-of-view image, shrinks it to down so it fits on half the screen, then the lens un-shrinks it again.

      Each devices uses different lenses and has different field of views — this is where the SDK (software development kit) comes in, so that the software knows how much to pre-shrink the image.

      From what I’m seeing so far, it looks like we’ll have platform tracks, as opposed to device tracks. For example, VR games for the PC will work with the Oculus and the ANTVR and other PC-compatible VR headsets. VR games for the Playstation will work with Project Morpheus. And VR games for Android will work with all the Android-based devices like the Durovis Dive and vrAse.

      • Mircea Kitsune

        Thanks for the reply, that’s very useful and complete. Overall it sounds good to me then; If the lenses are detected like standard video devices (such as HDMI) and the head tracking like a peripheral device (such as the mouse), the most important parts are a common architecture, and VR headsets can flourish without creating an implementation mess for applications and drivers.

        Some details, like how exactly to stretch the image across the lenses so it has the best quality, might require device specific bits of software. But if I was to have a Rift or an alternative to it, I’d first care for stereoscopic image to work (different output to each lens) followed by the head tracking system. If a proprietary driver would then improve less critical factors, I might look into it or not.

  • all of this VR talk reminds me of the days when Virtual Boy was a big thing until doctors found out the red lines on the screen were damaging player’s eyes. I hope no medical problems are found with all of these new VR headsets.

    • Remember when computer monitors were leaking radiation and everyone had those shields on their computer screens?

  • GameFace Labs
  • Mircea Kitsune

    Oculus were indeed the first, since they were the spark that started it all. But if they don’t start patent trolling and trying to restrict the technology for themselves, they’re playing fair and I don’t have anything against that. Same with Facebook buying the project, as weary as I am of Facebook not to mention confused as to what FB possibly has to do with virtual reality.

    When such headsets will be out and I’ll have the money to buy one, I might or might not choose the Oculus or an alternative. For me it will depend on how generic the architecture is like I said… especially since I only use Linux and run the Second Life viewer with the free video drivers (Gallium & MESA).

  • Can you give some example of devices that would fit into this category? Also, what’s D&B and CEC?

  • Happy to provide a demo of the Seebright headset (www.seebright.com) which we exhibited at GDC, AWE & SVVR. It would fit in the smartphone accessories, including a dedicated controller and AR/VR eyepieces.