Virtual rivals: the battle of the VR headsets heats up

It’s been a busy week for virtual reality. Sony’s long-awaited headset for the PS4, Project Morpheus, was unveiled on Tuesday, and Oculus Rift’s Development Kit 2 was announced on Wednesday.

But these were not the only VR headsets making waves this week. Over at London’s Wearable Technology Conference vrAse was wowing developers and tech press hounds alike, while 3D printed Altergaze hit a quarter of its Kickstarter campaign target with over a month to go.

Both products differ from Sony and Oculus’ offerings in that they are designed to work with your smartphone: by slotting your phone into either headset it becomes an effective VR device for gaming and 3D video.

Kickstarter has played a powerful role in getting VR headsets off the ground. Both vrAse and Oculus were also Kickstarter-funded, and there is clearly an appetite among would-be backers for this kind of tech.

vr-vrase

vrAse is pitching to a different market to Oculus in that its expected to be quite a bit cheaper, at less than £100. It’s also going for a slightly different approach by showing off its headset as an on-the-go device for use on planes, trains and out and about.

The headset is designed to work with a wide variety of smartphones. vrAse has created a ‘perfect fit’ model for leading handsets, including the iPhone 5, HTC One and Galaxy Note 2, as well as a standard model that works with phones sized between 3.5” to 6.3”, although the company recommends using smartphones sized between 5” and 6”.

vrAse can be used to watch 3D videos, play games in 3D with a bluetooth controller and as an AR device.

We had the pleasure of trying out vrAse at this week’s Wearable Technology Conference and were pretty impressed with the results. The game we tried, a rollercoaster simulator, was incredibly immersive and the 3D video felt very realistic.

vr-altergaze

However, a would-be contender to vrAse has popped up on Kickstarter in the form of Altergaze. The Altergaze headset functions very similarly to vrAse in that you put your smartphone into it to get a VR headset you can play games and watch videos on.

The key difference with Altergaze is that its 3D printed. This means that the cost is very low, and enables a very wide range of customisation – an appealing option for a technology that runs the risk of making you look a little silly if worn in public.

Altergaze is also using this manufacturing method to boost worldwide distribution by encouraging 3D print shops to become manufacturers.

The 3D printed, slotted together style of Altergaze also makes it resemble old fashioned goggles, giving it potential appeal with the steampunk crowd.

All in all, though, the key question will be whether these cheaper, smartphone-based VR headsets will appeal to users enough to let them contend with the big boys. In the long run their price and versatility might even give them an advantage.


Images courtesy of vrAse and Altergaze.


Merging realities: how AR and VR are transforming gaming as we know it

Yesterday Sony’s long-awaited virtual reality headset for the PS4, Project Morpheus, was revealed to the world. This was a somewhat epic moment in gaming, as it finally brought a technology that has been in the works for decades into the mainstream.

VR has a long history for a technology that has yet to truly take off. The first headset was developed way back in 1968, and examples of the technology have regularly appeared in popular culture since the eighties.

Previous iterations of VR have shared two problems that have been a barrier to mainstream success. The first is price: previous units have simply been too expensive to attract buyers outside of the gaming hardcore.

The second is what Valve, the company behind Steam, Portal and the Half Life series, are calling ‘presence’ – the feeling of being transported to another place that is maintained by adequate resolution, low latency and overall high technical quality. At this level, any motion sickness issues are also resolved.

Valve has been working with Project Morpheus’ main rival, Oculus Rift, which at present is only available as a developer version, but which has wowed reviewers with its Crystal Cove edition that is expected to be released within a year or so.

Although the current version does not quite achieve true presence, Valve expects Crystal Cove to achieve this VR holy grail. It remains to be seen whether Project Morpheus, which is still a prototype with no confirmed release date, will also manage this feat.

 project-morpheus-1

However, once both devices do hit the shelves, there could be a whole array of impacts on gaming.

Speaking yesterday at London’s Wearable Technology Conference, Alan Maxwell, founder and CEO of String, said: “I think there’s going to be a question of ‘can we make these things too real?’”

Maxwell suggested that there could be unexpected consequences from such immersive gaming, and that this type of technology has never previously been at the level where it could involve gamers so completely.

There may well also be an impact on the way developers create games. “There’s definitely going to be a learning curve for developers,” said Maxwell.

With VR bringing gamers into the action, scenery details in games may become far more important to ensure immersion. In multiplayer situations, gamers may also start to demand a much higher quality of, and perhaps more customisable, avatar.

Another potential change is the type of environment games are played in. Computer games have of course always been tied to external screens, with consoles making TVs the gaming hubs of most households.

But with VR headsets, TVs could end up becoming utterly superfluous, potentially opening up a whole array of spaces as potential gaming environments.

 Oculus-Rift

For some developers, there is a serious crossover here with augmented reality, with headsets creating the potential for highly detailed, real world-based games. “Are we going to see new genres of games emerging?” asked Maxwell.

“Seeing Mr Stay Puft from Ghostbusters as you’re walking down the street – that’s the kind of visceral thing you don’t see from other media,” he added.

Maxwell also believes AR could change indoor gaming for the better. “Imagine seeing old board games coming back to life,” he said. “Think of AR Star Wars chess!”


Featured image courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment.
Image 1 courtesy of Bago Games.
Image 2 courtesy of Oculus Rift.