OSVR Hacker Dev Kit Hands-on: Twice the Rift at half the price

OSVR is even better than the Oculus Rift and half the cost

While the Oculus Rift is making a splash with its big price and Facebook backing, it’s not the only VR headset around.

I’m not talking about the HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR, or even Google Cardboard. Spearheaded by gaming company Razer and VR developer Sensics, Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) has been building steam, bringing on a slew of partners that include big names like Intel, Visionics, Unigine, and Leap Motion. That collection of partners is starting to pay off in big ways.

It isn’t evident when using the headset that the whole thing is modular.

The open source platform means any brand can produce hardware and software, and all of the schematics and source code is available freely. But there still has to be a physical headset, and that headset is the OSVR Hacker Dev Kit. The $300 headset boasts a 1080p OLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, IR faceplate, a camera for position tracking, and the inherent ability to swap out or upgrade everything from the screen to the sensor module.

With big brands attached and compatibility with every major platform, it’s hard to see why the OSVR platform hasn’t received more attention. After trying it out at CES, it seems like it’s time for the underdog to shine.

Comfortable and modular

There isn’t a lot of room for creativity in the design of VR headsets: Simple is better, but too simple and the headset will look cheap. In that limited range, the OSVR is a victory, striking a balance of understated and recognizable, with dark orange accents on a mostly black base. Cables run from the top of the headset and through to the back of the headband, a common configuration. The improvement is that the cables run from the headset down to a hip unit. It clips onto your pocket or belt, keeping the cables close to your side so you don’t trip on them or catch them on your arms.

It isn’t evident when using the headset that the whole thing is modular. It feels cohesive and sturdy, with individual eye focus controls that allow for fine tuning and perfect focus. Some headsets, like the Rift and Vive, have moved towards a triangular band that sits on the crown of your head. The HDK opts for the more typical setup, like a sweatband with a mohawk. It doesn’t sit as snugly as the triangular option, but I didn’t find the headset uncomfortable or heavy as a result.

Available at: Razer Store

Balance is a big issue with headsets, but the HDK’s screen moves closer to the face with each iteration, offering better balance and improved comfort as a result. The whole experience is well designed, and I could imagine myself wearing it for at least a few hours of gameplay.

Slow and steady

The OSVR has one particular that has me especially excited. VR headsets often suffer from the screen-door effect, meaning you can see a grid of lines between individual pixels. It’s caused by the fact that the screen is just an inch or two from your face. The OSVR HDK solves it by using screen-level diffusion and refined optics. The result is a clear picture, snappy response times, and no screen door to speak of.

The HDK’s modular, open-source design opens up a treasure trove of features

That’s all despite the fact that the HDK’s resolution is just 960 x 1,080 per eye, as opposed to the Rift’s 1,080 x 1,200 per eye. The 120Hz refresh rate of the HDK screen makes a more noticeable difference in the clarity and responsiveness of the display, allowing for an experience that’s even smoother and more responsive than the Rift. In fact, having used the Rift in its final form a few times, I’m not afraid to say I enjoyed the OSVR experience more. The HDK looks less like virtual reality, and more like real life. That’s the goal after all, isn’t it?

While the HDK has the basic features of systems like the Rift, its modular, open-source design opens up a treasure trove of possibility. There’s already support for Leap Motion hand and gesture tracking with a swappable faceplate, and that’s just the start. There’s talk of eye tracking, positional tracking room, Android and Mac OS X support, and a big one – wireless streaming. Cutting the cord to VR headsets is a goal that will improve the user experience greatly, and the tech is already working as a proof of concept with the HDK.

On the flip side, the OSVR HDK asks the user to take on more responsibility in exchange for those perks. For example, the Rift’s minimum system requirements are quite a bit more demanding than the OSVR, because Oculus wants everyone who buys one to be able to play everything available for the platform. OSVR doesn’t have the same stringent requirements, because Razer thinks different users have different demands and goals. It’s a concept that PC gamers are used to. Unlike a console, not every PC is capable of running every game, and each user will have to tweak settings to achieve smooth gameplay.

A headset for the PC gamer

In its current form, the OSVR HDK is impressive, to say the least. But the possibilites are the real excitement. It might take a little more legwork on your part, but the reward is a VR headset that’s upgradeable, customizable to the hardware level, and half the price of the Rift.

The downside is that it isn’t as simple as the Rift. It’s not a plug and play device, and there’s no “OSVR Certified” program to ensure it will run with certain systems. There will always be tweaking and tuning to do.

But that’s nothing new for PC gamers, who have always had to be resourceful in order for their gaming experience to be as smooth as possible. This is the culmination of that effort, uniting the maker, DIY, and coding communities to produce a truly open-source VR platform. There’s so much potential, even in the Hacker Dev Kit, that it’s absolutely astounding.

Highs

  • Modular design
  • Upgradeable components
  • Huge potential
  • Lower system requirements

Lows

  • Some assembly required
  • Takes some tweaking
Product Review

The Black Shark gaming phone takes a big bite out of your free time, but the software sinks it

The world is being treated to an ever-increasing number of high-powered gaming phones. With so many great options already out, is there room for another? The Black Shark thinks so. But is it any good? We find out.
Mobile

Give Rachael Ray a run for her money with these 13 recipe apps

You don’t have to be Gordon Ramsay to make a killer meal, you just need an easy to follow recipe app. We’ve compiled our 13 favorite cooking apps for Android smartphones and iPhones, including countless recipes to suit any taste.
Mobile

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.
Gaming

Xbox One S vs. PlayStation 4 Slim: Which console is worth your money?

Microsoft's new Xbox One S and Sony's PlayStation 4 "Slim" have bucked the generational gaming console trend. But which of these stopgap systems is worth spending your paycheck on?
Computing

Oculus VR could upgrade the Rift with a new display in 2019

Oculus could be set to release a new version of its Rift headset in 2019, but it will be more of a modest upgrade than a true sequel. The Rift S, as its purportedly called, will have a new display, and inside-out tracking.
Mobile

Google awarded patent for using eye tracking to detect expressions in VR

Google was awarded a patent that involves using eye tracking to infer facial expressions using machine learning in virtual reality. The tech could help make virtual reality a whole lot more immersive than it already is.
Virtual Reality

Prototype Valve VR headset leaked: HTC Vive challenger confirmed?

Leaked images revealed that a Valve VR headset is in development, even amid Valve's partnership with HTC for the HTC Vive. Sources confirmed the device, which may be bundled with a Half-Life VR game.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Virtual Reality

Is the Vive Pro better than the original Vive? Our answer might surprise you

HTC Vive vs. Vive Pro, which comes out on top? That's the subject of our latest comparison, which looks at everything from tracking solutions, to controllers, and the brand new headset that could set a new standard for VR.
Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Computing

A Google patent shows a way to make VR even more immersive

Virtual reality can be a really immersive experience, but it does sometimes it does have boundaries. Google has addressed this problem by patenting shoes with a flexible region on the bottom.
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.
Gaming

Dive head first into the best experiences available now on the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift brought back virtual reality and put a modern twist to it. Grab your Touch Controllers, put on your VR headset, and jump into the fun with some of the best Oculus Rift games available now.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s $480M contract with U.S. military will equip soldiers with Hololens

Microsoft recently won a $480 million contract to equip American soldiers with up to 100,000 of its augmented reality Hololens headsets. Here's what we know so far about the new deal.