Game Developers Conference (GDC)
One of the key driving forces for VR hardware has been the gaming industry. A key date in the year for this area of the industry is the games developer conference (GDC). Taking place this March in San Fransisco.
Notable this year is HTCs announcement of it’s Vive Focus. Tested by consumers in China for feedback the Focus is now getting international release. HTC clearly wants to be in direct competition with the Oculus Go and the Google Daydream. This competition is a sign of a new category of VR headsets. One where the first major commercial footing might be found. Standalone headsets will strike a happy medium, between the limitations of the cheaper mobile based platform and the hyper expensive PC VR rigs.
The Vive Focus is driven by the Qualcomm 835 mobile chipset. It has expandable memory and is purely pick up and play. The controller is not IR tracked but neither is it’s rivals, this offers limited options for the games built or adapted for the platform. In gaming terms this is likely to fill a niche similar to consoles at the moment, in reality this is likely to be the most lucrative if the current console market today is anything to go by.
GDC saw another exciting update on the Magic Leap. Leap looks to be one of the most impressive implementations of AR for day to day use and has just opened its SDK portal for developers. With its slightly steampunk look and stand alone nature this could win the hearts of masses upon release.
Second Generation Headsets
Another recent HTC announcement has been the Vive Pro which has taken some flack for its high price point of £799 for the headset alone. The name does allude to its more commercial use but HTC have done little to draw people to that conclusion. The headset comes with a 78% increase in spec bringing the resolution to 2880 x 1600 and DPI to 615. The headset comes with headphones, a much simpler cable system and sits much better on your head. There are two front facing camera which HTC have yet to announce more about and a blissful absence of visual lag despite the higher spec.
Oculus are a half step behind in terms of major headset generations in hardware, the Rift however is currently first for users on steam by a small margin, probably due to the the currently lower price point. The new Oculus Go stands to present a mighty challenge to HTC’s Focus. Using fixated foveated rendering (FFR) for the first time, the internal processor will have a much lower workload. FFR detects where you are looking and focuses on that point in same way our eyes do. This not only feels more natural but stops the entire 360 environment needing to be fully rendered at all times. The wireless nature of these VR lite headsets may be a key to their success and for first time VR buyers may be the first point to jump in, especially at around the £150 mark.
An upgraded Vive 2.0 tracker has also seen a stealth release allowing for use in a larger play space, attachment to DSLR cameras and objects like rackets for additional ingame immersion. This seems more of an upgrade for the hardcore elite, VR arcades or developers.
New First Generation Hardware
Microsoft continues with their more conservative approach to new tech. Farming out the blueprint for their MR headsets to computer manufacturers like Dell and Acer has finally put their name in the ring but limited their involvement. The reviews have been positive for these headsets and with the recent Steam support this year should see a much improved uptake. Hololens continues to lurk but just the look of the Magic Leap would seem to relate it to the back of class before its left home, from a consumer perspective anyway.
One recent research project by Microsoft has turned up what looks like a very actionable Haptic controller. The CLAW while still very heavy duty and clearly unlikely to be wireless in its current form may trickle into all next gen haptic controllers. If you were to combine a CLAW lite with a yet to be seen Microsoft MR headset, the ingredients would be there for a market changing shift, perhaps E3 in June but that may be a touch to optimistic.
The physical landscape of VR continues to change at an accelerated pace so keep an eye out for our updates as we look to stay on top of this invigorating field of modern technology. If this piqued your interest, click here for our article on virtual reality software updates.
By Joe Turner-McMullan