Standardisation is a distant dream for the virtual reality (VR) industry in its current state. A set of expected features for any head-mounted display (HMD) is hard to form with no real consumer hardware to base them off. As a result, the first generation of devices, set to release over the next 10 months, will form an immensely varied landscape, for both better and worse. Weighing up the pros and cons of each HMD (sometimes literally) is something that every VR fan is going to have to do in the near future, unless they’re fortunate enough to be able to splash out on more than one.
In a perfect world, there would be one HMD that would combine the absolute best features of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Project Morpheus and Gear VR. But what would that HMD look like? If you could take one defining element of each of these leading kits, what device would you end up with? Below, VRFocus has identified one key aspect of each upcoming device and how they could contribute to making the perfect HMD. The Oculus Gear Morpheus Vive isn’t something that’s ever going to happen but, in between them lies the ideal device for everyone.
Oculus Rift – Comfort
Spend a little time with any other HMD and then go back to either the Crescent Bay or Consumer versions of the Oculus Rift and you’ll instantly notice the striking difference in weight. Using the HTC Vive for just 10 minutes can take a toll on the bridge of your nose but the latest versions of what most consider to be the original VR HMD are almost miraculously light. Oculus VR hasn’t detailed exactly what sorcery it conjured to achieve this, but it gives the Oculus Rift a unique and important advantage in the comfort category right now. It feels as if you’re strapping a Google Cardboard to your face, only running PC-level experiences on a better screen (or screens).
It really can’t be overstated just how important this is. Oculus VR itself has often spoken of the days that VR kits resemble a pair of sunglasses, and the Oculus Rift is currently the closest to achieving this (though still some way off). Not only does this do wonders for just how long someone can actually use the kit, but it encourages you to really move your head in very natural ways. Obviously the size and shape of the device still has some way to go, but Oculus VR has already found a comfy weight for the Oculus Rift that will hopefully only be reduced over time.
HTC Vive – User Tracking
Many thought that accurate, consumer-ready user-tracking for a VR HMD was impossible in 2015, but Valve cracked it. SteamVR’s Room Scale tracking, currently only seen in the HTC Vive, certainly has its downsides (like trying not to forget you’re tethered to an expensive PC that you might just yank out), but it’s undeniably the most impressive solution to VR locomotion yet seen. Using a laser-based tracking system known as Lighthouse, players can walk around within an area of up to 15 feet by 15 feet and have those movements replicated in-game. A pair of position-tracked controllers also give you the type of hand presence that’s currently only being rivalled by Oculus Touch (which remains in prototype stages).
SteamVR quite literally changes the game and is arguably the most important breakthrough the technology has seen since the launch of the Oculus Rift DK1. VR developers now have a powerful new tool in their hands that will bring players even further into their worlds, turning everyday experiences as mundane as walking over to a light switch and flipping it into strangely compelling tasks. It’s best seen in titles such as The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, which have been transformed from intriguing Oculus Rift experiences into some of the most promising VR content on the horizon thanks to Room Scale tracking.
Project Morpheus – Accessibility
The Project Morpheus kit itself is no slouch, but the main advantage that Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) brings to the table is easily hardware standardisation and ease of use. SCE aims to make this a device that users can simply plug into their PlayStation 4. That accessibility could be key to the kit’s success but more important is the consistency this brings across the install base. Everything with a Project Morpheus will have the same hardware specs inside their console, the same camera for tracking, the same DualShock 4 for control and, should they choose, the same PlayStation Move for motion control.
This is immensely beneficial for developers that won’t be contending with varying PC specs, input solutions and more on PC. Studios can commit to certain design decisions, safe in the knowledge that players will be able to utilise the DualShock 4’s track pad, for example, or create actions that fit within the realms of what’s possible with PlayStation Move. It also allows the PlayStation 4’s VR ecosystem to have a rock solid list of requirements right from the word go, with the obvious drawback being how outdated these will become over the next few years, with no room for updates. PC-based VR is likely to have big barriers to entry for its first year, but Project Morpheus stands apart in this respect.
Gear VR – Mobility
The future of VR is wireless. The Oculus Rift may be as light as a feather and the HTC Vive may let us roam around virtual landscapes, but both are still grounded by the PCs that they’re tethered to. It’s a constant reminder of where you really are, and also something of a trip hazard when obscuring your vision. True VR that really captures the attention of the entire planet needs to be free of these shackles. The only thing even close to resembling a solution to this right now (at least on the consumer-facing side) is Oculus VR and Samsung’s mobile-based HMD, Gear VR.
Using a smartphone as both a display and a processor might limit the production quality that fans can expect of their VR experiences, but at least it allows them to enter VR without the constant nagging at the back of their heads. Gear VR is really more of an early glimpse at where the industry is headed over the next few years as opposed to the true solution to mobility in its current state. Ideally, the HMDs of tomorrow won’t even require a smartphone but instead utilise on-board GPUs. It’s a long way off, but this aspect of Gear VR is one of the most important foundations currently being laid.