Qualcomm’s efforts to push into mobile virtual reality (VR) have not gone unnoticed. While it’s the Snapdragon line of processors that are intended to be the headline it’s the prototype hardware that’s stealing the show. At CES 2017, Qualcomm has returned with a new version of the head-mounted display (HMD), showcasing a VR preview experience for the forthcoming Power Rangers motion-picture.
The prototype hardware has changed significantly in form since VRFocus’ first hands-on with the device back at SIGGRAPH 2016, but the functionality remains largely the same. At that time only a single build was available while here at CES 2017 dozens of HMDs have been presented on a central platform of Qualcomm’s expansive booth, each featuring a unique skin based on a character from the Power Rangers movie. The HMD in now thinner and lighter than the previous model yet also feels more sturdy, however the headstrap and focusing wheel still feel significantly inferior to a Gear VR or Google Daydream.
The tracking capabilities of the HMD were also fairly limited in the demonstration software available. While only a simple character model was presented previously, the vastly more complex Power Rangers experience afforded little opportunity to take advantage of the tracking technology. Maybe the intention was subtlety – given Qualcomm’s commitment to the processor within over the HMD itself – but ignoring the potential of the HMD in a post-Santa Cruz reveal era is arguably a mistake.
As for the experience itself? Power Rangers is a movie tie-in that strikes close to the effect of the Pacific Rim experience that was made available for the Gear VR early in its lifetime. The player is placed in what is, we assume, the movie’s version of the Rangers’ Command Centre; a rocky environment in which a small robot, Alpha 5, is debating the situation-at-hand with Zordon (recently revealed as played by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame). Briefly introducing the teenage heroes that the fate of the world will rest upon.
Once the dialogue sequence is finished a series of Zords rise from underground and surround the player, springing into life as they reach the surface level. Once all have risen the player is able to choose one via gaze control to get a closer look at, and the experience suddenly changes.
During the hands-on preview VRFocus chose to enter the Red Ranger’s Tyrannosaurus, though given all five Zords are available there will undoubtedly be reason for core fans to replay the experience. Once chosen the player is immediately transported into the cockpit, able to interact with all of the monitors and feedback in the environment through gaze control. Jason, the Red Ranger himself, introduces the Zord and remarks wittily about its capabilities, before demonstrating them to the player in a brief and slightly underwhelming show of aggression.
The Power Rangers VR experience isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s another part of the movie tie-in channel that VR aficionados will have come to expect. It does the job of building hype, adding multimedia marketing in a fashion that’s still considered unique and interesting. The HMD upon which it’s being demonstrated however, remains the real star of Qualcomm’s CES showcase in 2017.
You can see images from the experience of the new look Zords, courtesy of Lionsgate, below: