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article imageOpen-source virtual reality headset wants to beat the Oculus Rift

By James Walker     Jun 13, 2016 in Technology
OSVR, an open-source virtual reality project to rival the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, has announced a new headset with upgraded specifications. The OSVR HDK 2 will retail at a much lower price than its competitors, potentially making it a popular choice.
OSVR is a joint effort between VR company Sensics and PC gaming hardware firm Razer. The project hopes to create an open standardized platform to enable VR hardware and software from multiple companies to be compatible with each other. This should allow you to play any OSVR game on any compatible headset with your choice of supported controller.
After releasing the first version of its headset last year, OSVR today announced a second-generation edition. Called the HDK 2 (short for "hacker development kit"), the new headset features upgraded specifications and an improved infrared position tracking camera.
HDK 2's biggest upgrade concerns its display. The previous version used a 1920x1080 resolution, on the limits of the requirements for immersive virtual reality. HDK 2 substantially increases this to 2160x1200, making text crisper and reducing eye strain. It has the same 90Hz refresh rate for smooth visuals, giving it identical display specs to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Unlike its main rivals, the OSVR headset does not include its own controllers. Instead, you'll be playing games with your gamepad. For titles that require more than a simple Xbox or PlayStation controller, you'll be able to buy OSVR-certified accessories from partners in the project.
OSVR is attempting to create a VR ecosystem unlike that envisioned by Oculus and HTC. Whereas those companies are primarily focused on creating their own hardware, software and accessories, OSVR encourages a collective effort around universal compatibility. In some ways, it could be considered to be to virtual reality what Android is to smartphones — an extensible platform with thousands of different permutations that can all run the same apps.
"We are on a mission to democratize VR by offering open, affordable, high-performance software and hardware solutions with nearly-universal device and game engine compatibility," said Yuval Boger, CEO of Sensics and co-founder of OSVR. "Powered by the effort of the core Sensics and Razer engineering teams, participation of OSVR partners and contributions from VR enthusiasts worldwide, we look forward to sharing new and exciting capabilities."
OSVR does have its issues though. It doesn't support virtual reality in the same scale as headsets like the Vive, incorporating only one camera. This prevents it from enabling room-scale experiences, restricting its field of view to what is directly in front of it and cutting out some of the most immersive apps and games.
Additionally, as with any VR headset, comfort and ergonomics will be important factors if OSVR is to succeed. The HDK 2 has yet to make its way into the hands of reviewers but earlier versions have been met with criticism for poor build quality.
The headset does have a standout feature that could save it though: an attractively low list price. At just $399, the HDK 2 significantly undercuts the $599 Rift and the $799 Rift, potentially making it a go-to option for gamers on a budget. However, it will still require a powerful high-end PC to run its software, an issue which is likely to restrict many people for some years to come.
OSVR is demonstrating the headset at the E3 games conference this week. It will be available to purchase online at the beginning of next month, presenting an alternative to the closed ecosystems of Oculus and HTC.
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