Virtual reality is a topic that has seriously interested me in 2017. Although we constantly hear about the “death of VR”, I have faith that VR is the future of technology to some degree. It might take decades and we probably won’t be ditching our normal lives for the a virtual one, but VR has an unbelievable potential to take off. Now, VR offerings are decent these days, ranging from the makeshift Google Cardboard to high-power HTC Vive. However, I’ll be focusing on OSVR (Open-Source Virtual Reality) for the purpose of this article.
Backed by Razer and Sensics, the OSVR project aims to create an interchangeable system for VR hardware and software components alike. It encompasses hundreds of HMDs, controllers, and other peripherals to bring together hardware under one common roof. The software platform works similarly, supporting several operating systems and game engines. OSVR gives developers freedom in the VR space and essentially serves as a dev kit with a wealth of customization. In essence, OSVR is built with developers in mind, but provides a few benefits which may interest the average consumer too.
In regards to central hardware, OSVR exists as a head-mounted display called the HDK (Hacker Development Kit). It costs about $500 at the moment and boasts specs up to par with the leading HMDs in the market. With a 2160 x 1200 dual display at 90 Hz, 110° field of view, and 8x9 feet tracking zone, the HDK does not disappoint. For this reason, it may appeal to both developers and VR enthusiasts alike. Furthermore, it’s compatible with all these VR devices. The real drawback here is that operating OSVR requires a knack for technical troubleshooting and setup. It’s generally unpolished and isn’t meant to serve as a perfect VR experience, but a way to tinker with different modules and configurations. You’re bound to encounter several cumbersome issues when working with the HDK which all come at the price of being open-source. Note that image stutter, distorted edges, startup crashes, uncomfortable nose support, and graphic driver issues have been specifically reported by HDK 2 reviewers on a regular basis.
On the software side, OSVR blurs the line between assorted devices and applications in order to make it easier on developers. The OSVR core is written in C++ but repository activity has definitely slowed down considerably in 2017 compared to years past. The system allows devs to choose their preferred tools, both physically and digitally, without any real difficulties. It also allows for various plugins to be implemented such as eye or gesture tracking. Several of these plugins are open-source as well, allowing for further expansion on the OSVR modular ecosystem. Lastly, it’s all free to use and under the Apache 2.0 License, which allows for both modification and distribution. OSVR is so appealing because it also works with every major game engine like Unity, Unreal, and even SteamVR with custom support. Integrating these engines is relatively simple and opens the gates to unrestricted VR game experimentation.
There aren’t really any other companies working on something similar to OSVR other than Valve. In collaboration with OSVR, Valve is developing a similar system called OpenVR. This software development kit works alongside SteamVR to provide some additional optimization and freedom. Generally speaking though, OSVR can be considered the only major open-source VR development setup out there.
Although OSVR has lost some traction in recent months, the future still looks very bright. Razer continues to fund OSVR with millions of dollars and the HDK has been out for a couple years now. Every day, the applications and commitments to VR increase thanks to projects such as OSVR. An open-source option in the VR market breaks some boundaries and keeps development moving steadily ahead in a technology that may completely change the game.
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