Razer OSVR Hacker Developer Kit 1.4 Review

Why you can trust Tom's Hardware Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

System Requirements & Setup Process

If you want to get into a VR kit from HTC or Oculus, you’re going to need a fairly powerful gaming system. The requirements for each platform include a quad-core processor and either a GeForce GTX 970 or Radeon R9 290 graphics card. In comparison, the OSVR HMD requires less powerful hardware, largely due to its lower resolution and slower refresh rate.

The Rift and Vive feature side-by-side screens with a combined resolution of 2160x1200 pixels that operate at 90Hz, adding up to more than 233 million pixels per second (and that’s not counting the additional pixels that are often rendered). The OSVR HDK 1.4 utilizes a 1920x1080 resolution at 60Hz, which is only 124.4 million pixels per second. A less intensive workload allows the headset to run smoothly on decidedly mainstream gaming PCs.

Razer says you only need a GeForce GTX 660 or better. A great many gamers can satisfy that requirement. But can you truly extract a satisfying VR experience with four-year-old hardware? You might be surprised by the answer. I know I was.

Setup Process

The OSVR Hacker Development Kit 1.4, as its name suggests, does not have the polish of HTC's Vive or Oculus' Rift. These kits are meant to help the OSVR group and its affiliate members establish a foundation on which to build an open VR platform. Razer was adamant that we not treat this as a typical review, and we understand why. If you do happen to pick up an OSVR HDK, expect to tinker with it a little bit before you get it working.

The OSVR setup process hasn’t been locked down completely; it's still subject to regular changes. In general, though, there are two ways to use the HMD. As mentioned, OSVR has native content that requires a specific setup procedure. But the HMD is also compatible with SteamVR, which allows you to experience most of the seated content found on Valve’s platform.

Native OSVR Content

Getting native content working is fairly easy, though the process isn't terribly refined. OSVR’s instructions say to download the latest drivers for your GPU. But be careful. Nvidia releases drivers so often that it actually might be better to use an older build if you're having compatibility problems. These titles aren’t updated as quickly as Nvidia's release schedule.

Once the right driver is installed, you need to install the latest OSVR runtime software. Razer provides the URL for this when you purchase a Hacker Developer Kit. The runtime is available in 32- and 64-bit versions, so pick the one that matches your OS.

The next step depends on your graphics cards. If you own a GeForce GTX 970 or better, then your GPU should already be detected. The OSVR HDK supports Direct Mode when paired with Nvidia’s VR-Ready boards. All you have to do is start OSVR server, which is installed as part of the runtime package, and launch the VR app you want to use.

If you have an older or less powerful GPU, there are a few extra steps. First, check to see if the HMD is powered on. If there’s no image on the display, you have to use “Disable DirectMode” (found under OSVR in the Start menu) and then power-cycle the headset. You may also have to change the HMD's resolution. If you're seeing 1080x1920, change that to 1920x1080 but don’t alter the orientation.

There are two ways to use the OSVR HDK 1.4 when Direct Mode is disabled. It can be used in Extended Mode (needed for SteamVR) or Duplicate Mode. The former allows you to have multiple active displays (we tested with three LCD panels hooked up) while the HMD is in use. The only caveat is that the OSVR kit must be directly to the right of the primary monitor in Windows' display properties pane. Duplicate mode is less forgiving. It only works if the primary screen's resolution matches the OSVR display resolution.

SteamVR Content

Native OSVR content is useful for demonstrating what the hardware can do, but if you really want to put the HMD to use, you’ll want to configure the HMD to work with SteamVR. The setup process for this is definitely not set in stone, as the instructions we received from Razer were unusable by the time we received the kit (Valve recently made a change to the SteamVR beta options menu that broke the former procedure).

When then installation instructions were created, SteamVR had a list of different beta versions and you could manually select the build you wanted to install. OSVR was only compatible with a specific version. But in a recent update, Valve removed the option to pick and choose. You either opt in to the beta or not. The fix is the aforementioned beta package that Razer worked with Valve on, and again, it requires a special code to activate. With the correct version of SteamVR installed, you have to download the SteamVR-OSVR plug-in from Github and paste the contents into your SteamVR folder.

The OSVR HDK must be configured for Extended Mode, the HMD should be to the right of the primary Windows display, and your resolution has to be 1920x1080.

Once the resolution is set correctly, you launch osvr_server.exe and wait for the headset to be detected. You have to hold the HMD steady and in view of the IR camera for a few seconds while its position is calibrated. Once the OSVR HDK is found, start SteamVR and verify that the compositor is visible in the HMD. You should then be able to launch SteamVR content as if you were wearing a Vive or Rift.

You will notice that SteamVR throws an error about the room configuration being invalid. Razer advised us to ignore that message. The IR tracking system that OSVR uses isn't compatible with SteamVR's calibration process. The headset is designed to automatically locate its center point when the OSVR Server software is launched.

 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years. 

  • Jeff Fx
    > can a 60Hz 1080p display really deliver a compelling VR experience?

    If you can get games to work with it, maybe, if you haven't experienced modern VR and aren't susceptible to VR sickness.

    I had an eMagin 800x600 per eye VR system a decade ago, and it was pretty good for people who don't get VR sick, until Nvidia dropped support and it became useless.

    I'd recommend saving up for a Vive, the only full-VR system available today. Buying a low-quality alternative to something nice rarely turns out well. you'll just wind up junking it and spending the money on what you really wanted later.
  • John Nemesh
    The only thing worse than having buyers remorse after buying an $800 VR setup like the Vive is having buyers remorse after doing the "responsible" thing and finding out that it isn't what you really want...then flushing that "savings" down the toilet when you go and buy what you should have bought in the first place...
  • John Nemesh
    Wish I could edit posts...just for the record, I have ZERO buyers remorse with the Vive!
  • alidan
    Personally, all i want of vr is 3d, and track my head, that's it, no room scale no controllers, just simple sensors because what i want is a sit down experience with my head acting as a camera input, especially for racing games.
  • picture_perfect
    Sounds like a "me too" effort by Razer. I don't see much point in any more VR systems right now because the technology cap has already been hit by Oculus/Valve. Until computer performance increases we probably won't see much better. Well we might, but this isn't it.
  • caustin582
    I'm a Vive owner and while I have been pretty happy with my purchase, if there's one thing I could change it would be for it to have a higher resolution. Even at 1080x1200 per eye the individual pixels are easily visible and the image looks nowhere near as sharp as when I'm gaming on my old 1080p monitor. When the screen takes up such a wide field of view, the resolution needs to go way up in order to compensate.

    So it's kind of crazy to me that some companies think they can put out a good HMD that only splits a 1080p screen across both eyes. It might be worth it as a super-budget option for $99, but at $300 it's not all that cheap. Like it's not something most people are just going to buy on a whim and then happy forget about after they realize it looks ugly and makes them sick. Hate to be a downer but this really seems like the worst of both worlds. If you want a quick, cheap VR experience, you can build or buy a Google Cardboard. If you want the real thing, save up a little while longer and get an Oculus or Vive (or just wait until those are $300).
  • bit_user
    Thanks for the review, but just skimming the first page, I'm surprised not to see any mention of the HDK2.
  • bit_user
    18272515 said:
    Wish I could edit posts...
    You can in the forums. Just follow the link at the top of the comments.

    18272741 said:
    Sounds like a "me too" effort by Razer. I don't see much point in any more VR systems right now because the technology cap has already been hit by Oculus/Valve.
    Um, it was more of a "me first" effort, with the initial version beating them to market by about a year. I think the author dropped the ball on explaining HDKs origin and backstory. Although it's touched upon, in the last page, I think the rest of the review would've been better served by covering it in a little more depth, right up front. Otherwise, it's not clear why the product compares so poorly with Vive and Rift. It was made to compete with Oculus DK/DK2-era hardware. And the whole review should've been prefaced with the caveat that they're basically reviewing an obsolete product (see above point about HDK2).

    I'm also puzzled as to why you feel there's only room for 2 players, in this young and dynamic market. Would you say that about any other aspect of computer hardware? (true that, defacto, we have 2 players in CPUs and discrete GPUs, but that's more an issue of cost to enter those markets vs. upside potential).

    I'm really glad to see a low-cost solution in between phones and the premium PC HMDs. Maybe 1.4 isn't yet a compelling value offering, but I think there's definitely room for other players and other segments in this market than Vive/Rift.
  • JakeWearingKhakis
    Shoulda waited for the HDK2 to review really
  • kamhagh
    Doesn't look good :S even my 2k note 4 looks ridicules, I know you can't compare them ut you can compare the pixels :S my view is filled with dots

    BTW: why are all vr games stupid space games? :|