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Razer OSVR Hacker Developer Kit 1.4 Review

The Razer OSVR HDK 1.4 offers VR on a budget. The HMD features a lower resolution than the typical VR systems, which lowers the GPU requirements for VR gaming, but can a 60Hz 1080p display really deliver a compelling VR experience?

Our (Subjective) Experience With OSVR

Gaming is without a doubt the primary draw of virtual reality hardware today. Anyone interested in buying the OSVR HDK is either looking to play games or make them. The OSVR platform is already compatible with a significant number of titles, but how well do they work on open source hardware?

Project CARS

Project CARS is arguably one of the best racing simulations ever published, and it's one of the few AAA games ported over to VR. On a conventional monitor, you get high-intensity action, and in VR the experience is amplified further. Playing Project CARS on the Rift or Vive requires a PC with significant performance, but the lower resolution and refresh rate of the OSVR HDK make it easier to run on mainstream components.

As expected, the game ran beautifully when we had a GeForce GTX 980 Ti installed in our test system. Frame rates remained smooth, and we didn’t notice any tearing.

Surprisingly, the game continued to run well with a GeForce GTX 660 installed. The detail settings had to be dropped to the Low preset, while anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering was turned off. But that yielded playable performance. Even with graphics quality turned down all the way, the details were clear enough to race without distraction. 

Radial G

Radial G is another VR racing game, though this one takes inspiration from the likes of F-Zero and Wipeout. You pilot a futuristic ship across a cylindrical track.

Radial G isn't a particularly intensive workload. With the GeForce GTX 980 Ti installed, frame rates were smooth, though we had some issues that appeared compatibility-oriented. After launching Radial G with SteamVR running, the game would load with an unresponsive controller. After firing it up a second time, the view was zoomed in so far that we couldn’t navigate the menus. Razer suggested disconnecting the IR tracking unit while playing Radial G, but that didn’t seem to help at all. We tried getting the game running many times and it never seemed to work properly.

Curiously, when we tried again using a GeForce GTX 660, Radial G worked perfectly. Better still, the GTX 660 seemed plenty fast for this title.

EVE: Gunjack

In EVE: Gunjack, you play a turret commander that has to defend a mining colony from space attacks. You aim with your head and fire with the triggers on your controller.

With a GeForce GTX 980 Ti installed, the game ran flawlessly. A lower resolution and 60Hz refresh rate barely tax Nvidia's former flagship. The GeForce GTX 660, on the other hand, worked much harder to keep up. EVE: Gunjack ran reasonably well, even if there were occasions when you could tell performance dipped lower than it should. Still, we'd call this one playable at the OSVR HDK 1.4's minimum GPU specification.

Descent: Underground

Descent: Underground is a throwback to the classic 90s space dogfighting game, Descent. You pilot a ship through mining tunnels in a zero-gravity environment inside an asteroid. The game pits you against other players in a six-degree-of-freedom battle.

Experimental VR support is enabled through SteamVR, but Descent: Underground is very dizzying, as you might imagine. Performance was fine running on a GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Meanwhile, a GeForce GTX 660 doesn’t even come close to a playable experience. Even the menus respond slowly. 

This game does a good enough job of making you sick by spinning you around in all directions. Do yourself a favor and make sure you at least have a powerful GPU installed before making it worse with choppy frame rates.

Marble Mountain

Marble Mountain is a modern twist on the classic maze box. You control the environment's angle with your controller to help guide a marble through a series of obstacles and puzzles. It’s very similar to Super Monkey Ball.

Marble Mountain offers graphics settings that help fine-tune performance. With a GeForce GTX 980 Ti installed, we were able to use the game's most taxing quality options. When we switched to the GeForce GTX 660, those settings were dropped to Low. Marble Mountain does have an option for changing resolution, but dialed-back quality options at 1920x1080 ran fine.

BigScreen Beta

BigScreen, which lets you use your desktop in VR, may be an option for some. It doesn't officially support OSVR, but the software launches through SteamVR and does seem to work. Unfortunately, the experience isn't ideal. The resolution of the full scene is 1080p, so the projected screen ends up at a significantly lower res and it's difficult to navigate Windows like that. Invest in a higher-resolution HMD if you want to play 2D content inside a 3D environment.

theBlu

The OSVR HDK 1.4 isn’t compatible with room-scale VR, so we didn’t expect theBlu to work. We decided to fire it up anyway, though, because Razer doesn't explicitly say you're limited to seated experiences when it comes to SteamVR compatibility.

If any room-scale title was going to work with OSVR, it was theBlu. This isn’t so much a game as it is a passive experience. That's why we thought we could get away without motion controller support. Sure enough, theBlu opened, but because you can't use a gamepad or mouse to select an experience, the opening lobby was as far as we could go.

We had the GTX 660 installed and noticed that, even in the level selection screen, the frame rate was less than ideal. If we had managed to select an experience, the card surely would have fallen flat on its face.

Kevin Carbotte is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews of graphics cards and virtual reality hardware.