Razer OSVR Hacker Developer Kit 1.4 Review

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Consumer-grade virtual reality hardware is just getting off the ground. The industry is still in its infancy and we're bound to see plenty of change in the months to come. The idea of an open source platform that embraces all manner of VR devices sounds great. But there's plenty of room for apprehension too. We currently have two excellent products in the Rift and Vive. And although more competition is always welcome, without some sort of standard in place, it's difficult to peg the OSVR HDK's place in the market.

On paper, the OSVR HDK 1.4 doesn't seem that impressive, especially compared to the other options out there. The headset is heavier and employs a lower resolution; the OSVR kit doesn't even refresh at the 90Hz we've come to accept as a minimum for enjoyable VR. Hardware-wise, the OSVR HDK's biggest draw is its more accessible gaming PC requirements.

After testing the HMD for myself, I've come to realize that spec sheets don't tell the full story. The OSVR HDK isn't a refined Cadillac like the Rift, and it's not a sophisticated Ferrari like the Vive. The OSVR HDK is what you buy when you can't afford luxury, but still want to have some fun. It may take a bit of tinkering, or even upgrades down the road, but it gets the job done at the end of your day.

A 60Hz display isn't perfect, of course. Then again, if you have enough graphics horsepower at your disposal, the lower refresh rate doesn't manifest as a problem. You'll notice it most if your VR experience involves looking from side to side quickly. Occasionally, the display can't keep up when you move too fast.

Stepping up from a low-end graphics card certainly mitigates much of this. Razer says a GeForce GTX 660 delivers enough performance to operate the OSVR HDK 1.4, but I don't agree. You can enjoy some content on a low-end card, but that's not universal across all of the VR titles we ran. If you really want to enjoy the full range of VR experiences available through SteamVR, you need a more powerful GPU.

The OSVR HDK's ability to take upgrades in the future is rather compelling, though we've yet to see this in practice. The HDK 1.4 already incorporates IR tracking, which is the one option available for the older version of the OSVR HDK. A Leap Motion-enabled faceplate was announced around the same time that the HDK 1.4 was revealed, but it's still not selling yet. Really, the upgrade path for this HMD isn't clear at all, and Razer doesn't have any announced plans to bolster the two components we'd like to see upgraded most: the display and IR tracking system.

Razer did announce a new version of the OSVR HDK at E3, though. It features the same display configuration as Oculus' Rift and HTC's Vive, boasting two 1080x1200 displays refreshing at 90Hz. Unfortunately, the company tells us that there are no provisions for existing owners to upgrade. We were also surprised to hear that the IR tracking system will remain the same for version 2.0, too. In our opinion, these are the OSVR HDK 1.4's weakest points.

Virtual reality will be around for a long time. Eventually, you'll be able to buy GTX 970- or R9 290-class performance cheaply (we're already seeing that with the RX 480 and possibly the GTX 1060). But for now, if you don't want to spend the big bucks, you'll have to make some compromises. The OSVR HDK 1.4 is by no means perfect, but it's relatively affordable. Some content doesn't work well yet, and the tracking system leaves a lot to be desired. Then again, for SteamVR on a budget, there's no better option.

The OSVR Hacker Developer Kit was originally meant for software devs, but it's much more interesting to gamers now that SteamVR is supported. If you want to build a SteamVR-compatible game on a budget, the OSVR HDK offers a way to get your feet wet, so long as you don't need room-scale tracking for your concept. Develop your game with the OSVR, and it should work with both the Vive and Rift through SteamVR.

MORE: The History of Virtual Reality

MORE: The HTC Vive VR Launch Titles

MORE: SteamVR Performance Test: 16 GPUs Compared

MORE: Beta SteamVR Interface Is Easy To Navigate, Offers Customization

MORE: The Oculus Rift Review

MORE: The HTC Vive Review

MORE: The Past, Present, And Future Of VR And AR: The Pioneers Speak

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 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? :|