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 Oculus Rift Review
MORE: The HTC Vive Review