Just before E3, Razer and OpenSource VR announced their next generation virtual reality headset, the HDK2 (short for Hacker Development Kit 2). I was fortunate enough to use the $399 headset for a few minutes during E3 itself. Read on for quick impressions and photos!
What is the HDK2?
The HDK2 is a virtual reality headset for PCs designed by Open Source VR. The Open Source VR initiative is an alternative to closed VR platforms like the Oculus Rift. Instead of being locked to one specific marketplace, HDK2 can run games and applications from virtually anywhere. And as the name implies, developers can create their own applications for it without restriction.
A good headset needs good stats, and the HDK2 lives up to that part of the bargain. Its dual displays have with a combined resolution of 2160 x 1200, just like the HTC Vive. It can display games at up to 90 frames per second and has a 110-degree field of view. It also offers one unique feature: changeable faceplates. An optional Leap Motion-enabled faceplate will enhance the unit's motion tracking abilities.
Trying on the HDK2
The HDK2 is a relatively sleek black headset, not much different visually from the Oculus Rift. The default faceplate is nice and smooth with a large HDK2 logo letting the world know what headset you're wearing. The orange and black straps match the unit nicely.
Like other VR headsets, strapping it on your head takes a little doing. During my visit to the OpenSource VR E3 booth, a couple of people who were not highly acquainted with the straps tried to help me loosen them enough for my head size but couldn't do it. Shortly thereafter, someone else who had grown accustomed to the straps adjusted it for me without much trouble.
The HDK2 can be worn with glasses, but the folks at OpenSource VR recommend you take them off when using the headset. The headset's lenses can be adjusted individually for each eye. Notches on the bottom of the headset allow the user to slide each lens forward and back as necessary. My eyes are pretty bad without my glasses, but I was able to adjust the HDK2's lenses so that the image was almost perfectly clear.
An imperfect demo
Virtual reality experiences aren't just about the headsets, but also the way you control and interact with the game or application. Right now, the HDK2's primary control method is traditional controllers like the Xbox One. But plenty of unique control types are coming, such as the Gloveone from Neurodigital Technologies.
The Gloveone is a glove you wear that accurately maps not only the position of your hand, but all of your fingers as well. This has the potential to create some truly lifelike interactions in VR games and experiences. Imagine playing a game in which your character's hand does exactly what your own hand does – it would be like a hyper-accurate Kinect.
At present, the Gloveone is still in the prototype phase. It requires the user to wear both the glove and a harness fitted with sensors around his or her chest. A bit bulky, but necessary at this stage in the technology's life. The glove itself felt great to wear, which is a plus.
The Gloveone's VR demo places the user on a platform in a science fiction setting. Various objects float around you, including hex-nuts and a pencil. Wearing the glove, you can reach out and pick up these objects. Picking them up requires you to pinch with finger and thumb though, which is a far cry from the ideal of being able to interact with virtual objects naturalistically. Once you've got an item pinched, you can toss it and watch it bounce around in the low-G environment.
The real weakness to the demo as I played it is the user couldn't move around in the environment. You're stuck in one place hoping that stuff will float over to you. I'm told the final version of the demo will allow for some movement, which would probably spice things up a little. But given its current state, my time with the Gloveone was not too compelling.
The potential is there
I wish I could tell you I had a blast playing some cool VR game with the HDK2, but all I got to try was the Gloveone demo. My lackluster experience was not the fault of the headset, though. Once we managed to get the thing on my big noggin, it felt great. The visuals were in line with those of the Oculus and Vive, as was the weight of the headset. Like any gaming accessory, the HDK2 just needs compelling software to show how much fun it can be.
The HDK2 will be available in July at a price of $399.99. It can run any VR game for PC that isn't locked to a specific headset (Oculus) and doesn't require non-supported motion controllers. For $400, the HDK2 seems like a fairly affordable way to get into VR development or gaming.