Search Results for: higher resolution
Search Results for: higher resolution
When Apple first launched its “Retina display”, they chose the term “retina” not because these higher screen resolution displays would sit close to the eye. Rather, it was because it was supposed to be so good that the eye couldn't distinguish the individual dots. That was at the distance people held their smart phones - about one foot.
Retina gave users a resolution of about 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Indeed for computers (laptops, desktops and tablets) a lower pixel density also worked. Viewers couldn't see individual pixels on Retina displays. However when it came to VR displays, that resolution fell short. Even at 300 ppi, virtual reality headsets suffered from the so-called “screen door effect.” This meant that it was as if you were standing in front of a mesh screen door.
However, this is about to change in a week’s time at the SID’s Display Week in Los Angeles, on May 22. That's because displays of 1000 ppi and even 2000 ppi will appear there. This is something of a quantum leap over what is currently available. (Back in June 2017, we reported that Samsung was working on a GearVR model with 2000 dpi density. Currently we have no further information on that effort into higher screen resolution.)
However, it is worth remembering that the Apple first introduced the Retina display for the iPhone 4 in 2010. Older readers may remember that 25 years earlier, Apple introduced 300 dots per inch resolution for their LaserWriter printer. Ironically, printers have evolved beyond that. Printer density went up to 600 dpi and then to 1200 dpi. And this despite the fact that we don’t hold printed pages any close to our eyes than we used to.
Unfortunately, similar improvements in pixel density for video displays have been stubbornly evasive. But this is a problem. The smartphone brought the screen closer to our eyes and the VR and AR display close still. So we can now look at printed images without seeing the dots, but we aren't so lucky with the pictures on our screens.
Now obviously some progress has been made in achieving higher screen resolution. Manufacturers have managed to push the 1080p screen format (1080 pixels height x 1920 width) into smaller screens. That's why we've got smartphones. Thus Apple introduced the 458 ppi “Super Retina display” on the iPhoneX. In effect, they maintained the existing resolution but improved brightness, sharpness and color fidelity.
However we still hold smartphones a comfortable 12 inches from our eyes. Not so for VR headsets. With head mounted displays, we have the screen an inch or so from our eyes. At that distance, the image must actually be focused on the eye. But even with the lens to focus the image, 400 ppi so close to your eyes creates a screen door effect. This the motivating factor behind the push for higher screen resolution.
The latest HTC Vive Pro, has improved resolution by 50%, achieving a pixel density of 615 ppi. But even this doesn't completely eliminate the screen door effect. Moreover, the Field of View of the Vive Pro is still only 110°. This still falls significantly short of the holy grail of Virtual Reality: filling the user’s central and peripheral vision with an FoV of 200° or 210°. To achieve that sort of FoV, and eliminate the screen door effect, will take lots of work. Aside from the screen display technology itself, it’s going to be pretty demanding on processing power. This is especially true given that VR gamers have grown accustomed to a 90 Hz refresh rate!
With VR it is not just about proximity. The lens doesn't just focus the image, it magnifies the dots. And this causes the user to see those dots. But the stronger the lens, the greater the distortion. If we can increase lens strength without loss of sharpness, then the screen can be made smaller. This will make it possible to build smaller VR headsets.Then we can get rid of the oversized monstrosities we have at present.
In an effort to develop higher screen resolution, Sony have teamed up with Toshiba and Hitachi on a venture called Japan Display (JDI). Last year JDI was working to achieve a pixel density of 803 ppi. However, they decided that even this was not enough and so they set their sights on 1001 ppi. And they achieved it. These advances, were aided by advances in lens technology, to focus the image over shorter distances, enabling the headset to shrink.
JDI has also reduced the response time from 4.5 milliseconds to 2.2 and increased the refresh rate to 120 Hz. In effect, JDI has decided to bypass its own 803 ppi breakthrough and go straight to 1001 ppi. But while they will be showcasing the technology next week, commercial products with this resolution will not be available until March 2019. However JDI promises that even more advanced products will follow rapidly.
However, the Sony-Toshiba-Hitachi alliance isn’t the only player in the running. INT, a Taiwanese company claims to have developed 2228 ppi displays for Virtual Reality, under a team headed by David Chu, using “ultra high pixel density” AMOLED technology. However, whilst Chu’s team have announced the pixel density, they haven’t revealed the overall resolution, colour contrast, brightness, refresh rate or FoV. One thing is for sure: such resolution will not only reduce screen door effect, it will also alleviate vergence-accommodation conflict (VAC).
Meanwhile a partnership between LG and Alphabet (Google’s parent) has developed a 4.3 inch OLED display, built around 18 megapixels, with a density of 1443 ppi. That’s more than JDI, but less than INT.
In a week’s time, these displays will be unveiled to the public for the first time. All such technologies offer the prospect of sharper images and higher, more all-encompassing, FoV.
However, such resolutions - especially at the high refresh rate and low-latency required by VR gamers - will make heavy demands on computing power. Even high-end desktops struggle to deliver consistent and good performance at present-day, VR resolution, latency and refresh specs. And the trend - or at least the aspiration - is that VR will be liberated from the constraints of physical connectivity or even wireless connectivity to an external box. To bring these graphics advances to fruition on VR platforms, will require similar progress in graphics processing technology.
And it remains to be be seen how quickly that can be accomplished.
Samsung is developing a new Gear VR model with a 2000 ppi resolution screen.
Despite its corporate might, Samsung has been lagging (technologically) behind most of the major players in the VR niche, albeit not as much as Apple. Their Gear VR headset is little more than a well-made housing for a Samsung phone which then serves as the screen - and indeed the entire nuts and bolts of the system.
This means that even with the best phone with the highest resolution, you get a maximum of 600 ppi. This is admitted better than the ultra expensive HTC Vive, which offers a mere 447 ppi, but it falls short in other respects, such as head tracking. Despite this, the Gear VR has been a hit sales-wise, perhaps because of its low price-point and affordability. What Samsung loses in margin, they more than make up in volume.
However the rumor mill is now leaking stories that Samsung is developing a new Gear VR model with a 2000 ppi resolution screen. If so, we’re talking about a great leap forward in sharpness. After all the whole point of VR is make the experience realistic. Stereoscopic vision without high resolution is a wasted effort. If Samsung can pull this off, they will almost certainly leapfrog the competition - or most of it at any rate.
The thing to remember is that current screen resolution looks fine on a phone that you hold 12 to 18 inches from your face. But when it is used as a screen, an inch or so from your eyes, it becomes fuzzy and causes nausea. This threefold or fourfold increase in resolution will make the images less fuzzy and equally less likely to cause nausea.
There had been rumors as far back as March 21st that a new version of Gear VR was going to have a significantly higher resolution. But then the figure was put at 1500 ppi. If the higher figure is true it will be a massive increase over current resolutions by any manufacturer. But the question is, will Samsung go all the way and integrate the hardware into the device? Will it need to connect to something else for power and/or content?
None of this is really known.Nor yet is there any word of the launch date or the price. It is unlikely that a system at this advanced level could be brought out onto the market without a significant price increase over Samsung’s existing “housing only” model.
And yet… the rumors are still swirling...
We've written in the past about the virtual office and the technologies that would be needed to make it a reality. Such technologies may include real keyboards positionally-mapped against a virtual counterpart, a wrist-worn gesture tracker (not a tracker glove as such. however depth sensing cameras that can track fingers to millimeter positions in 3D, or even technology that can sense the electrical impulses in the nerves of the lower arms, hands and fingers.
Other needed technologies are higher resolution and greater Field of View. This is promised by the the Star VR headset and the Pimax 8K
But the latest visitor to the party is a hand and finger tracker glove from Canadian start-up Zerokey. They have developed a sleek and elegant glove that enables millimeter level tracking of your hands and even your fingers.
The designers at ZeroKey have made the prototype gloves of an elastic microfiber material, that is porous, reducing sweat and discomfort. The elasticity, allows freedom of movement, while maintaining a tight fit, to ensure precise location tracking.
Unlike many prototypes, this one doesn't have loose wires going all over the place. Even at this stage, they have thought about the aesthetics of the design as well as the functionality.The black microfiber that covers the hardware, has a quietly understated, conservative professional look. The blue lines - redolent of science fiction - are conductive fibres linked to the sensors.
Upon reflection, white may have been a better choice for the main color. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey. Come to think of it, consider how Apple Computers would have made it. But it's early days yet. At this stage it is only a protoype. ZeroKey are currently developing an SDK for the glove and are taking indications of interest from developers on their website.
Do you want to know the difference between virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality? Are you considering buying a Windows mixed reality headset? In this review we’ll answer the question, compare the products and give you some advice on choosing which headset to buy.
First, what’s the difference between the three so-called “realities”? In brief, virtual reality creates a fully immersive artificial world via a headset that closes out the world. Augmented reality involves wearing transparent glasses through which you see the world, while virtual objects are overlaid either by being projected onto the glass or (in theory) onto the eyes themselves.
But what about “Mixed Reality”? This is where it gets a little confusing. The general and widespread definition of mixed reality is that it overlays reality with virtual objects (or real ones that are in another location), but these objects can be “anchored” to the real world and the user can interact with them like in virtual reality. Imagine having a videochat with friend hovering before you while at the same time walking in the street and looking ahead to see where you’re going.
The problem with this definition is two-fold. The first is that it could just be considered a definition of one of the uses of augmented reality, rather than a true separate category. The second is that Microsoft has just come along and introduced something called Windows Mixed Reality. This is a new standard for headsets by Microsoft partners, but despite the name, it is really just virtual reality by another name.
The reason Microsoft treats it as different is because their mixed reality headsets use inside-out tracking but have their own built-in screens. Inside-out tracking means that unlike the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, they don’t lighthouses or external towers to track your head position or movement. Having built-in screens is important. It means that unlike Google Cardboard, Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR, they are more than just phone housing units.
In fact, this combination of inside-out tracking but with its own built-in screen has been around for a while. The Osmose virtual reality headset was built on this concept and although the company behind it lacks the resources to market it like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, they still produced a credible product.
But now Microsoft has taken matters to a new level with Windows Mixed Reality. This is a new standard that has been implemented by Microsoft’s partners: Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung. These companies have already established themselves as makers of Windows-based PCs, so they clearly know their stuff. And with five of them competing in this area, there is good choice of headsets.
One of the good things about Microsoft getting in on VR - even if they insist on calling it “mixed reality”, is that it offers a cheaper alternative to getting into the virtual world via the high-end competition. At the same time, it avoids the kludgyness of the phone housing low-end units.
It is worth noting that there are two Windows Mixed Reality standards. There is the regular and then there is Mixed Reality Ultra. These headsets all support Ultra, but getting the benefits of Ultra is dependent on having WMR Ultra computer. Ultra offers a 90 Hz refresh rate, instead of the 60 Hz for regular WMR. It also offers better Field of View (100° instead of 90° for regular WMR). Other advantages of Mixed Reality Ultra are that you can interact with more than apps at the same time, and also you can capture, share and stream what you’re doing.
With all these headsets, you can install Steam and SteamVR on your PC and then install Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR. Once you have done that, you can play SteamVr games on the headset. And with Revive, you can also play Oculus Rift games. These headsets give you access to both Rift and Vive apps, as well as Microsoft’s native Mixed Reality games. Currently, haptic feedback is lacking from Vive games because the motors used to produce vibration in the WMR controllers are different from those in the Vive controllers. Microsoft is looking into finding a solution for this, but as of yet, no solution has been implemented.
Still on the subject of the controllers require Bluetooth 4.0, so if your PC doesn’t have Bluetooth - as is the case with most desktops - you need a Bluetooth dongle. Paradoxically, Microsoft recommends plugging the dongle into a Bluetooth 2.0 port on the computer for this, even though the dongle itself is 4.0. A quirk worth bearing in mind.
And so, with this in mind, we’ll take a look, in this review, at the five Windows Mixed Reality headsets available in the market and compare what they have to offer.
The Acer has a certain visual appeal about it, even before you take it out of the box. Unlike the other headsets reviewed here, it is a mixture of blue and black - a bit like the Sony PlayStation VR. In fact, blue is something of a theme color with the Acer because both the headset and the controllers arrive in blue boxes. The actual Head Mounted Display is wrapped in plastic and then sandwiched in foam to hold it in place.
It has a resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye (2” x 2.89”) offering excellent visual qualities. This resolution is higher than the Vive and Rift. However, the so-called screen door effect (being able to see the gaps between sub-pixels) is not completely removed. If you focus hard on it, you will see it. But if you don’t try to actively look for it, you will probably not notice. At any rate, the image is sharper than with the HTC and Oculus products. At this resolution you can read text on the screen. But it is still not good enough for small text. Field of view is 100° for WMR Ultra 90° for standard WMR.
The headset has both HDMI 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 connectivity. When using 1.4, the refresh rate is 60Hz. When using HDMI 2.0, it is 90 Hz. Either way, there is no flicker and no feeling of tired eyes that derives from flickering images.
The display is kept in focus by two round Fresnel lenses. Unfortunately, unlike most headsets on the market (including many of the cheap ones) you can’t change the interpupillary distance (IPD). It is fixed at 63mm. But Acer uses a software system that recreate the manual adjustment between 59mm and 67mm. This is enough for many people, but not all. I won’t even say most. (Let the buyer beware!)
Although it is not standalone (in the sense that it does still have to be tethered to a computer by a cable) it does not require any towers or lighthouses for tracking. Instead, all tracking is done by that well-established triumvirate of Gyroscope, Accelerometer and (in some cases) Magnetometer. There are also two tracking cameras built into the headset to assist with “inside out” tracking. Finally, there is an IR sensor for tracking the wand controllers.
This camera is black and white, in accordance with its limited purpose. The camera does not show what is going on outside unfortunately. If they did then the headset would be able to mimic the transparency of augmented reality glasses. Then it really would be a mixed reality headset. But as I said above, this isn’t true mixed reality, just virtual reality by another name.
The whole thing comes bundled with two controllers and a 4-meter (13+ foot) cable. That’s more than long enough to allow you a fair degree of freedom of movement. Cable-free would have been nice. But VR requires that a large amount of data must be sent to the headset. Bluetooth probably wouldn’t have the bandwidth. WiFi might, but with wireless there’s that latency problem. And with VR, low latency is crucial. Otherwise you end up with dropped frames, picture freezing and that dizzy feeling. So cable it is!
In the setup process, you start off my aiming the headset at the computer and select Trace. From this starting position (and subject to the limits of the cable) you map out your play area by moving the headset around, making off the perimeter of the area in which you will be using it.
In action, you get a high degree of freedom of movement and six degrees of freedom. The gyroscope can track head orientation (like the pitch, roll and yaw of airplanes). The accelerometer can track forward/backward, left/right, up/down. In theory, this should give you a bigger play area than a headset that has to be monitored from the outside. However, you are still constrained by that cable. (Elsewhere on this site we review cable management systems and another system for cable management.)
Like the best headsets on the market, the Acer has a proximity sensor that can detect when you put it on. And when this happens, it activates the display.
The headstrap is mechanical and has a moisture-proof padded section for the forehead. At the back of the strap is a blue dial that can be used to tighten the strap, I say tighten rather than tighten or loosen, because the tightening process is like a ratchet mechanism, that locks in place behind the turning of the dial. If you tighten it too much, you would actually have to take it off to loosen it again. Ideally, they should have provided a release mechanism like the Sony PlayStation VR has.
On the other hand, if you need to merely see something outside the headset, you don’t need to take it off. You can simply flip up the visor. This is a good design feature, as you never know when there might be something going on in the real world that you have to attend to. However, anything with moving parts is subject to wear and tear, and so this flip-up/flip-down visor could be a potential point of failure. In fact, it actually felt rather weak and “plasticky” for want of a better term. That is not to deny that it is useful. But it could be made better. I also found that when closed, the visor did not let light in. However, it is possible that if the user has a small face, the outside light might not be completely kept out.
From the point of view of comfort, I was impressed. Notwithstanding our concerns about the ratchet mechanism on the strap, I felt at ease inside the headset. It is lighter than the Rift and much lighter than the Vive. In fact, it weighed less than a pound. This might be because it is quite small. In size as well as in weight, it has advantages over the bulkier Vive and Rift.
I haven’t yet mentioned the audio. These headsets don’t have headphones, only the standard 3.5mm audio input for plugging in your own earphones or headphones.
I also haven’t mentioned the controllers. These are basically the same across the Windows Mixed Reality range with only the label differing. They are incredibly easy to set up. Just put in the batteries, pair them with the PC and you’re all set to go. However, you might like to get rechargeable batteries and keep one set charged (or charging) while you’re using the other.
The headset is certainly good value for money. It is fun to play with (or work with) and comfortable to wear. It is designed for Windows and is Steam VR compatible. With Revive, it can also run Oculus Rift software. So there is no shortage of content.
The Dell Visor has that white glossy finish that we associate with Apple and before that with 2001: A Space odyssey. In other words, that space-age futuristic look. But headsets are not All about aesthetics. So let’s take a look at the functionality.
It has HDMI 2.0 video input, USB 3.0 and the standard 3.5mm input for plugging in headphones, which again, do not come bundled with it. You have to buy your own.
Like the Acer it has a flip-up/flip-down visor, so you can take a break from virtual reality and return to the real world briefly without having to take off the headset altogether. Like others in the range it doesn’t have an over-the-head strap. It has a band that surrounds the head that can be tightened with a small wheel at the back to just the right amount to stay secure. And once in place, it has a nicely balanced feeling about it.
You can even wear it with glasses. And the sides are cushioned with padded foam, protecting the glasses. As with Acer and others in the WMR range, there is no mechanical control to vary the interpupillary distance, only a software calibration. However, not expect to be prompted about this in the set-up process.
Notwithstanding that minor gripe, the Dell Visor feels good. It is well-ventilated and stays cool. Thus, you can play highly energetic games without sweating, without steaming up the lenses and without the headset itself overheating. This is achieved - or at least assisted - by air channels on either side of the noses. And because of the way it sits firmly on the head, there is no uncomfortable pressure on the nose.
The resolution is the same as the Acer (1440 x 1440 per eye). Also, like the Acer, and the HP below, Field of View is 100° for Windows Mixed Reality Ultra apps and computer, 90° with regular a Windows Mixed Reality computer. Similarly, for Ultra, the refresh rate is 90 Hz, for regular WMR it is 60 Hz.
Also, like the Acer it doesn’t have any lighthouses or base stations for the kind of outside-in tracking used by the Vive and Rift. Instead - like all the Windows Mixed Reality headsets - it relies on inside out tracking. This is achieved by the two monochrome tracking cameras on the front of the headset headset and the combination of gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer. All of this gives you six degrees of freedom. But, unlike the Acer, it does not have a proximity sensor.
The handheld controllers are versatile and comprehensive, including a thumb stick, touchpad, trigger button, grab button, windows button, menu button, pairing button. The problem is that if you move the controllers out of sight of the tracking cameras, the system doesn’t know what’s going on. However, Dell have built in a clever solution for this. The software actually predicts where your arms are likely to be based on how they were moving when they vanished from the cameras. The algorithm calculates where they ought to be based on the speed and direction in space when they went out of view.
Of course, if they stay out of sight of the cameras for too long, the system gets confused and its predictions - or rather guesses - become less accurate. But all in all, it is a pretty clever workaround and in most cases is good enough. When you consider what a pain in backside base stations and lighthouses are, this is actually quite a good solution. After all, how often do you put your hands behind your back? Especially when you’re fighting off zombies or aliens.
And besides that, it is clear that Microsoft wants to get away from the gaming-only world of the Vive and Rift and move VR into such useful fields as office business, and education.
At this resolution, the image is sharper and clearer than the Rift or Vive, but if you concentrate hard enough you can see a screen door effect in which individual pixels become visible. But if you’re not looking for it, you won’t notice it.
As with the rest of the range (except the Samsung), the Dell visor doesn’t have built in headphones, so you have to supply your own. This decision was probably taken because many people already have a favorite set of headphones. But the downside is that if your favorite headphones happen to be large or bulky, then you may find them competing with the headset for space.
The first thing we noticed about this headset is that whereas the Acer looks a bit like the Sony PSVR and the Dell looks almost Apple-like (or space-age), the HP and Lenovo look remarkably like each other and they - together with the Samsung - are more conventional in their appearance. Or to put it another way: the HP, Lenovo and Samsung don’t look too different from the Vive and Rift.
The HP can connect to any PC with Windows Mixed Reality or Windows Mixed Reality Ultra. With the latter you get a better field of view (100° - as distinct from 90° with regular Windows Mixed Reality).
It can connect via either HDMI or the more powerful VESA Display Port. Please note that Display Port 1.2 can support both the 60 Hz (Windows Mixed Reality) and 90Hz (Windows Mixed Reality Ultra) refresh rates. But with HDMI you need HDMI 2.0 for 90 Hz or HDMI 1.4 for the 60 Hz. The headset comes with a combined USB-HDMI cable that splits at the end into its respective components.
Technically, the HP headset has the same specs as all but one of the others in the range. 1440 x 1440 per eye, choice of 60 Hz or 90Hz refresh (depending on whether the app and hardware are WMR Ultra or just plain old WMR), 3.5 mm combo jack for external headphones. Tracking by gyroscope, accelerometer and the tracking cameras. There is a proximity sensor so that it knows when you are wearing the headset.
The HP fits around the head like the Dell and tightens with the same wheel at the back. The visor portion can be flipped up and down like the Dell. This has been compared to a welder’s face mask. One of the problems is that HP have used quite a lot of padding on the face mask. Far from preventing or absorbing sweat, this seems to encourage the buildup of sweat and causes condensation and fogging up. This is in complete contrast to the Dell which is well-ventilated.
Another problem is that the HP is quite heavy, weighing almost twice as much as the Acer. This may not be a problem for everyone, in fact it means that the headset is sturdy. But some people find it easier to forget that they are wearing a headset if it is light. On the other hand, the headset is big enough to accommodate glasses, without having to worry about the glasses bumping against the lenses of the headset.
Setting up the headset is straightforward, though if you want to use it with SteamVR there are a few extra steps. Unlike the more expensive headsets with outside-in tracking, you are less restricted in your play space - although you are still limited to the length of the cable. The long cable is 4 meters (just over 13 feet), the same as the Acer and Dell.
As with the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets, the system can lose track of the controllers when they go out of view of the headset. I stress “of the headset” because the tracking cameras are mounted on the front corners of the headset, so even if you cannot see the controllers, as long as they are within “sight” of the tracking cameras, you can play on as normal.
In practice, the HP headset is not as accurate or as quick to respond as a the Vive or Rift. But it is pretty good, and, in any case, the slightly slower responsiveness and accuracy is more than offset by the higher resolution.
We had some issues running SteamVR, such as video memory being hogged unnecessarily by the virtual room from which mixed reality apps are launched when you put the headset on. However, you can bypass this and launch SteamVR directly. The virtual room (or "cliff house" as they call it) will run in the background but will hog less video memory.
Although all the Windows Mixed Reality headsets have to comply with a minimum spec set by Microsoft, some of them have higher specs than the minimum. Such is the case with the Lenovo Explorer headset. Instead of the WMR standard 100° Field of View, you get 110°. The actual resolution is the same as the other: 1440 x 1440 per eye. As with the others, this is still not enough to completely eliminate the screen door effect - that enables you to discern the individual pixels. But again, that only happens if you are looking for it. If you forget about it, it goes away.
The front cameras track the controllers, like the others in the WMR range and as long as the controllers don’t disappear from view of the cameras, your playing can continue uninterrupted. In fact playing with the Lenovo Explorer went quite smoothly most of the time. And it must be stressed that while this and other WMR headsets sometimes have problems tracking the controllers, the head tracking is perfect and not in any way hampered by the lack of base stations. This is true of both this headset and the others in the range.
Thus, as with the others in the WMR range, you get better resolution and almost as good tracking for a substantially lower lost than the Vive or Rift. To some VR purists, the limitations to the tracking are a dealbreaker. For others, the problem is negligible. It depends what and how you play. Indeed, for some, it is the price that is the deal breaker. And it is quite possible that those who have been holding off buying a virtual reality headset until now, might just take the plunge because of the low prices on these headsets (except the Samsung).
Another advantage to the inside out approach of WMR over the base station method used by Vive and Rift is that it’s almost plug and play, with virtually no set up. You plug it in, trace out your play area by moving the headset and that’s it.
The batteries on the controllers have a reasonable life, but if you play a lot you would be well advised to get rechargeable batteries and a charger. By keeping a spare set permanently charged, you can ensure that your gaming experience is not subjected to anything more than a minimal interruption.
On the comfort side, the results are mixed. It is light, weighing less than a pound (380 grams in fact). Having said that, it might not be big enough for everyone. After all some people have bigger heads than others. The padding around the nose is quite tight. This is good for keeping out the light, but bad news for people with big noses, at times feeling almost suffocating. This also means that the ventilation if not great and it tends to overheat, causing sweating. Finally - and again, a common negative feature across the range - there is no mechanical adjustment for inter-pupillary distance, just the rather limited software adjustment.
And like the others, it has that flip-up/flip-down feature that makes it possible to return to the real world briefly, without having to take the headset off and put it back on again.
Finally, we arrive at the king of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Samsung haven’t allowed Microsoft’s specs to hold them back to the minimum requirements. Far from it. They have gone for the gold with the Odyssey. In the process, they have made the most expensive of the WMR headsets. So what do they have to show for it?
First of all, other headsets in the range have taken advantage of the minimum requirements, to give the user flexibility by allowing them to use their own earphones or headphones. But Samsung have taken off in a different direction. They have chosen instead to aim for the best user experience by providing a set of good quality built-in AKG “premium” headphones.
These boast “360-degree spatial sound” - which means that they can create sounds coming at you from different sides and angles. So, if, for example, the game calls for a helicopter approaching from behind you and then flying overhead and landing in front of you, the headphones will recreate this experience. The headphones are hinged rotationally, so that they can be flipped down 90° from parallel to the headband to a perpendicular position such that they cover the ears.
The headset also includes an integrated microphone array that you can use to talk to Cortana, the Windows 10, voice-activated smart assistant.
On the other hand, Samsung seem to have missed some other opportunities for premium enhancements over and above the minimal spec. For example, the controllers use the same AA batteries as the other WMR headsets, instead of being rechargeable. Of course, the owner could get their own rechargeable AA batteries - and even keep a spare set charged at all times as we recommend - but Samsung missed a trick by not being proactive about this.
In game play, the Odyssey is at least as good as any of the others, working best if the tracking cameras are able to assist the gyroscope and accelerometer. That calls for the play area to be at least moderately well-lit and for there to be some level of detail. If you were playing in an empty hall, this might be a problem. But in practice it is unlikely to be as most homes have some defining detail. Even floor tiles or grained floorboards will help.
This means that in most situations, the Odyssey feels no less responsive than a Vive or Rift. And while a problem can arise if the controllers drop out of view of the cameras in the headset, you can at least turn round with the controllers and keep them (and yourself) in play.
Another point in favor of the Odyssey is the graphics. Samsung have opted for an AMOLED display instead of the LCD displays that the other headsets in the range have chosen. These are sharper and more responsive to rapid change than the LCDs. Also, Samsung has given the headset a resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye, instead of the 1440 x 1440 of the others.
One thing the Odyssey lacks is the flip-up/flip-down feature of the other headsets. In that respect, the Odyssey is more like the Vive or Rift. After experiencing the flip feature, it was hard to adapt to no having it with the Odyssey. It is a useful feature. And one feels almost deprived without it.
Esthetically, the Odyssey is closer to the Rift or Vive than say the Acer, which looks like the Sony PSVR, or the Dell which looks the most futuristic. In other words, the Odyssey has a solid, sturdy look about it. It is also the second heaviest of the headsets in the WMR range, weighing in a hefty 650 grams.
The Odyssey is more like the Vive and Rift than the other WMR headsets in another respect too: it has a hardware adjustment for interpupillary distance. Whereas the other WMRs reviewed here are limited to a fixed physical 63mm IPD with a 4mm “software” calibration in either direction (for an effective 59-67mm), the Odyssey can be physically varied between 60mm and 72mm. This makes allowances for larger heads in the way that other WMR headsets do not. Unfortunately, there's stil no focus adjustment capability.
The question of value for money for this headset is hard to answer, because the prices of these headsets are constantly changing (and falling).
Newsfeed - June 23, 2017
YouTube is introducing a solution to the problem caused by 360 Video - those all around views that look unnatural when viewed on a normal screen. It’s called VR 180 and it’s designed to bridge the gap between VR viewers and regular users, serving them both. YouTube plans to make it available to video creators to enable them to create immersive content.
Unlike 360 video which looks like you’re at the center of a rather small sphere and distorts the most central part of the image, VR 180 focuses on just the frontal field of vision. Aside from avoiding distortion, this also allows an improvement in the resolution - possibly even at the 4K level.
But the more important improvement is that while 360 created an all-around view, it was monoscopic. It relied on one camera and the image that it created was two-dimensional. In contrast, the new VR 180 standard is to be stereoscopic. It provides real 3D with genuine depth of field. This won’t of course make any difference if you’re viewing it on a 2D screen. But if you’re viewing it through a VD headset with separate screens for each eye then you get the full 3D image and the real sense of being there.
The downside is that you can’t turn around and see what’s behind you the way you could with 360. But this more than offset by the realism of 3D and the higher resolution. Furthermore, in practice - with most content - the interesting action is likely to be in one place, so the ability to “turn round” and see what’s going on behind you is of limited practicality. This is especially the case with videos, as opposed to interactive games, where you might want to turn and go in any direction.
In terms of the viewing experience, this is a major improvement.
But developing a new standard is one thing; getting content creators to take it up is another. To encourage uptake by content-creators, YouTube is working with hardware partners Lenovo, LG and Yi to create VR 180 cameras at affordable prices. According to Erin Teague, the Product Manager of YouTube VR, the VR 180 cameras will be pitched at a price point to attract the type of customer would ordinarily by a point and shoot camera.
“We took a step back to think about how to democratize VR video creation,” she explained, adding that the new standard would “unlock a whole new generation of VR content creators.
However, not to lose on higher resolution content, the Daydream team at YouTube parent Google, will be creating a certification program for camera makers to help them get their cameras working with the VR 180 format. They are also working with Adobe to adapt premiere to allow editing of VR 180 videos.
The idea is to adapt existing video techniques to VR 180 instead of requiring film-makers to relearn their core skills. On advantage that VR 180 has over 360 is that it avoids the problem of where the crew should stand. As Teague points out, traditional film-making, has the crew out of the camera’s line of sight. With 360’s all-around approach, that isn’t possible, meaning that “creator’s have to significantly change their production techniques.” With VR 180, that problem doesn’t exist.
Another area where VR180 holds an advantage over all-around is at the editing phase. 360 requires that the content of several cameras be stitched together. With the new system, conventional editing techniques can be used.
According to YouTube, content makers will also be able to broadcast and live-stream their VR 180 movies and videos, retaining both quality and the 3D characteristic that makes it so attractive in the first place.
By creating a better user experience and making the task of content preparation simpler that it is an present, YouTube could well be onto a winner here.
I am so excited about it, I just want to yell out and scream.”
These were the words that Apple CEO Tim Cook used to describe his enthusiasm about augmented reality. But so far, Apple has shown no sign of actually entering that particular competitive arena - or even the related one of virtual reality.
But are things about to change with the impending launch of the iPhone 8. As usual, the build-up to the launch is enshrouded in secrecy. The expected developments include and edge to edge screen and obviously a higher resolution camera. There is also speculation that they will do away with the physical Home button, in favour of touching the screen.
However, the rumor mill has also been grinding out stories about how this iPhone will have some integrated AR capability. It is known that Apple is pushing into AR from the software end - hence their announcement of the ARKit for the iOS 11 operating system, due out this fall. The ARKit will let developers create augmented reality apps for iOS 11. And the operating system will ship with the iPhone 8.
All of this is known. But what does it mean in practice? Well, it’s hard to say with Apple because they almost never respond to rumors. But two of the rumors about the iPhone 8 have indirectly been confirmed.
First, an executive from Wistrom, an Apple supplier, told their shareholders at their recent AGM “Assembly process for the previous generations of [iPhones] have not changed much, though new features like waterproof and wireless charging now require some different testing, and waterproof function will alter the assembly process a bit.” The iPhone 7 is water-resistant, but not waterproof and does not have wireless charging.
Secondly, it was reported in respected source Nikkei Asian Review that Largan Precision (another Apple supplier) has announced that its 3D-sensing lenses will be “ready to ship in the second half of this year.” There are already front-facing cameras that can unlock a phone, (like the Samsung Galaxy S8), but they can be tricked with a photo of a face. A camera with a 3D sensing lens, is thought to be immune from this type of low-tech hack. The 3D camera will also map the user’s face with 3D lasers, making the system yet more secure.
However could there be more to what is coming from Apple this Fall? No one as yet knows what the iPhone 8 will even look like, there is speculation that it will in fact resemble a single clear piece of glass. There are also reports that it will have a dual lens, stereoscopic camera.
But at this stage all we can do is wait and see.
What is life without a 360-deg camera? In this multi-product review, we review & compare some of the best panoramic VR Cameras choices available in 2018.
The Funbot is at the lower price range for 360 degree panoramic cameras. With a 210° fisheye lens, it’s quite impressive, considering that it shoots full HD (1080p) video at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps. It also shoots 4MP spherical images.
There are three video modes, in fact: panoramic, flat and VR. Video can be uploaded to VR headset for a true 3D effect. It also has the option of timer shooting.
Battery life is good. The makers say “up to” 1.5 hours. We found it in the region of 75 minutes. The battery is 1400 mAh. But the device doesn’t come with a memory card. You have to buy one as well obviously. The good news is that it supports up to 128 GB (Micro SD Type 6 or higher).
It is compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems and has built-in WiFi and sharing using SNS. It also features a noise-cancelling microphone. On the front, in addition to the camera is a shutter button and light for the shutter, WiFi, photo and video - so you know the state of play at all times.
The camera can be mounted onto a selfie stick via a ¼ inch screw hole. Connectivity is achieved through a Mini HDMI or Wifi, while charging is done through a micro USB. It comes with a charger and carry case.
Although designed for use with the Samsung Gear, this 360 degree video camera is compatible with iOS. It shoots 4K 360° video. Content can be live-streamed with Gear 360 and can be converted to standard video or photo format (five different viewing modes).
The kit comes with a Type C USB cable, strap, pouch, quick start guide and of course the camera itself. Battery capacity is 1160 mAh. As mentioned above, it is compatible with Android 5 or higher and iOS 10.0 or later. It works with a variety of memory cards.
The video and audio quality are good, and it is easy to use, a very shallow and short learning curve. It can even be used for night-time photography, using the time-lapse feature.
This 360° camera has similar specs to the Samsung Gear 360: e.g. 4K and live streaming. It also has both bluetooth and wireless LAN communication. Equipped with Three axis gyro sensors and three axis acceleration sensors, it can track its position on motion with ease. It also has "360°spatial audio" for greater audio realism.
Those familiar with the THETA S, will notice a marked improvement in the specs. Transfer speed is 2½ times faster for video and 3.2 times faster for still images.
Several things make this product stand out from the crowd somewhat. One is a remote playback function. Another is the 12-megapixel resolution. A third is its ability to record images in low lighting conditions. And yet another is the fact that the lenses are close together, ensuring that the “dead zone” is kept small. It’s ability to sense its own motion and orientation is another strength. And when using the time-lapse facility, it takes a picture every four seconds instead of the more usual seven. It comes with a carry case
The battery is charged by USB and can handle high-amp as well as low-amp connections without overheating. On the down side, it can only record for 25 minutes and you can’t add an SD card. Also, it has no image stabilization, despite having gyro and motion sensors. At this price it really ought to.
This 360 VR camera has one-touch sharing and live-streaming. There’s no need for separate export or manual stitching of images. The whole process is automatic
It is compatible with iPhone 6 up and clips neatly onto your iPhone (connecting via the lightning connector) to turn it into a 360-degree VR camera. When it is running the Insta 360 App while attached to the iPhone it shows you a preview of the live image and gives you total control of settings and modes.
However, it doesn’t have to be connected to the iPhone. It can be used as a standalone camera. When used in standalone mode, everything is controlled by a single button. A single press of the button switches it on. Pressing again (after two seconds) takes a still photo. If you want to record a video you press twice in rapid succession. And to stop the video recording, you just press again. Finally, if you want to take a picture with a 10 second timer, you press the button three times without pausing in between.
The resolution is impressive: 3040 x 1520 both for still images and for video at 30 fps. It has a MicroSD expansion slot that can take up to a 64GB memory card.
The big rush to release all sorts of products - and even mere announcements - in the field of Augmented Reality - can only mean one thing: Christmas is fast approaching. All the big companies, and many of the little ones, want to stake their claims to a share of this rich and fertile market. The trouble is, not many of them actually have a product.
A little backpedaling is necessary here. Many years ago - decades in fact - there was a headset that consisted of a small display that sat a couple of inches from one-eye and created a virtual image of a screen in front of one eye. The screen was monochrome (red specifically) and the image was produced by red LEDs that scanned up and down very rapidly. The product was never really a success, whether because of the price or because it was monochrome.
But now as augmented reality slowly but steadily hits the market, it looks like a case of plus ce change, plus la meme chose. Accordingly, in this review and comparison, we take a look at some of the new crop of augmented reality products and offer our recommendations.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the Vufine+ is a wearable display that connects to your glasses, or the plain glass pair that comes with the display, if you don’t wear glasses. It creates a 720p virtual screen 4 inches across, about 12 inches from your eye, either in your principal line of sight or just below it. Okay, 4 inches might seem small, but it is no different to all but the biggest mobile phone displays and at about the same distance or less.
It can be connected via a micro-to full HDMI cable to a smartphone, computer, camera or drone. The unit is basically a Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) projector that projects the image onto your eye. It has three degrees of freedom: up-down, tilt, left-right.
The unit comes with a magnetic docking station, so that it can be attached to the glasses when needed and put in your pocket when you don’t, without having to remove the glasses or fiddle with them extensively. It also comes with a standard (non-magnetic) docking station and a carrying case. Best of all, it comes in both left-handed and right handed configurations (or rather left eye and right eye) and is available in the US and Britain. And because we are coming up to Christmas, it can be gift wrapped.
There are three viewing modes: Standard (for unaltered 16:9 viewing), Fit (for 33% increased landscape viewing in 4:3) and Zoom (for 77% increased portrait viewing in 4:3). The stated runtime from the internal battery is 90 minutes, which we found to be about right. We would have hoped for longer as it is a small device, but that of course also limits the room for batteries. However, while the makers claim that the resolution is clear enough for both video and text, we found that it fell considerably short in the text department. It is just too small and at this resolution can’t be read.
While it can in theory attach to any glasses, if the glasses frame is light (or loose fitting) it can pull down on one side, so you might have to use a counterweight. You can also purchase a separate hat or head mount, if you prefer this to mounting the unit on glasses.
In practical usage, this unit is extremely versatile. You can use it as an alternative smartphone screen to protect your privacy when viewing sensitive (or embarrassing) content. You can use it as an alternative screen for close-up or macro photography, when you need to get the camera into an awkward position but are unable - or unwilling - to squeeze your head and torso into that awkward position.
Perhaps the most obvious and enjoyable usage is when flying a drone. Instead of merely watching the drone, you can see where what the drone’s camera sees. If you try this through a mobile phone or laptop, you face the dilemma of whether to look up at the drone or down at the screen. It is very hard to do both simultaneously. But with the Vufine+ it’s a breeze! You just look up at the drone with both eyes and see what the drone’s camera sees on the virtual display through one eye, just below your main line of sight.
You can also use it as a virtual cinema. Although it may not be fully immersive, there are times and circumstances when you need to be aware of your surroundings, but still want to enjoy a private viewing of a movie. This is the ideal solution. And unlike viewing the movie on your smartphone, you do not have to worry about the issue of aching arms from holding the phone out in front of you.
Another obvious use, is for working on-the-go. It is lighter than a laptop or even a tablet. Now of course, you still need to input data, whether it be on a keyboard, screen keyboard or phone. But by using the Vufine as the screen, you can keep the phone or tablet on your lap and enter data, without having to stare at the phone or tablet screen. Of course, it would be nice if you could type your input on a virtual keyboard in mid-air - and also nice if the unit was cordless - but you can’t have everything. Not yet, anyway.
Vuzix describes these Smart Glasses as “an Android-based wearable computer.” In addition to pre-installed apps, it features an integrated 5-megapixel camera (16:9 ratio) that can capture stills and 1080p video. It has Bluetooth 4.00 connectivity for pairing with other Android devices, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1GB or RAM and 4GB of flash storage - expandable to 32GB.
The M100 does not have its own phone connection. To use it as a phone you would have to pair it with an Android phone or iPhone. However, it is packed with pretty much everything else you can think of:
These are impressive specs on paper. But how do they stack up in performance?
The answer is is that they work well once you figure them out, but getting everything to work just right can be tricky. Think of the first time you got a smart phone and had to learn how to use it. That’s how it is with this product. It’s a steep learning curve, unless you’re a natural techie. And it’s not cheap.
The real question then is how much added value you can get from a product like this? If the product was a complete standalone device, without the need for a phone, it would be great value for money. Instead it is merely a good product, for those who want to get the technology quickly, at a high price, before it goes from being the latest “must have” to a stale old “everyone has.”
Although already on its second life - and still far from all it promised to be - Google Glass is still the gorilla in the room of augmented reality. Or maybe that should be the elephant. The package contains Google Glass itself, RX Frames, mono earbuds, extra nose pads, a USB cable, charger, extra nose pads, a soft carrying case, a hard carrying case, a screwdriver and instructions.
The augmented reality display looks like a 25-inch television, eight feet away. It has a 5MP camera that can shoot stills and 720p videos. It also has an audio bone conduction transducer. This sounds ultra-modern but in fact is like the old-fashioned “bone fone” from four decades ago. It basically just produces vibrations in the bones (usually of the head) that are then conductive to the auditory nerves.
Various forms of connectivity are available, including 802.11 WiFi (2.4 GHz) 12 GB usable memory synced with Google Cloud. Battery life is about a day in normal usage, but with intensive use of battery-draining activities (like video) it can easily be a lot less. The kit includes a charger and micro-USB cable.
It is available for both Android and iOS. For Android it requires version 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher and for iOS, it requires iOS7 or higher. (iOS 7 was first used in the iPhone 4 and iPad 2.)
The problem is that it is not clear where Google Glass is going and there are not too many apps that use it.
This is a developer’s kit rather than a final product. That means, there are limited apps and the price is high - although in practice no higher than the Vuzix. That statement actually has to be qualified. Limited apps, means limited dedicated apps. The ORA-2 is perfectly capable of running existing Android apps, just like any Android smartphone or tablet.
In terms of hardware, it comes with a powerful spec: front-facing 1080p 5 MP camera, 9-axis motion sensor (gyro inertial sensors, accelerometer and magnetometer), Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, GPS, a trackpad (mouse and swipe).
The 16.9 display has a resolution of 33 pixels per degree and the brightness level maxes out at 3000 Nits. Based on retinal projection, it has a feature called Flip-vu which offers two configurations: Augmented Reality and Glance. In the Augmented Reality configuration, the mini-projector is fully horizontal and in the path of the eye when focused on the distance through the upper part of the glasses lens. In Glance mode, the projector is 20° below the horizontal and you have to look down at it.
The overall system packs a punch in other respects too, with a dual-core 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex processor, built-in (noise-cancelling) microphone and ambient light sensor. The 1200 mAh battery lasts about five hours with the display of continuously. It is charged via a USB connection.
At present the product, comes with a disclaimer that it is not offered as a consumer product, but only as a development platform. This does not mean that you cannot buy it as a consumer, only that it is offered “as is” with no warranty express or implied and - perhaps more importantly - that it is not approved by the FCC or CE. Also, it can display the same content as the screen of the Android device to which it is attached, but it has no dedicated apps on the market just yet.
Like the Optinvent above, this is a developer edition, rather than a consumer product, and priced the same too. Using a transparent si-OLED display it features binocular projection providing views for both eyes. This means that unlike most Augmented Reality headsets (but like Virtual Reality headsets) these smart glasses offer the option of side-by-side 3D viewing - albeit at lower resolution. The result is a virtual 80-inch screen at “distance” of 5 meters to a 320-inch screen at a distance of 20 meters. This is only a 23° field of view. But for AR (as distinct from VR) that is perfectly reasonable.
But first, what’s in the box?
The glasses are unquestionably light. Indeed, according to the manufacturers, they are the world’s lightest Si-OLED-powered, binocular, transparent smart glasses, weighing in at only 2.5 ounces or 69 grams. They are powered by an Intel® Atom™ x5 1.44GHz Quad Core CPU.
In many respects, this product ticks all the right boxes, with a front facing 5MP camera, head-tracking, choice of wireless connectivity, six-hour battery life, etc. The display’s 720p falls short of the 1080p, but is par for the course with most AR glasses currently. With 24-bit color and a 30Hz refresh rate, the image is very clear, even in bright, sunny conditions - a key test for augmented reality glasses.
As it is a developer kit, it is again in the position of not having many dedicated apps. But it can be used out of the box for a multiplicity of functions, including pretty much anything you can do on your Android smartphone - and of course getting a bird's-eye view when you fly a drone!
You can wear these glasses over prescription glasses, so no problems there. They even have their own apps market from which you can download games, like Protocol Zero, and practical apps, like VR Architecture Walkthrough, a Virtual Reality Architectural Visualization app. These apps, and many others there, are free. There is even an app for drone control.
On minor drawback is the trackpad, which is rather tricky and fiddly to use. But once you get the hang of it, the inconvenience is minor.
While people speculate on the future of AR and ask questions like “Will Apple enter the fray with its own headset?”, “Will the Microsoft HoloLens become an affordable consumer product?”, “Will Google Glass come down in price and hit the mainstream?” and even “Will Amazon bring out an AR Kindle?” we are missing the point. AR, in some form, is already here.
Yes, it is expensive - although the Vufine+ challenges even this assumption – yes, it is a bit rough around the edges, both figuratively and literally. But it is here! There is a market for it. For those who really want it, the technology is affordable. And there is an element of choice.
You can be the owner of an AR headset this Christmas - ditto for your loves ones - if you’re ready to dip your hands into your pocket. Of course, it’s not for everyone. Some people may prefer to hold out. But there are no breakthroughs around the corner. And all products eventually wear out and need replacing. So, unless you are hoping for some big announcement in a year’s time and are willing to hold out that long, now is the time to buy a cool-looking pair of AR glasses.
As a concept, Virtual Reality has been around for years. But as a reality, it has only recently started to make inroads into the consumer markets. Once the stuff of science fiction, it first appeared in the real world as military technology for combat or specialized, hi-tech training. And much of it was enshrouded in secrecy.
But now it is starting to penetrate the high street - and in a big way.
Whether it’s just for viewing 3D movies, getting a bird’s eye view from a drone or playing ultra-realistic games, VR and video headsets are now available to buy. And the prices are within the reach of millions of consumers. So, what then are the options? And what are the differences between them?
The key difference to understand is between true Virtual Reality (VR) and personal 3D video headsets. Both create a virtual 3D view in front of the viewer’s eyes. But true VR is designed to create the illusion of an interactive world, whether for gaming or training. A full-blown VR headset will show the view panning sideways when you turn your head and panning up or down when you raise or lower your head. In short, it will have Head Tracking. That is what makes it virtual reality: it not only recreates the world, but also mimics your presence within that world. Just as in real life, with true VR, moving your head changes your view. And the best VR headsets have low-latency: in layman’s terms, this means they respond quickly, so that there is no noticeable time-lag between you turning your head and the view in the headset panning to match the movement.
In contrast, a video headset will show the same moving (or still) image whichever way you turn your head. Of course, the headset will show you a 3D stereoscopic video image - if the movie/video/TV-show has been shot in 3D and is being broadcast or otherwise transmitted in that format. But what you see will be independent of your head movement. This applies even if you are playing a video game. You might be able to control the direction of the view with a gaming handset or joystick. But the system will not track your head. If it did, it would be virtual reality!
Another difference is that true VR will seal you off completely from the outside world. Not only will the earphones cover your ears and insulate you from ambient sound, but your eyes will see only the virtual image. No light or real-world views should leak into your world via your peripheral vision. Some non-VR movie/video headsets do this too. But not all.
Both true VR and video headsets are different from augmented reality. Put simply, Augmented reality superimposes additional views and information over your view of the real world. This can be anything from virtual monsters attacking you in your own living room, to data overlays, like street names and house numbers appearing over side streets as you drive and try to navigate. It could even be name labels popping up next to people. (Those familiar with the US TV series Person of Interest or the British modern Sherlock Holmes, with Benedict Cumberbatch, will know what we’re talking about.)
In this review, we will be looking at the best true Virtual Reality headsets and some of the best video headsets that lack head tracking but can be used for gaming.
The Oculus Rift is the fruit of a Kickstarter campaign that generated both cash for a prototype and a great deal of publicity. In the end, the publicity proved to be a bigger asset than the cash, because that publicity was skillfully leveraged to make the Rift a hot topic, long before it came onto the market.
But what is the Oculus Rift? It’s basically a headset designed to let you truly immerse yourself in the video gaming experience. It can be used for other things like watching a 3D movie or exploring a place without being there. Imagine going on a walking tour of an active volcano without getting burnt alive! Or SCUBA diving - even if you can’t swim! You can also use if for remote meetings, if that’s your bag.
The key to it all is not just the 3D stereoscopic vision, but the head tracking system. It works by monitoring the position and orientation of the headset. This is done through a series of infra-red LEDs in the headset that are tracked by two sensors on small poles. These sensors (shaped a bit like a desktop microphone) are supposed to be placed at least two meters apart. The tracking system could, in fact, work with only one sensor. But because your hand or forearm might move between the sensor and the headset, in the normal course of play, they require two sensors. We should also point out that the sensor cables are only 2.5m, although you can of course buy extensions.
Setting up the sensors requires you to run the setup wizard. But this is a simple matter of following the instructions. This arrangement goes by the somewhat pretentious name of the “Constellation Tracking System”. That said, it is quite a sophisticated system, so maybe it is worthy of such a grand name.
In the early, development version of the Oculus Rift, this system suffered from the major drawback that you couldn’t turn your back on the sensor. This was because the LEDs were only on the front of the headset and would therefore not be in the sensor’s line-of-sight when you turned one-eighty! However, this design flaw was remedied for the consumer version. There are now LEDs on the back as well as the front of the headset, so the sensor can tell which way your head is turned.
In addition to the IR transmitters and sensor, the Rift incorporates some technology that was initially developed elsewhere. The "Adjacent Reality Tracker" (developed by a former Apple software engineer) uses a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer to give the system an accurate picture of the orientation and movement of the headset. It originally sampled the position at 250 Hz. But Oculus engineers have pushed this to 1000 Hz, giving it a latency of one millisecond.
The combined power of the IR Constellation Tracking and the Adjacent Reality Tracker is quite awesome. It is this built-in redundancy that enables the system to change what you “see” according to which way you are looking or going.
Like the Avegant Glyph, when you first get your Oculus Rift, you must set it up to suit you. The headset has a dial that enables you to adjust the lenses to match your face - and more specifically, the distance between your eyes. This is important, because the Rift can be worn with glasses. Once it’s all up and running, you can indulge yourself. Whether it’s shooting the bad guys, flying an airplane or driving like a maniac.
To get the most out of the Oculus Rift, you’ll need 3 free USB3 ports on your computer. If necessary you can get a 4 port USB3 card that plugs into the PCI-E interface.
One of the strengths of the Oculus is its ergonomic design. (We are talking only about the physical feel here: the look is actually rather kludgy in our opinion.) When worn, it is well-balanced for comfort. Compared to others it is no strain to wear, not even for long periods. It has only a single cable running off it (to the left), so you don’t really feel it. The cable splits into four at the end, but by then it is well away from your face.
The earphones are integrated into the arm bands on very convenient hinges. This avoids having additional leads and cables floating around your face.
You can wear glasses with the Oculus Rift. However, we have to qualify that by saying that this applies only if the frames are smallish, otherwise they may rub against the fresnel lenses and scratch them. On the other hand, the variable fresnel lenses may in fact remove the need for glasses depending on the strength of your prescription.
In visual terms, the Oculus Rift is impressive, producing images that are sharp and clear. This is due to the combination of the fresnel lenses, the high refresh rate and the low-persistence of the AMOLED displays. All this - together with the wide 110° field of vision - adds up to give you a great sense of “presence” in the virtual world you are seeing.
The audio enhances this sense of realism. It uses some clever “surround sound” technological enhancements to make the sound seem as if it is coming from where it should be coming. Although the headphones are integrated, they are also removable so you can use them separately. It also has a high-quality built-in microphone.
One thing it does not have, unfortunately is a front camera which could have been used for additional functionality - e.g. switching over to it, to see the room, without having to take off the headset. But with an overall strong spec, and a similar price to the other strong contenders, the Oculus Rift is a useful and fun piece of kit, and it’s the leader of the pack for a reason.
The HTC Vive is the Godzilla of the Virtual Reality world - or perhaps I should say the Dragon, as HTC is a Taiwanese company.
The HTC Vive is a VR headset with head tracking that creates the most realistic virtual reality experience you could imagine. With intuitive controls, state-of-the-art head and controller tracking and an incredible collection of games, the Vive is the VR set to own if you can afford it. If is the operative word here. For the HTC Vive is not only expensive, it also requires a powerful computer spec to run. An Intel Core i5-4950K and an Nvidia GTX 970 should do nicely. If you’re part of the AMD family, then an AMD R9 390 also packs enough power.
But another thing you’ll need, to get the most of this system, is plenty of room. You may not quite have a USS Enterprise size Holodeck in your living room. So, you may have to move some furniture to create enough room to take advantage of what the HTC Vive has to offer.
The Vive creates a virtual experience with two high resolution eye screens and tracks the user’s head with 32 sensors mounted in the headset and a further 24 on each of the two controllers. These sensors pick up the light from the two base stations or “satellite lighthouses” that you must set up in the corners of the room, preferably above 6ft. This is the opposite to the Oculus Rift. Whereas the Oculus Rift send out light from their LEDs to the mounted sensors, the Vive Lighthouses send light to sensors inside the headset.
This setup gives the Vive incredible tracking accuracy and allows you great freedom of movement in playing interactive games in the virtual world that the headset creates for you. It is this freedom of movement that puts the pricier HTC Vive ahead of the competition. In fact, 2m square of free space is the absolute minimum you would need in order to use it. You could in fact set up the detectors 5m meters apart. But remember that the two detectors effectively form the opposite corners of the play area.
When your first get your Vive, you’ll need to set it up for your personal use. This involves choosing the right foam insert and nose pad for the size and shape of your face. (Note: the Vive can be worn with most glasses.) Once you’ve configured the headset for your face, you’ll need to run the setup wizard. This enables you to test the position of your sensors and map out the room. We found it very straightforward, but depending on your skill and dexterity, you might find it either easy or tricky.
The important thing is that once you’ve got it right, you should stick to your guns (excuse the pun) and not move the sensors any more. The makers have very thoughtfully provided screws, to fix the sensors permanently to the wall. Alternatively, they can be fixed to high shelves with clips.
The base stations themselves connect wirelessly and don’t need a data cable. They do, of course, have to be plugged into a power source.
Physically, the Vive is not all that comfortable. The makers have clearly made some effort with the design and the headstrap. But somehow that effort seems to fall short of the competition. Aside from the slight feeling of suffocation, one can feel the “pull” of the data cable behind the head when moving around. This does tend to make one feel self-conscious when otherwise immersed in the virtual reality world. It is almost like an anchor pulling one back into the real world, to coin a metaphor.
But on the positive side, there are some excellent features such as the haptic feedback that adds an extra layer of feeling on top of the visual (and audio) experience.
As for the video, it is - dare I say it? - a sight for sore eyes. After you’ve adjusted the image quality to suit your vision, you can enjoy a superlative 3D VR experience provided by the two 1080 x 1200 screens. The screens have a 90Hz refresh rate and provide a 110° field of view. This gives you astonishing clarity and no “tail” effect even when the action is moving fast and the image changing rapidly before your eyes. And the extremely sensitive tracking means that the Vive reacts rapidly to changes in your own position or movements of your head or for that matter actions on the controllers. Thus, while you are immersed in your virtual world, the system responds and updates at a pace that seems to mimic the real world.
But what about safety? Is there not a danger that when you are immersed in the imaginary world of virtual reality, you might stray outside the safety zone in the real one? After all, nothing could be worse than banging your knee on the coffee table while chasing after the zombie that disrespected your family! Well, it turns out the makers of the Vive have thought of this too. They have created something called “chaperone mode” that shows you a blue grid when you are getting close to the boundaries of your safe play area. That was why it was so important to go through the setup and then not move the sensors. Because if you move the sensors after completing the setup, it will mislead the system - and thus you - as to where the boundaries of the safe area are!
Perhaps the Vive’s strongest advantage is the front camera. This enables you to see what’s outside the headset, when you need to, without having to take off the headset. And in the future, it could no doubt be used to create augmented reality games.
The audio quality was once the Vive’s weakness, as the device lacked built in headphones. They now will be offering an optional audio strap. We do not yet know how good is the sound quality of the strap. But it does come at extra cost: an additional £99. We think that such a good VR headset should come with high quality audio as standard. But maybe the audio headstrap will be implemented as standard in new models. Time will tell.
Obviously, price will be a big issue for many potential customers. The king of VR headsets it may be, but the HTC Vive carries a king’s ransom as the price on its head. Many would-be customers might be more inclined to dream about it than to buy it.
The Playstation VR is one of the more futuristic-looking VR headsets, resembling something out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is designed to work with the Sony Playstation 4. If you have the PS4, think of this as a powerful peripheral or addition. Unlike the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it uses only a single camera to track your head movement and it tracks only nine points on the headset - seven on the front and two on the back. That’s pretty minimalistic compared to the competition.
It can also track the lights on your controllers to track your gaming actions - whether it be the simpler Move “wand” like controller, first introduced for the PS3 or the more sophisticated DualShock 4 controller. But again, these peripherals were not designed for use with the PSVR. In practice, this means that Sony doesn’t plaster either of these controllers with lights like the Vive. (NOTE: Neither of these controllers comes as standard with the PSVR. The DualShock ships with the PS4. But some games require the Move and you would have to buy them separately.)
Despite this, the PlayStation VR achieves a creditable level of tracking accuracy as long as you stay within the small area that the camera is actually able to track. That area is about 2m x 3m. This is fine if you are sitting down - or even standing up as you might before a television or video screen. However as soon as you start moving around, the camera finds it very easy to lose track of you. Even changing between sitting and standing can confuse the camera and seriously interrupt your gaming experience.
In terms of appearance, the combination of black and white, distinguishes this headset from the models in solid black or grey. It’s that combination that gives it the 2001: A Space Odyssey quality that we referred to earlier.
And the PlayStation VR is certainly comfortable to wear. Unlike some of its competitors, the VR doesn’t have a strap that goes over the head. Instead, a single strap going around the head, with rubber padding at the back, comfortably gripping your head, without making you feel like you’re in a torture chamber. Indeed, it puts less pressure on your forehead and the bridge of the nose than those headsets that have an overhead strap to take the weight.
You can also adjust the visor forward and backwards. Then there is a rubber flap around the visor to help keep out ambient light. However, this design is not completely successful at isolating the user from the outside world. The “weak” point is the area around the nose. And this is even if you’re not wearing glasses. If you are - and Sony claim that you can with this headset - the effect is even worse.
Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do about this and it was a real problem, as we couldn’t get a feeling of true isolation while using the device. Until Sony moves away from what amounts to a one-size-fits-all model and starts throwing in a choice of nose and facial inserts, the problem is likely to persist.
Another, equally serious drawback is that the PlayStation VR is not wireless. Instead it has a lead that connects to a separate Processor Unit for the VR. The Processor Unit in turn connects to the PlayStation. It is the Processor Unit that contains both and on/off switch and a volume control for the system’s sound.
Turning to the visuals, the PSVR has a single 5.7 inch OLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (960 x 1080 per eye) refreshing at either 90 Hz or 120 Hz. This resolution can handle 1080p games, but falls short of the Vive or Rift, both of which have one screen for each eye - each offering a 2160 x 1200 resolution. For this product, Sony claims that the latency is about 18 milliseconds, which is good enough to avoid noticeable time-lag. The use of one screen to deliver images to both eyes, however, limits the field of view somewhat. The VR has a 100° field of vision, compared to 110° for both HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
Having said that, the images are crisp and sharp - although by no means out of this world.
It has to be said, also, that head tracking with the PlayStation VR fell short of its two major competitors. This was not a case of losing by a country mile. More like coming in third by a nose or a short head, to borrow a horse-racing term. This might be due to the fact that it is a one camera system, tracking a smaller number of sensors. But it was the accuracy and precision of the tracking that fell short, not the speed or latency. More noticeable, maybe, was the fact that at times the PSVR lost track of the controllers altogether.
One good point is that the VR also supports the even more powerful PS4 Pro, which should have around 45 games by the end of the year. The main advantage of the Pro is in its visual detail, but this only comes into play if the game developer has enabled Pro Mode to let the Pro “know” to make the extra computational power available. However, even when the game has Pro Mode activated, the results are barely noticeable - especially when you’re absorbed in the action of the game itself. The other side of the coin is that you’re not losing anything by sticking with the standard PS4.
As with the Vive in its earlier incarnations, audio is a bit of an orphan child with the PlayStation VR. The system comes with a pair of cheap earbuds, like many mobile phones. But this is a sort “just to get you started” solution. No one really wants to use such a cheap solution when they’re trying to immerse themselves in the alternative reality of a VR video game. The good news is that the Processor Unit also has an input jack into which you can connect any headphones - including high end ones costing more than the VR itself!
The price of the PSVR is favorable compared to the HTC Vive or even the Oculus Rift. But there’s a catch - or rather several. First of all, you obviously need the PS4 itself. You may already have one, but if you’re doing a proper price comparison then that’s one of the things you’ll have to factor in. Secondly, you’ll need the PlayStation Camera. That too does not come with the PSVR. Neither do the Move controllers that some games require.
However, if you already own these peripherals, as well as a PS4, then that certainly tips the scales in favor of the PSVR over its more expensive rivals - though not decisively so. Also, if space is at a premium, then this product has certain advantages. Conversely if you have more space than 2m x 3m - and want to make use of it for your gaming experience - then this is not the product for you.
It is also important to note that one of the great strengths of this product is the “stable” from which it comes. Sony is a major games developer, so they are in pole position when it comes to actually churning out the games that exploit this product to the full. Sony came up with some new titles for the PlayStation VR in 2017, making 2018 a great year to buy the product, if you don't have it already. Whether high speed chases are your bag or monsters or aviation, Sony has something for you in the games department.
Having said that, many of the current crop of games made little or no effort at achieving a realistic look. But this doesn’t reflect badly on the PlayStation VR itself. It is inevitable that in due course, the games will catch up with the hardware. But this hardware will also have to improve to catch up with the competition.
Another thing about the Processor Unit that we mentioned earlier is that is also provides another feature called Social Screen TV. This shows a 2D version of the player’s field of vision on a TV screen attached to the unit. This means that your friends can not only watch you play, but also watch what you’re seeing. So, when you shoot, they’ll see what you’re shooting at. When you bank sharply to turn the aircraft, your friends will not only see your frantic efforts, but also the mountain that you were about to crash into.
The Processor Unit also provides for cinematic mode, which allows you to watch movies and video in 2D, inside the unit - still in 2D, but like having a private cinema (see the Avegant Glyph above). It will also let you watch 3D Blu-ray discs.
Like the Avegant Glyph, the Vuzix iWear is a 3D video viewing device that can also be used for gaming. It does not have external positional tracking. That would seem to mark this device out as a video viewer rather than a true VR device. In that capacity, it is in fact probably one of the more senior members of that tribe.
However, that is not the whole story. We must qualify the lack of external positional tracking by pointing out that it does have internal head tracking in the form of a 3-axis gyro, 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis magnetic sensor. This is similar to the Adjacent Reality Tracker that the Oculus Rift uses to supplement its Constellation Tracking System. And we found this internal head-tracking to work very well.
The iWear was developed by a company that has worked for the military, so these guys know their stuff. And the fact that 30% of the stock was acquired by Intel shows that the big boys believe in their work - of which the iWear is just one small part.
The iWear is a light product - not to mention compared to the Vive and Rift! But it is not as light, we hasten to add, as the Avegant Glyph. It has large built-in headphones, but their size does not seem to undermine the general (comparative) lightness of the product. The head support seems to most closely resemble the PlayStation VR. In general, the whole look is quite stylish.
Like the Avegant Glyph, this headset is not totally immersive. There is a certain amount of light leakage. Not as much as with the minimalistic size of the Glyph, but it is still noticeable. However, the main thing that stands out on this device is the ease with which settings can be controlled directly from the headset itself. The setup process is very straightforward. This of course is true, in some degree, of all the video viewer devices, as opposed to their VR cousins.
Sadly, in terms of video, the iWear is a bit disappointing. The display only has a 55o field of view - half that of the Avegant Glyph, although the resolution is 720p, equaling the Glyph (at the purely statistical level). The color contrast also, isn’t all that sharp and we couldn’t get the balance just right. The image still looks good: just not state-of-the-art.
The audio was considerably better than the image, utilizing noise-cancelling earphones. It would almost seem churlish to complain about the barely audible buzz when no sound is being produced. But this is probably due to the noise cancelling technology. With no buzz when sound is being generated and clear sound across all the ranges, we were more than happy with the audio.
The battery was claimed to last 2 to 3 hours for watching video or playing games. We can confirm this, although obviously that’s a broad window and a comparatively short time for someone who’s into gaming or watching a series. But the device can run while hooked up to an external power source. It can also be used for pure audio, lasting three to four times as long. Again, it varies.
One good thing about the iWear is that because it relies solely on internal sensors to track the head movement, you can hook it up to a portable device and play games while you’re in transit. Whether your fellow passengers of that cramped aircraft will appreciate such activity is, of course, another matter!
The problem with the iWear as a gaming platform - or as movie viewer for that matter - is that the field of vision can’t match the competition. At 55o it’s just too little. It’s still 3D, but 3D on a virtual screen falling short of a truly immersive experience.
However, we’re not putting the iWear down by any means. It is still a commendable personal movie theater. And it has less light leakage than the Avegant Glyph. On a plane or train (or even as a passenger in a private car, if you want to be anti-social) the iWear allows you to watch a movie while the road or rails or sky go by. And if you live in a household where the choice of TV program is a source of strife, the iWear is the perfect solution. If you can afford one for each person, then arguments about what to watch and how loud to set the volume could become a thing of the past.
As a games platform, it can’t match the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. But having said that, the price is now low enough for it to qualify as a low-end competitor. Based on the pedigree of the developers we expect more and better in the future.
The Osmose is a less well-known player on the VR circuit. Not being up there with the big boys, in terms of market capitalization, can make one feel like a minnow swimming with the sharks. But the Osmose does a creditable job at competing.
Using a single 5.5 inch screen with 2560 x 1440 resolution, focused by two 38mm, anti-UV, anti-glare PMMA lenses, it gives the user a clear, sharp picture. Like the Vuzix iWear, it uses internal technology (gyro, accelerometer and magnetometer) to track the headset. Offering the usual array of USB and HDMI connectivity, it runs on a 1.8 GHz processor and has a powerful Mali-T764 graphics processor and 2GB of DDR3 RAM. So, a strong spec behind it, delivering a solid, lag-free viewer experience. It also has a facial proximity sensor.
On the comfort side, we could wear it for a few hours without it feeling heavy. But to look at, it suffers from the same drawbacks as many other VR headsets - including the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. And that drawback is the kludgy design aesthetic.
As a new, and lower-priced, competitor in the field, the Osmose clearly has a market. But it is a crowded market in which operate, and one dominated by a few big names. Osmose is based in Hong Kong, but do their manufacturing in the neighboring Shenzhen, the big city in China’s Guangdong Province. This is essentially the manufacturing capital of the world, so they are at least well-placed to take on the world.
They are being careful not to take on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive in a David and Goliath contest, but rather to focus on their core strength of making a product that is not tied to external sensors. They do not have the resources to develop primary new technology, so they focus instead on getting the maximum value out of the existing technology, whilst poised to take advantage of any new developments that come along. Judging by the product, it looks like a sound strategy.
This is a high-end video viewing headset with multiple uses. Not only can you use it for watching movies and videos, but also for playing games. You can even connect up a drone camera with a live feed and have a fantastic 3D bird’s-eye view.
But the main use of the Avegant Glyph is as a personal 3D theater and to a lesser extent a gaming platform. It has a mini-HDMI input and connects to any device with an HDMI output. For some additional connectivity, it is possible to buy an adapter separately. It does not, however, have head tracking. For that reason, we classify it as a video headset rather than a VR headset.
But there is one major difference between the Glyph and its rivals both in video viewing and VR. Most video and VR headsets use either Liquid Crystals or Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) in the display. The Avegant Glyph also uses LEDs, but it uses them to project light onto over two million micro-mirrors that then reflect the light onto the retina of the viewer. The result is an image that is remarkably clear, even though its resolution is only 720p rather than the 1080p of most of their competitors. It actually beats the competition, proving that raw resolution stats are not the only thing that matters!
When the Glyph arrives (in a stylish case) you have to set it up for first use. And this is no mean feat. In addition to removing the magnetic lens protectors, you must also take off the sticker over the nose support. This seems to have been put there to remind people in case they are inclined to disregard manufacturer’s instructions in their enthusiasm and haste!
The nose support itself isn’t actually in place yet. Instead, Apart, from the sticker, there is a “blanking plate” that also has to be removed. Then you choose one of four nose supports (depending on your nose size) and insert it. This sets up the device at the physical level for you to wear. But you’re not quite home yet.
Now you have to switch on the device (switch located behind the left ear) and calibrate it visually. Because the Avegant Glyph is meant to be work without glasses, you need to set up each of the eye turrets so that the image is in focus for your eyes. This might seem like a major inconvenience, but you only have to do it once - unless other people are going to be wearing your Glyph. This is unlikely, as once you’ve tried it, you probably won’t want anyone else to get their hands on it!
Setting up the optical alignment means not just the physical position of the eye turrets but also the focus. (Unless you wear very strong prescription eyeglasses, the focus settings should be within the range of your vision.) When you switch on, the first thing you see is an incredibly sharp alignment image. Because of the depth and sharpness of the image, it can take time to get the settings just right. But once you’ve done that and set it up for future usage, you’ll be amazed at the results.
As mentioned above, the Glyph connects via HDMI. In the case of the iPhone it can be connected via a Lightning-to-HDMI connector. One drawback to the Glyph is that it doesn’t have Bluetooth, WiFI or any other kind of wireless connectivity for video. This may change for future editions. However, it’s important to remember that it’s a personal device and if you connect it to a mobile phone in your pocket, the lack of wireless is at worst only a minor inconvenience. Also, there is Bluetooth for the audio when using the Glyph as an audio headset. But setting it up was tricky.
The manufacturers claim the battery lasts up to four hours, but that “up to” is important. It varies according to usage. In our experience, it was about three hours and a bit, give or take. But we were putting the device through its paces. It may be that, in normal usage, the four hours is realistic. In any case, you can use the Glyph while it is charging or even run it directly through the charger, which uses a USB connection.
On the pure comfort level, the Glyph does better as a video headset than an audio one. When you change the angle that it sits at, so that the band with the lenses is over your head, you actually feel the lens covers on your skull. You can push them in, as they are recessed, but you still feel their presence. That said, however, the sound quality is amazing. Clear and sharp, we could almost recommend this as a high-end audio headset, but for that small problem with the physical comfort. The earphones are also extremely good at cutting out ambient sound.
However, it is as a video system that the Glyph really comes into its own. It’s like watching a home cinema or a widescreen 3D TV only a few feet away. But it’s a very sharp and bright screen! And on the subject of brightness, there are in fact three discrete brightness settings. But even the lowest of these is bright enough. In fact, when you take off the Glyph, it takes a few seconds to half a minute for your eyes to adjust to the normal light in the room. The 720p resolution might sound like it’s going to be a handicap in today’s 1080p or even 4K world. But in fact, it doesn’t put the device at a disadvantage compared to the higher spec competition. We were mightily impressed by the quality of the image.
Unfortunately, you are not completely cocooned in your own world when you are using the Glyph. You can still see out the top and bottom. Whether this is acceptable or not is a matter of preference. On an airplane, it can actually be an advantage. You can watch a movie in private but still drink your coffee or interact with a flight attendant walking by. It is also useful when you’re out in the park, flying a drone, when you need to look down at the controller. (This applies only to peripheral visuals, however. External sound is virtually impossible to hear, with the headset on.)
The price is in the same ball-park as the competition, but when you take the quality into account, it’s more than justified - despite the drawbacks we’ve noted.