The ’80s must be pretty mad that we stole Virtual Reality from them, but they can’t be half as mad as the gaming public after Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus Rift. Regardless of how you feel, competition is good, and Oculus Rift has attracted plenty of copycats and usurpers to the VR throne that they’ve created. Here’s a look at some alternatives for virtual reality gaming.
Being developed exclusively for the PS4, Sony is the first of the big three to dive into VR HMD tech with “Project Morpheus.” Sony is promising compatibility with PS4 peripherals like the Move controller and the Playstation camera to provide an even better sense of presence than a standalone HMD would. It also has the advantage of having a Sony-backed design team working its aesthetics because it looks like the most cyberpunk thing on the market. My only complaint is that the Morpheus will most likely be limited to the PS4, unlike the other open-source VR platforms on this list.
GameFace Mark IV
Aside from being wireless, the GameFace Mark IV is also powered by Android and is the only self-contained HMD on this list, featuring an ARM Cortex CPU and nVidia Tegra series GPU. The Oculus Rift is limited to being hooked into a PC to function but the GameFace is battery-powered and features Bluetooth gamepad support so that you can look like a dork wherever you may please. The GameFace will clearly be outclassed power-wise by its PC competition, but mobile development is getting bigger and better with every passing year. With the backing of studios like EA, Mojang, and Bandai Namco, the GameFace is looking mighty tempting.
The only mobile-dependant platform on this list is the Dive, which works with your standard Android or iOS smartphone to presumably deliver VR on the go. Instead of including all sorts of motion tracking in the HMD, the Dive uses your phone as a middle-man and is even open-source, with instructions to build your own via 3D-printing being freely available on their website (here). There are only a few games currently available for the Dive, but everyone has a smartphone, and it’s easily the cheapest HMD on the market at around 57 € (roughly 70-80 bucks). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dive (or at the very least, Dive copycats) getting very popular.
Exemplifying that indie DIY spirit, the InfinitEye team is made of 3 people with full-time jobs doing VR on the side and a goal to make the viewing experience on their HMD better than the rest. To that end, the InfinitEye is equipped with special Fresnel lenses to maximize lens size and minimize weight gain with a projected angular resolution size of 12.5 px/° (the Oculus Rift has 10.6 px/°). This larger lens means that the infinitEye can also utilize a 210° Field of View (FOV) in comparison to the Oculus Rift’s 90° which allows better peripheral vision and better immersion. While currently unavailable for purchase, the InfinitEye V1 is actually buildable for about 450 bucks with a set of plans under a Creative Commons license circulating on the web. The team plans to eventually make an open-source SDK for the InfinitEye, which bodes well for future interest in the platform.
True Player Gear
While True Player Gear seems like the newest player in the VR scene, the company has actually been around for a while but has only just announced their own headset. While featuring a display similar to the Oculus Rift’s (1920×1080 resolution and 90° FOV), the True Player Gear will also come equipped with a pair of 1080p cameras to allow developers to utilize better positional tracking, and possibly even for augmented reality, which has been rather scarce in VR. The headset will be cross-compatible with the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, as well as the PC. More details about the True Player Gear are to come with E3 2014.
I’m about as wary of the Oculus Rift buyout as anyone else, but VR needs the kind of financial backing that Facebook has to get as big as everyone wants it to be, and it’s not like the Rift is the only VR platform out there. Competition breeds creativity, and with any luck, VR will become a hugely diverse and finely tuned way to play games in the future.