Razer OSVR – All You Need to Know About the Ambitious Open-Source Headset

If you regularly use Steam (which just about anyone who plays games does), you will have noticed in recent months that it marks VR-capable games with little logos; not only that, it also specifies whether games are compatible with Oculus Rift or Valve’s own Vive headset.

But at the time of writing, a new little logo has appeared, telling us whether games are compatible with the Razer OSVR headset. It’s a big step forward for the VR newcomer, and means that it’s time for consumers to get clued in about what OSVR is and what it offers.

OSVR stands for Open-Source Virtual Reality and is Razer’s open-source offering in the virtual reality space. This means that any developer can come along and create and sell their own hardware and software for the platform without having to answer to anyone. In addition, anything developed for OSVR is to be compatible with other VR hardware and software platforms – essentially making it the Linux or Android of Virtual Reality. That’s the rather ambitious goal anyway.

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Like all VR headsets (with the possible exception of the PSVR), the OSVR is a big, black block of plastic with a dreadlock of cables hanging out of it. But seeing as that pretty much describes every VR headset, it’s hardly a problem.

I’m of the belief that nothing that’s regularly handled by humans should be glossy, and my one complaint about the OSVR is that glossy lining that could become a fingerprint magnet. (With that said, we’re likely to see several alterations to the headset’s design before it becomes commercially available.)

The current rendition of the OSVR has two separate OLED screens that are viewed through a pair of lenses, both of which have their own focus adjustments on the underside of the headset.

Crucially, there’s a belt box attached to the cables to make them a little easier to manage.

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OSVR uses a pair of OLED displays with a total resolution of 2160×1200 running at a 90Hz refresh rate, which technically puts the headeset on par with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It should be noted that the display isn’t a flashy Samsung one and has an RGB subpixel layout, resulting in a slightly lower image quality than its rivals – which leads us neatly into price.

This is where the OSVR might really grab your attention. While the image quality is more PSVR than Vive/Rift at this point, at $399 it’s less than half the price of the HTC Vive and two-thirds that of the Oculus. So you’re getting lower (though by no means awful) quality but at a much lower price, which seems a more than reasonable trade-off.

Being open-source, OSVR is still waiting for some plucky hardware developer to come up with a truly satisfactory controller solution. There is no track controller for the OSVR, and while the company naturally recommends Razer’s Hydra motion sensor controls, they’re pretty hard to come by these days. Some of the OSVR demos also showed off the motion-tracking gloves by Leap Motion and Manus, which look impressive with their ability to track every single finger movement, but the current opinion is that they don’t match up to the bespoke tracking controls of the Vive and Oculus at this point.

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OSVR is a seemingly noble cause, though it still has some way to go before it becomes the “Android of VR” it wants to be (partially because much of the code hasn’t been made fully available to developers yet).

The success of OSVR will depend on how many developers get onboard with making games for it and conversely how capable the ‘open-source’ headset will be at running Oculus/Vive games. Steam listing OSVR as an official headset is a big boost, and it’s nice to see big games like Elite: Dangerous and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes already supporting it. But there’ll need to be a lot more where that came from.

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At this point it’s still a promising project rather than a Must Buy, though its open-sourceness makes OSVR something that tech enthusiasts will naturally want to get behind and certainly something worth keeping our eyes on.