OSVR HDK2 – Virtual Reality Headset

During my time at PAX Australia last year I visited the Razer booth to check out all their latest and greatest, including the HDK2.  What followed was one of my first ever virtual reality experiences.  You can read all about that right here.

When talking about virtual reality headsets it’s important to note here that the HDK2 is not aimed at the average gamer.  That isn’t to say that gamers won’t enjoy the headset, not at all, but rather combined with Open Source Virtual Reality the entire kit is aimed towards game developers (indie or otherwise), game design students and enthusiasts.  So with that in mind, what sets it apart from the other VR helmets currently on the market? What makes the Hackers Development Kit 2 the go-to VR headset for the aforementioned individuals?

Hardware Customisation

Out of the box you can dismantle the HDK2 down to its basic components pretty quickly and easily.  While I didn’t personally test this out myself (I’m not that confident in my technical ability) I certainly watched plenty of other people do it on YouTube.  Why would you do this? Perhaps to learn? Perhaps to create a custom headset? Perhaps you want to create your own wireless headset?  Who knows? The point is people have already started fiddling with the HDK2 hardware and it’s cool.

Compatibility

This is a big one.  Using only the Open Source Virtual Reality software and some programming knowledge you can pretty much make any piece of hardware on the market work with the HDK2.  Want to use the roomscale technology from the HTC Vive? No problem!  How about those fancy new Oculus Rift hand controllers? Easy!  Take a look at the long list of confirmed compatible hardware and accessories here.  I mean, you could theoretically be using a HDK2 headset with Vive roomscale and Rift hand controllers all at once.  Nuts!  While this is fun for enthusiasts who own multiple headsets and want to combine technology, it’s also great for developers looking to push boundaries and create content to work on multiple platforms.

Software Customisation

Unlike other VR setups the HDK2 is specifically designed for use with the Open Source Virtual Reality software from Sensics.  This allows for an unlimited amount of customisation, from minor tweaking of the currently running software to re-writing entire portions of code.  It’s through this customisation that people have been able to add support for new hardware.  Want to add a film grain effect to your VR experience? How about a custom mode to support people who are colour blind?  Provided you have the programming know-how these things could be done.

 

Now that you understand who the HDK2 is aimed at and why, we can talk about my experiences with the headset and the experiences of those I invited to test it out with me.  First up, here is a little unboxing video to show you what’s in the box.  While our kit wasn’t factory sealed and had been used previously it still gives you an idea of what you’ll find inside –

Firstly, the HDK2 is a comfortable headset to wear.  Easily adjustable, it sat on my fat head very easily.  I do feel some better cable management is needed though as I often found myself in a tangle of wires.  While this isn’t an enormous problem sitting down, standing up and moving around was a bit more limiting.  To be fair though, I was constantly moving the headset from location to location. If setting the device up in a more permanent location (in your home office for instance), I’m sure you could tidy the cables up yourself somewhat.

The screens and the image they display are absolutely amazing!  To quote the website – “Dual Display 2160×1200 low persistence OLED silver screen with 441 PPI running at 90 fps“.  While the resolution and the FPS are pretty standard for a PC headset, it’s the PPI that is important to take note of.  The higher the PPI the less of that ‘screen door’ effect is visible.  Many VR users and (thankfully) developers have cottoned on to this fact and newer headsets are in development with much higher PPI.  For now though the HDK2 is one of the best in this regard and it’s very pleasing to the eye.

Adjusting the focus on the screens is absurdly easy with two sliders situated under the helmet allowing for independent focus.  This is also a big plus for multiple users of the same headset as adjusting the focus to suit is very quick and easy.

Tracking has reportedly been an issue with the HDK series in the past.  For my part, using the latest firmware and software I experienced no such problems.  The device worked great in both three degrees (headset only) and six degrees using the provided IR camera.

Software installation has been a problem in the past.  Again, being aimed at developers and enthusiasts, things may have been a little too developmental for a number of folk.  Thankfully Razer have listened to feedback and the software is now a simple download and install executable. I had no problems here.

My gaming brethren here at Pixel Pop Network reported similar positive comments, although Lin who wears glasses did find the helmet a little too narrow for his particular frames.  While narrower frames would resolve this problem it is worth noting.

We also invited Lex Van Cooten from Immerse Academy to come out and try the headset.  Lex also runs the Brisbane Virtual Reality Club.  So, while he certainly creates VR content, he’s also absolutely an enthusiast who owns multiple VR headsets.

It’s fair to say then that Lex has far more VR experience than any of us at the Pixel Pop Network office.  He was amazed at the quality of the image, saying “There is NO pixilation which I have experienced with other VR headsets” and added “The tracking is great! There is close to room scale tracking ability with the tracker which comes with the headset.”

However, Lex also mentioned that the cables were unwieldy and would prefer to see either a single cable or wireless solution.

One point that everyone made though was the lack of hand controllers.  The HDK2 comes with none, requiring the end user to provide their own.  For our demonstration we simply used an Xbox controller (which worked fine) although I’ve also tested the device with keyboard and mouse.  There is a reason for this though I believe, and that is to keep the price down.

The HDK2 typically retails for $649 AUD, considerably cheaper than most VR Headsets for PC.  Further to that, until the end of the month (June 2017) the headset is on sale for only $487.76!  A PC VR headset under the $500 price point is incredible value and a great entry point.  Head over to the HDK2 Australia page here for more information regarding the purchase of the headset.

Gaming

Okay so the device isn’t pitched at gamers directly, not like other headsets, but I know many of you are going to want to know about playing games with the HDK2.  A quick filtered search for OSVR titles on Steam returns 471 titles.  Click here to see the list for yourself. By comparison the HTC Vive has 1785 and the Oculus Rift has 1010.  If you are feeling a little confident though there are ways to get both Vive and Rift titles running on your HDK2, again remember this kit is for enthusiasts and developers.

That’s just on Steam, but remember that there are lots of other places to pick up games such as itch.io, wearvr and independent websites.

By comparison though the PSVR currently has 107 titles available, although it’s much, much easier to get indie content on PC than on the Playstation.

One important point to consider is that the HDK2 doesn’t do room scale or ‘teleportation movement’ out of the box.  This is going to heavily impact those who suffer motion sickness.  While you’ll be fine for static standing or seated play you may find yourself quite ill ‘moving without moving’ which is why many VR games do use a teleportation system.

I’ve played a number of titles with the HDK2 and arguably Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter looked and played the best from the selection I had available –

Overall

If you haven’t entered into the world of VR before and are looking to do so purely to play games then consider your purchase carefully.  While cheaper than other headsets on the market if bought purely for games you are going to have access to a much smaller library, unless you are prepared to learn how to use tools to modify and convert.

If you already own all things VR or are looking to get involved in any level of VR software development then this is a brilliant piece of hardware and an obvious purchase.  The HDK2 is a great helmet with fantastic screen resolution and decent tracking at a very affordable price.

For more information on the HDK2 head over to the official website here – https://www2.razerzone.com/au-en/vr/hdk2/

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