HDK2/OSVR – The Follow Up

Way back in the mists of time, possibly several seconds after the Universe exploded into being (or perhaps six months or so ago), PPN was given an HDK2 virtual reality headset. Toby gave it a good looking at then, and some time after that, passed it on to me.

At first, I had some trouble running anything on the HDK2. I would get a lot of drift, and positional tracking would freak out sometimes causing my view point to soar off randomly into the ether. Even though my computer at the time met the requirements, I decided an upgrade was in order (Any excuse – Ed). A new CPU, motherboard and RAM later, and the HDK2 ran a lot better.

I already had a few VR games, or, more accurately, I already had a few games that had VR support.

I played some Subnautica and The Solus Project, as well as a Serious Sam, PULSAR: Lost Colony and Poly Runner VR. Of those, Poly Runner VR was the only free game. I had also tried a few others, but encountered some problems, which I will get to later.

The Hardware

The headset itself is a well built and comfortable piece of kit, with a good headband and easily adjustable focus on the lenses. It is somewhat heavy, and can press on the face a bit much after extended use. I don’t know if it is my big head or big nose, but I find if I need to move the lenses closer to my eyes, the edges of the lenses can press uncomfortably into the sides of my nose. But overall it is comfortable and well made. I’m not going into huge detail on this as Toby already covered it in his article.

The Software

The HDK2 runs on OSVR, or Open Source Virtual Reality. OSVR has been designed to work with various types of hardware and is accessible for a variety of people to use and develop with. Being open source, it means anyone can mess about with it and do what they want, which is the point, really. It is simplistic on the front end, but if you know what you’re doing, it can be a whole lot more complex.

The Downside

I took a bit of a break from VR when it wasn’t working too well on my previous computer. I took it up again once I’d completed the upgrade. But I discovered a big problem. That problem was that I couldn’t find OSVR anymore. Steam has removed the OSVR tag from everything, so you can’t search for OSVR games anymore. That is not to say there are no games that will work with OSVR anymore, but it makes finding them a lot harder. Also, the lack of hand controllers, since the HDK2 didn’t come with any, makes it harder again.

When looking for games, I went outside of Steam as well. I went onto the OSVR official content page, but pretty much everything there is either pay for (which I couldn’t afford), still in development (and has been for a long time) or dead links. I did find a few other sites with content, and did get a few games and experiences. However, every game I tried, I couldn’t get it to function properly. I tried at least half a dozen games, and not a single one would load onto the headset; they all just loaded up on my regular screen.

I also found the community has largely gone quiet, at least on Reddit. When I was looking around for a fix for the above situation, there were no new posts; pretty much everything was from months and months ago, if not last year. Github probably has more traffic.

The Conclusion

I think, from a consumer standpoint, OSVR and the HDK2 is not the way to go. The Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets are about the same price – US$399 – $499 compared to the $399 that the HDK2 costs – and they come with hand controllers. OSVR had a good idea in what they were attempting with the software, but SteamVR really got there first and took the market. Not only is compatibility becoming an increasing problem, but the lack of hand controllers is a serious restriction. SteamVR is really created for hand controllers. Previously, I used an Xbox One controller to navigate, and even then it didn’t work all that well, and now it doesn’t work at all anymore. Neither did the Steam Controller. Some games worked alright with the controller, but I had issues in others. Experiences like Rollercoasters or music videos work well, but those are not interactive as such; one can only observe.

I have this VR headset, but since I am not a developer, or into that sort of thing, I don’t know what to do with it anymore.

Follow Up Thoughts From Toby

When I wrote my initial piece on the HDK2, things were good. I loved the lightweight helmet and the screen resolution.  The HDK2 was (and arguably still is) a great helmet.  As Kris mentioned though, it’s lacking in hand controllers, and while these can be purchased separately, the biggest nail in the coffin is the removal of OSVR from Steam.

You can have the greatest piece of hardware in the world, but without support it’s going to fall flat.  It is for that very reason I bought a HTC Vive.  With Steam directly supporting the product, it was always going to be the ‘winner’ for PC VR in terms of gaming.

With the help of OSVR the HDK2 can be equipped with Oculus or Vive hand controllers, however at that point one might ask ‘Why not just buy an Oculus or a Vive?’  While the HDK2 combined with OSVR was never specifically geared towards gamers, it appears to have faltered with developers as well, as Kris mentioned most of the online forums and meeting places have fallen silent.  Support has dried up.

Sadly, much like those YouTube videos that look at ‘forgotten consoles’ like the Panasonic 3DO, HDK2 is going to crop up in 5-10 years time in similar videos under PC hardware that never took off.

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