If there is a dark cloud over the rapid emergence of VR games and entertainment content, it is the walled-garden approach being taken by some of the leaders in the space — particularly Oculus. When you buy an app or a game from the Oculus Store, it will only run with an Oculus-powered headset, even though you typically pay just as much for it as a version that will play on any PC with any monitor (and often any headset). Gamer-focused Razer has taken the issue head on, pushing an Open Source VR platform — OSVR — and providing open hardware to power it. Today Razer demoed its HDK2 headset, that features similar specs to the Oculus Rift headset for $200 less.
The HDK2 upgrades the HDK’s resolution to parity with current versions of the Rift and the HTC Vive — 2160 x 1200, running at 90 fps. That’s widely considered the minimum spec for immersive gaming and VR experiences. The headset also features what Razer calls Image Quality Enhancement (IQE) to reduce the screendoor effect. This sounds like an anti-aliasing filter. The HDK2 doesn’t come with any audio, so you’re on your own for headphones, but the headset does have a Surround Sound codec integrated.
There also aren’t any included controllers, but Razer is working hard to ensure that there are a wide variety of controllers that are compatible with its OSVR platform. There is a 100Hz IR camera included for position tracking, and additional USB 3.0 connectors for expansion — making the HDK2 the most flexible VR headset platform out there. The HDK2’s facemask is removable and features a bamboo charcoal microfiber foam layer. Eyeglass wearers will appreciate that the lenses can be individually tuned from +4.5 to -2 diopters, which should allow most to play without the additional hassle of prescription glasses.
For most gamers, the best feature will be its tight integration with the SteamVR platform. Personally I love that my Steam games are becoming VR-enabled over time, and I can play them on the headset of my choice — typically for no additional charge. Even the HDK2 itself is open, so modules can be reprogrammed or replaced. That makes for a slightly clunkier design than its competitors, but makes it a great choice for hackers and developers. OSVR itself hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but is backed by some big names among its 300 corporate supporters, including Magic Leap and Intel. When I spoke with him, OSVR head Michael Lee provided a compelling case for energizing the gaming and VR enthusiast community around the idea of an open platform that would allow the mixing and matching of headsets, controllers, and other accessories. Razer is helping kickstart OSVR with a $5 million investment in helping companies pay for the expense of making their content OSVR-ready.
Despite the full name of the device — Hacker Development Kit 2 — Razer is clearly hoping to go beyond the hacker and developer community with the HDK2. Unlike with its earlier HDK (still available for $299), the HDK2 is also aimed at gamers and other consumers ready to take the plunge into VR. The HDK2 will be available in July for $399, making it the least-expensive way to get a premium VR experience on your PC. I look forward to trying one out and updating our guide to purchasing the right VR headset.