Teardown: Razer OSVR HDK 2 virtual reality headset
Image credit: Razer
A VR headset that uses open source to look beyond gaming.
The number of companies and alliances battling over the virtual reality headset space is large. The hype surrounds the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony’s upcoming PlayStation VR. But these exist in closed systems. Another interesting play comes from PC gaming hardware specialist Razer. It recently released the second generation of its Open Source Virtual Reality Hacker Development Kit, or OSVR HDK 2.
It is not just Razer’s gaming background that makes its headset interesting.
First, it is being developed with Sensics, a long-standing innovator in all forms of VR.
Then, as its name suggests, and unlike its rivals, the HDK 2 is intended to seed the development of open-source VR applications. Other members of the OSVR consortium include game developer Ubisoft (‘Assassin’s Creed’) and display specialist Vuzix. Vuzix has Intel as a major shareholder and, like Sensic, deep roots in commercial and military VR.
Third, Razer is going in aggressively on price. The HDK 2 costs $399, the same as the released price for the PlayStation VR but a good way below both the Rift ($599) and the Vive ($799).
That price point has required compromises. Hardcore VR gaming reviewers say that both the Rift and Vive offer better experiences today (the PlayStation VR is just reaching users as you read this).
Need gaming be the be-all and end-all of Razer’s plans? It is certainly its biggest target market, but based on feedback from VR professionals with whom we have discussed the HDK 2, other sectors are trying on its potential, particularly given the open-source platform. Many of these non-gaming players are wary of the gatekeeper role played by proprietary app stores and Facebook’s continued blundering on news feeds.
Retailers form an important group. Notably, Microsoft is running a pilot with US home improvement chain Lowe’s. Consumers can visit a Lowe’s shed and use Microsoft’s PC-based HoloLens VR technology to tour and plan a virtual kitchen before buying. However, with its higher-end specifications and more lightweight design, the HoloLens headset currently costs as much as $3,000 a unit.
Meanwhile, another set of early adopters looking at VR in general and Razer’s entry specifically is estate agents.
At the most basic level, they could capture an existing property and offer tours in an office before potential buyers visit (or ultimately, downloadable tours from their websites).
Another variation on the Microsoft-Lowe’s model would be the promotion of new-build projects. The client would walk through a virtual animation of a proposed design-and-build house or office with options to adapt various elements.
E&T understands that at least two large UK estate agencies and one Spanish one have put in orders for the HDK 2.
Razer’s design and marketing of the HDK 2 is therefore timely. It is a development kit that is gaming-led, but not exclusively so. Developers have a lot of scope for mods, and the headset is based on off-the-shelf hardware. Its launch has also been accompanied by that of a $5m fund to promote OSVR application development.
Let’s dig deeper into its design and specification.
An iFixit teardown team found that, as a development kit, the HDK 2 is easy to pull apart. It rates the HDK 2 at 9-out-of-10 for repairability.
The 18-LED positioning assembly, for example, is magnet-mounted and easily removed. The flexible foam face-support is attached with “squishy pegs that pop out of the HMD with a simple tug”. Standard Phillips screws hold the headset together. The motherboard is easily accessible once the cover is removed.
Then, that motherboard extends an open invitation to hardware developers. IFixit found empty solder pads, unused 5-pin and 10-pin sockets, an unused USB 3.0 connector and further empty edge pads where you could add, say, more USB or ZIF inputs. Wanna play?
There are ways in which Razer lags higher profile rivals. Arguably the most crucial is the display assembly. It comprises dual OLED units with 2160×1200px resolution at 441ppi with a 90Hz refresh rate. That is better than for Razer’s original dev kit release – which featured a single OLED – but still short of what the Rift or Vive offer.
The form factor also precludes wearing glasses – again unlike the Rift or Vive. Instead, focal adjustments from +4.5 to -2.0 dioptres are available. That will work for most, but not all of us speccy types. Razer has also yet to move to the use of thinner, lighter Fresnel lenses.
This is unashamedly a work in progress. It is less about forcing the market than asking what it wants. The headset has been designed to seed an open-source software market and foster hardware innovation.
Is the HDK 2 an attractive option for simple gamers? Arguably, it is probably better to wait. But it also exposes how far the nascent VR market has to go.
The HDK 2 has the right kind of price-point despite its limitations. It speaks to those who would avoid the ‘tyranny’ of having Sony or Facebook (or indeed HTC and its partner Valve) on their shoulders.
The HDK 2 is therefore getting more friends than you might expect and in different places. For innovators, it is an intriguing and welcome gift.
Key components of the Razer OSVR HDK 2 VR headset
1 Front panel
2 Motherboard ribbon cable
3 USB board
6 Lens mount
7 LED positioning array
8 Dual OLED display
10 Foam face-support
Motherboard (open sockets)
11 Unused 5-pin socket
12 Unused 10-pin connector
13 Unused USB 3.0 connector
14 Unused solder pads (USB/ZIF)
15 Unused solder pads