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The consumer VR space is mid-way through product cycles, so our expectations from IFA this year were low. But still, we expected a bit more than what we found.
Oculus was notably absent from the show, as was HTC, which is a shame given that their Wi-Gig based wireless adaptor for the Vive goes up for preorder on September 5th. I was expecting at least that to be demoed along with the Vive Pro, but I guess they couldn’t afford to make it to the show.
Instead, we saw an endless sea of mobile VR cases, which we won’t bore you with–except for an innovative Star Wars thing that turned your mobile into an augmented reality headset (scroll down for more on that).
So here’s the extensive list of what was shown at IFA 2018 in the Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality sectors.
Acer: OJO 500 Windows Mixed Reality Headset
The OJO 500 (pronounced with a soft J, like “oh-ho”), brings Acer’s Mixed Reality offering up to date, with a 1440 x 1440px per eye resolution. That’s still higher than the original Vive and Oculus Rift, but the same as other WMR headsets. It comes in at a price point of $400/€500, which doesn’t include optional Bluetooth controllers. It also features a rigid head strap with built-in headphones, which felt comfortable and sounded reasonably good during our testing. The hideous blue front panel has also been refreshed to a more demure black/grey.
Don’t let the naming fool you though: this is still Virtual Reality only, with no pass-through camera capabilities. “Mixed Reality” is simply the branding Microsoft applies to all headsets in their ecosystem, regardless of capabilities. Just like the Dell Visor, the tracking system through the front cameras seemed solid enough, though understandably struggled a little with the random booth flashy booth lighting.
Uniquely, the Acer OJO 500 has a detachable lens and screen unit, allowing for easy cleaning and storage.
During our short time with the device, we only had a chance to play the Microsoft Halo shooting gallery demo, which is about as bad as VR can get. Still, the resolution bump was noticeable. The last generation controllers were being demoed with it however, so no improvements there. If they have designed new controllers to go with it, they’re keeping quiet about them.
MadGaze: Vader and X5 Augmented Reality Glasses
MadGaze are hoping to ride the current wave of AR excitement with a couple of products, now entering wider release after successful Kickstarter campaigns: the Vader and X5. Both are based on Android, allowing the user to run any generic APK, or make specific applications that use the MadGaze software SDK. Both devices featured cameras, capable of displaying an augmented view of the real world when shown pre-programmed markers.
The Vader model is a full AR headset for overlaying 3D content onto both eyes, and is the higher-specced of the two devices, running Android 7.0 on a 1.5GHz CPU. Curiously, rather than trying to add something to the user’s vision, they use a pair of cameras to rebroadcast the real world view with the augmented content, onto a pair of 720p screens. The result felt a little laggy, but the field of view was reasonable. They demoed the unit with a custom game, with user interactions performed by reaching up and tapping on the right side of the headset. Unfortunately, they weren’t to be used on top of existing glasses, so everything was a tad blurry for my shortsighted eyes. They also felt quite front-heavy, and would’ve benefitted from a headband to keep them on. The Vader is retailer soon for around $700, is still less than one third the price of a Magic Leap: One.
The MadGaze X5 is essentially a Google Glass clone for an affordable $500. Running Android 6.0 on a 1.3GHz CPU. It features a small glass mirror to display a WVGA (800 x 480p) screen in the corner of single eye only. It fits over your existing glasses, or has a simple headband. The screen was surprisingly good, easily visible in the full glare of exhibition lighting. I could see myself augmenting daily life with a continuous stream of inane YouTube videos, or scrolling through emails, though that would presumably need to be with some custom software.
Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges
The Jedi Challenges play set consists of a mobile VR shell (wait, keep reading, it’s not just a Google Cardboard), tracking beacon, and Lightsaber. With your mobile slid into the top of the device, the screen is mirrored down to augment the real world world view, offering a reasonable field of view, though not nearly as immersive as VR can be.
Cameras built into the headset provide positional tracking (but don’t expect Vive-level room scale; think more on the level of PSVR), as well as tracking the position of your Lightsaber. Three games are included, though we only tried the Yoda battle, which involved matching your lightsaber to set positions, then smacking Yoda a bit. A future update has been promised that enabled matched play, which will of course require two play sets.
The Lenovo Jedi Challenges set is available now for around $170 to $200. Should you buy it? Probably not. For roughly the same price you could buy an Oculus Go instead, which runs standalone, and enables access to a far greater library software than just three Star Wars games.
Winning no awards for innovative product names, VR2 is the second generation of Huawei’s VR headset, with the highest resolution we’ve seen yet at 1600 x 1440px per eye. It’s purely an output device, with no internal system, so cannot run standalone. With a Displayport input, it can be connected to either a Huawei phone (or anything else that outputs Displayport, though we only tried with the P20 Pro), or a PC running SteamVR.
Unfortunately, there’s no positional tracking and the controller is a simple pointer, so the range of games you can actually play on it is awfully limited. In order to demonstrate room scale SteamVR capabilities, they had it hooked up to a third party NoloVR tracking system and motion controllers, which was absolutely horrendous, and costly served to make us sick. Without a decent built-in tracking system or piggybacking on the Valve Lighthouse system, we can’t see a market for this. Neither can Huawei apparently, because the VR2 is still a Chinese only release, where it’s available for 2000? (around and $300).
Is VR Dead Then?
Of course VR isn’t dead, which is why I’ve refrained from using such a silly phrase as a clickbait title. VR has barely even gotten started yet. What we do know is that few manufacturers feel like their VR ecosystems are ready for wider consumer markets, and are hard at work on the second generation headsets. The Mixed Reality headsets don’t stand a chance though if they continue to be demoed with a 2D Halo shooting gallery. VR is a tough sell anyway, but even more so when placed alongside the fair easier sell of shiny new laptops.
If we find some more cool VR or AR tech at IFA 2018, we’ll update this post. Don’t hold your breath though.