For a year or more after the Oculus Rift got people talking about virtual reality, the two were nearly synonymous. In 2015, that space is filling out. You've got Samsung and Oculus' mobile Gear VR, experimental headsets like the Avegant Glyph, and a huge number of motion controllers and other peripherals. So at CES, gaming company Razer and professional VR company Sensics are heading an effort to standardize virtual reality development: the Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) platform.
OSVR is a development system meant to get VR on all kinds of hardware. It's not an operating system, but Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan refers to it as the "Android of virtual reality," an open-source software platform that encompasses multiple game engines, head-mounted displays, and control schemes. While you might be able to make a game in Unity and port it to multiple devices, VROS does the work of optimizing it for each device. Around two dozen companies and organizations, including Leap Motion, Virtuix, and the International Game Developers Association, are listed as supporters, and plugins are in the works for Unreal Engine 4 and the Unity 3D Engine.
At the center of this project is the OSVR Hacker Dev Kit, a new head-mounted display. The development kit is similar to the Oculus Rift DK2 in some ways, including its 1920 x 1080 screen, its roughly 100-degree field of view, and its boxy black look. But it's less polished and more flexible, specifically designed for testing games and peripherals. It's modular and meant for experimentation; with some difficulty, users can even replace the display with a mobile phone. Like OSVR software, the dev kit will be open source, and design files will be posted online for anyone to make — a system that's common with simple cardboard headsets already, though enthusiasts will be 3D-printing parts instead of cutting them out of paper.
Another head-mounted display, but not an Oculus competitor
The hacker dev kit will be released in June 2015, for the surprisingly low price of $199.99 (the same price as the screenless Gear VR, and $150 less than the Oculus DK2.) Software will be available sooner for some developers. A limited test run is rolling out now, and it will be released publicly at the Game Developers Conference in March. Apps built with it can be run on Windows, Android, and Linux, with more operating systems on the horizon.
Tan says he's not trying to compete with Oculus. Instead, he hopes OSVR will become "the new standard" upon which VR devices and games are built. Fellow gaming company Valve has been experimenting with the same idea, but it's been quiet on the VR front lately, and OSVR is a larger, more ambitious plan.
There's still not a major consumer virtual reality headset on the market. The final Oculus Rift is perpetually "months" away, the Gear VR is an "innovator edition," and the various third-party mobile headsets don't constitute a real ecosystem. But a growing number of game developers and entertainment companies are experimenting with the technology, and the easier it is to extend their work across headsets, the better.