OSVR, the open-source virtual reality initiative that launched early last year, is announcing a new headset it hopes can rival the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Called the HDK 2 (for "hacker development kit"), the headset looks very much like OSVR's original kit. But where the previous-generation HDK used a single screen, its successor uses two higher-quality ones, giving it a 2160 x 1200 resolution comparable to the Rift or Vive. The new headset will go on sale in July for $399, significantly less than most tethered headsets, while the old one will continue to sell for $299.
The OSVR program, which was founded by VR company Sensics and gaming hardware company Razer, is supposed to create a single, open standard for VR hardware and software. Ideally, products from many different companies would all be interoperable, so you'd have no problem playing any game with any headset or controller. The original HDK was built as a way for software developers and hardware companies to play with OSVR. The new version, though, is explicitly aimed at consumers who want a cheaper alternative to the $599 Rift or the $799 Vive.
The HDK 2 will support games and software from the Steam library, and OSVR has its own VR experience portal online. Unlike the Rift or Vive, the headset doesn't come with its own controllers. You can pair an ordinary gamepad with it — which will be enough for many Rift games — or use an OSVR-compatible accessory, like the Gloveone hand-tracking glove that will appear alongside it at E3 this week. Experiences that require lots of 360-degree movement, which are common on the Vive, make things more complicated. Because the HDK 2 only has one camera, like the current Oculus Rift system, its field of view is limited to what it can see. Razer product marketing manager Jeevan Aurol says that the team is working on room-scale VR, but we don't know exactly when it might come out.
A $5 million fund for developers who support OSVR
Alongside the HDK 2, OSVR is announcing a $5 million fund for developers who support the platform. Aurol says that the fund can be used for anything that "showcases a kickass VR experience that would sell VR to the mainstream," and OSVR will distribute the money by buying up lots of keys once the game is released, potentially using them in giveaways or other promotional efforts.
The $200 or more in savings could make the HDK 2 more accessible than other headsets, but it's not without drawbacks. For one thing, the headset requires the same powerful computer as the Rift and Vive, which is arguably a larger barrier than the sticker price. For another, we haven't tried it ourselves, so we can't say whether it matches the Rift and Vive in things like ergonomics and build quality. These are important factors that you can't judge from a technical specs sheet —especially since we weren't hugely impressed by the very first OSVR headset in 2015. At $399, the HDK 2 is also the same price as Sony's PlayStation VR, which is far better-known than OSVR.
Even Razer doesn't seem totally confident in the headset itself; it hasn't lent its own high-profile brand name or green-and-black design language to the HDK 2, keeping it under the more obscure OSVR banner. Aurol says this is because "if we were to introduce [a Razer headset] we would want to make sure it meets the highest quality of our standards," and there's not yet enough of a mainstream VR market to do that. If the company is committed to OSVR as a general platform, though, it's far more interesting and explainable if there's already some kind of hardware involved. A Razer spokesperson said that VR is "a long-term category" for the company, noting the developer fund.
The HDK 2 will be appearing at E3, so we'll be able to try it out and give firsthand impressions later this week.
Correction and update, June 13th 1:00PM ET: Corrected a misspelled instance of Jeevan Aurol's name; added statement from Razer.