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The GameFace shows why Android isn't ready to power a VR headset

The GameFace shows why Android isn't ready to power a VR headset

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Since day one, Oculus has promised that its prototype virtual reality headset would one day support Android tablets and phones, but the company has never explained precisely how such a system might work. Now, we have some idea: GameFace Labs is showing off a prototype of an Android-based VR headset here at GDC 2014.

Unfortunately, the GameFace Mark IV prototype is pretty terrible in its current state. Though it uses a crisp 1080p screen like the latest Oculus Rift — and the exact same lens design as the original Oculus developer kit for a fairly wide field of view — it's downright uncomfortable to wear, laggy to use, and repeatedly lost track of where I was looking in virtual worlds. It genuinely made me sick. And yet, wearing the device completely untethered from a computer, walking around with a virtual world on my face was a genuinely intriguing experience.

The popular Android game Shadowgun looked great inside the GameFace, as did a modified version of a Sega Dreamcast emulator playing cult classic Jet Set Radio — showing off far more of the game than you'd have ever seen on an aging TV. It also could make for a fantastic portable private movie theater, easily displaying 3D movies in a virtual space, not to mention a 360-degree video where you can turn your head in any direction. I took a virtual balloon ride inside the headset, which was one of the most immersive experiences. GameFace also demonstrated that existing Oculus Rift titles might be able to make the transition to mobile with a port of the iconic Tuscany demo, one of the original VR environments used to demonstrate the Rift.

Tuscany was pretty jerky in action on the mobile processor inside the GameFace, but the company promises that chip — and just about every other part of the prototype — will improve before long. The company's looking to add a new screen, a new tracker, and a new Nvidia Tegra K1 processor to the package in the near future. Until that happens, the GameFace won't be that much different from the other VR prototypes we've seen: more interesting in theory than it is in practice, and far from being ready for consumers.