Sunday, December 20, 2015

Phone-based VR without the Phone

There are two main VR configurations today: PC-based VR (e.g OSVR HDK, HTC VIVE, etc.) and phone-based VR (e.g. Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, etc.). Each approach carries different advantages: PC-based VR allow using high-power graphics cards; Phone-based VR is highly portable and battery-operated.

The rationale behind phone-based VR solutions is two-fold:

  1. If you already have a phone, the incremental investment for a VR experience is low. Gear VR is under $100 now, and Cardboard is much cheaper. For casual VR, popping a phone in a carrier is a convenient solution.
  2. Today's phones have high-resolution screens, integrated cameras, increasingly better motion sensors and many additional capabilities that are very useful for VR. Because they are mass-produced, they are very cost-effective.
However, upon closer investigation it appears that a user of phone-based VR is paying - both in cost and in weight - for phone components that are not truly necessary for VR. For instance one could argue that the following components are not truly necessary:
  • Cellular connectivity
  • Phone body. If the phone is permanently integrated into the cradle, one does not need the weight of the body itself.
  • Touch screen
  • and more...
Now that VR is gaining steam, VR devices are going to have modules and components that are designed specifically for VR instead of settling for parts from other electronics devices. For instance we'll see screens made for VR (small size, higher refresh rate, low persistence). Given this, it would not be surprising to start seeing phone vendors provide pre-integrated VR goggles that are essentially a phone without the unnecessary components coupled with a cradle/head strap. These would be lighter than separate phone + cradle and probably also less expensive than the combination.

What else would you like to see in 2016?


John Rockefeller said...

This is a neat thought. I believe, though, that some of the appeal may be that they don't have to buy a new device made from dedicated hardware to get a VR experience but can do it straight away with the phone in their pocket.

There might be a market for a just-for-kids device which would lack cell connectivity, WiFi, etc. since parents may not want a 6-10 year-old accessing the Internet anyway.

VRGuy said...

John - agreed, but there is also an opportunity for portable VR uses such as museums or theme parks. In such installations, aside from the weight and cost, having the ability of a guest to deliberately or inadvertently take out the phone is a nuisance.

JP said...

Do you see the displays being more panel or microdisplay, or a mix?

VRGuy said...

Probably a panel or two panels (one per eye). Microdisplays are a more expensive and it is also challenging to get truly wide field of view from a microdisplay.