Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Everyman's VR: Bridging the Gap between $15 and $1500 for VR Goggles

There is a gap in VR pricing that could slow down the adoption of VR.

Today, you can spend about $15 and buy a Cardboard-type phone attachment to get simple VR with your phone. You can also spend $1500 and in a few months you will get a nice computer and what would be considered today a high-performance consumer VR experience, touch controller not included. As I write this, the price for an HTC Vive has not been published - perhaps it will be even higher.

$1500 is a lot of money. Maybe I just don't have $1500 available to spend. Maybe I spent $900 a year ago on a nice computer and I don't want to buy a new one. Maybe I'm running a classroom and we just can't afford a $1500 machine on every desk? Maybe I worry that VR is moving so fast that the $1500 VR system I buy in 2016 will be obsolete in 2017?

$15. $1500. Excluding Gear VR ($100 if you already have a fairly new Samsung phone), is there any good solution in-between? How can we bridge the gap to allow "Everyman's VR"?

A few things could - and perhaps should - happen:

  • HMD vendors would select different trade-offs geared towards different use cases (media viewing, casual gaming) and offer them at lower price points. 
  • Software platforms, like OSVR, would continue to allow games to modulate the required computing power. For instance, the Unreal Showdown demo on OSVR runs nicely on an NVIDIA 6xx card.
  • Benchmark utilities would allow users to determine how fast a game can run on their PC and have the game adjust to it. Can't run Elite: Dangerous at 90 FPS? Run it at 45 FPS with time-warping or reduce the resolution and image quality.
  • Eye trackers embedded inside goggles allow using foveated rendering, which is the process of doing high-quality rendering at the portion of the image you are directly looking at and lower quality rendering elsewhere. This would save GPU resources and allow running on lower-end PCs. Similarly, VR driver optimizations from NVIDIA/AMD/Intel could make better use of GPU resources.

This is where OSVR can make a big impact. I'm not focused so much on the OSVR HDK ($300 at, but rather on the OSVR software platform. A middleware platform like OSVR allow running the same application at different performance levels on a wide range of devices, with striving towards nearly universal compatibility. If an HMD vendor knew that lots of compelling content could be immediately available to their customers if they built an OSVR plugin, many HMD variations are likely to appear.

Does this remind you of something? Think about what Android did to the phone and tablet market. It created choice. It allowed tablets and phone to appear at all kinds of performance and price specs, all running off a common software platform. We saw high-end phones like the Samsung S6 or LG G4 all the way to low-end generic phones. Could a $50 tablet run all the apps that a high-end Android tablet runs? No, but for some users the $50 tablet is perfectly adequate.

There is a wide gap between $15 and $1500 and there are many people that would like to experience VR that's better than $15 but prefer not to spend $1500. Let's work together to fill this gap and create "Everyman's VR"

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